The last of my European Championship Previews before the event kicks off next Monday, the Dance event in Tallinn is quite unusual this season. The teams that we might consider the favorites have either not competed at all this season or are making some slight comebacks from injury and such. This aura of uncertainty makes me believe this title is possibly up for grabs. The teams to watch? I'm keep an eye on:
Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder - This team has competed since winning the 2008 Grand Prix Final. A shoulder injury kept them out of last season's Europeans and Worlds and Isabelle's pregnancy kept them out of this season's Grand Prix. It's is still unclear if the 2008 World Champs will compete in Tallinn. FFSG (French Skating Federation) is weighing the pros and cons of having them compete there with an announcement expected anytime. I think anytime you can run your programs and get feedback pre-Olympics it's a good thing (but I'm not the one on the ice). They've said they are ready to compete no matter FFSG's decision so we may be seeing them next week.
Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat - In Delobel and Schoenfelder's competitive absence this other top French team has been slowly moving up the ranks. They won the bronze at the recent Grand Prix Final and look to be possible Gold contenders in Tallinn. Their program, however, has looked less put together each time I've seen it this season. Let's hope the break between Tokyo and Tallinn has given them some time to polish things up. If Delobel and Schoenfelder are rusty/don't compete and Domnina and Shabalin aren't put back together yet...this is the team to beat.
Alexandra Zaretski and Roman Zaretski - This team was just 5th at Samsung Anycall Cup of China but then shocked me at Skate America taking the bronze medal (actual was second in the free skate ahead of Cappellini and Lanotte). They also won the recent Golden Spin of Zagreb competition. This team apparently is doing something right as far as the judges are concerned. This competition gives them the opportunity to move into the top ranks of ice dancers. They are exciting, have beautiful programs this season, and are perhaps coming together at the perfect time. On a side note, and maybe someone can answer this for me...why do Israeli skaters compete at European's and not Four Continents Cup? I'm pretty sure I didn't fail Geography and Israel is an Asian nation. I suppose the same question applies to Azerbaijan...
Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin - This team is attempting to quick get it back together prior to the Olympics. They won Russian Nationals (although Khoklova and Novitski didn't compete) convincingly despite looking a hot mess. They looked a little better at a recent send-off show...a little. The reigning World Champs easily have the most unique OD set to Aboriginal music but I think it's going to take more than that to win this. If they somehow manage to show up in Tallinn in top form, well that would be a miracle! But if any team could pull it off I think it's them. This team may be helped along by the rust prevailing in the other teams, lack of consistent competing by other teams, and good ole Russian Ice Dancing luck!
Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte - One of only two teams competing in Tallinn that have done the full gambit of competition this season (two Grand Prix's, Grand Prix Final, Nationals) which may help them in the long run. They've had more time to put their programs in front of international judges and tweak them. After a surprisingly (surprisingly!) easy qualification into the Grand Prix Final, they struggled in Tokyo finishing 5th (actually was last in the free dance losing to Canadians Crone and Poirier). They also enter this event as the number two Italians, not the national champs. Still, this team can be exciting to watch and given the special circumstance of this competition they may find themselves in a race for the podium.
Sinead Kerr and John Kerr - The other team that has had a full plate this year, the British brother and sister duo seem forever stuck as the bridesmaids and never the brides. At the Grand Prix Final, they didn't look as sharp as they had in the past. This team is always one of the crowd favorites and it's hard not to like them this season with a Linkin Park Free Dance but this team needs to make a big move here to push through to the top. The best thing about this team is the passion and abandon they skate with when they are 'in the zone.' I say at Europeans hold nothing back and just go for it. Throw caution to the wind and let it all hang out...they have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Jana Khoklova and Sergei Novitski - After a promising start to their Grand Prix Season in Beijing (they won the silver) they came undone a bit at Cancer.Net Skate America, fell off the podium, and failed to make the Grand Prix Final. Then they actually made the final when Belbin and Agosto withdrew (I will let the tooth saga go...) but decided not to compete. They didn't compete at Russian Nationals either due to a knee injury for Sergei. This team heads to Tallinn a little beat up and needs a turnaround performance to get themselves back in the judges good grace. Their programs are...um...unique? Russian to the core I'd say. Their best asset is their 'in your face wow factor.' They have to use it or I think they will not be happy with their result. The defending champions may have a rough time defending here.
Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali - This team has yet to get their footing under them this season. A shaky start at Samsung Anycall Cup of China where they were just third, they were then forced to withdraw from HomeSense Skate Canada when Federica took ill. They do enter European's having won Italian Nationals and can hopefully get back on track. They won the silver at last season's European's and are hoping to at least match that performance here. They have a great program this season that tells a great story. This team is great at telling stories on the ice. Again, no team looks like clear front runners so anything is possible...perhaps a step higher up the podium this season?
UPDATE: Delobel and Schoenfelder have withdrawn from Europeans