Recap: ISU Challenger Series Part I
By Matteo Morelli | Photos by Yoriko Suzuki and Robin Ritoss
While the Junior Grand Prix events now completed and the finalists looking forward to the Grand Prix Final planned for this December in China, the 2023/2024 senior season has started with the ISU Challenger Series, the events spanning from August to December that allow teams to showcase and already start to refine their new rhythm dances, this year based on the 80s theme, and their free programmes.
Five ISU Challenger Series are covered in this recap: Lombardia Trophy (Bergamo, Italy), Autumn Classic International (Montreal, Canada), Nebelhorn Trophy (Oberstdorf, Germany), Nepela Memorial (Bratislava, Slovakia) and Finlandia Trophy (Espoo, Finland).
Italy’s Charlene Guignard & Marco Fabbri showed off their new programmes at Lombardia Trophy, winning the event with a total of 208.02 points and the highest score at a Challenger Series this season so far. Their rhythm dance to John Steinman’s ‘Holding out for a Hero’ and Phil Collins’ ‘Against all odds’ was showcased with intriguing costumes of light blue and pink vibrant colours. The versions of their songs were modern takes of the 80s songs, however the Italian duo has already changed to the songs’ original versions as seen at Shanghai Trophy (not part of the Challenger Series), where they recently competed. Their free programme is based on soundtrack music that also includes ‘The theory of everything’, something they wanted to skate on and that shows their elegance on the ice.
Great Britain’s Lilah Fear & Lewis Gibson have started off the season by winning two back-to-back Challenger series events, Nebelhorn Trophy and Nepela Memorial. Their rhythm dance is based on Eurythmics’ ‘Sweet dreams’, a very popular song that they embrace fully in their interpretation of it. The free programme, which has been evolving from one event to the other, presents a take on the ‘Rocky’ movie: the British duo is in fact skating to it with properly tailored boxer costumes, and skate alongside the iconic music from the movie by mimicking a fight.
USA’s Eva Pate & Logan Bye won Autumn Classic International, and they currently own the highest USA ice dance score at a Challenger Series event this season. They delivered a strong rhythm dance based on ‘My prerogative’ by Bobby Brown and ‘Walk this way’ by Run D.M.C., that allowed them to have enough margin to win the event despite of their free dance based on Alexander Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances ending second by a fraction of a point to the French team of Evgenia Lopareva & Geoffrey Brissaud, who earned a silver medal at the event.
Finland’s Juulia Turkkila & Matthias Versluis won their first Finlandia Trophy, adding to their bronze medal earned last year at the same event and brining Finland the first ice dance gold at Finlandia Trophy. Their rhythm dance is based on ‘Tell it to my heart’, ‘I’ll always love you’ and ‘Prove your love’, and is being presented with the pair looking as if they came straight from the 80s. Their free programme is light and soft, presenting an original choreography that allowed them to finish second in the free but still first overall. Turkkila & Versluis also medalled at Nebelhorn trophy, finishing in third place behind Lithuania’s Allison Reed & Saulius Ambrulevičius.
Canada’s Laurence Fournier Beaudry & Nikolaj Sørensen debuted their programmes at Finlandia Trophy, where their ‘Top gun’ rhythm dance saw a fall by Laurence on the twizzles, but their new free based on music from ‘Notre Dame de Paris’ allowed them to score the highest points in the free and jump from seventh to overall third place. United States’ Christina Carreira & Anthony Ponomarenko ended in silver medal position, after a fourth place finish at Nebelhorn Trophy.
Czech Republic’s Natálie Taschlerová & Filip Taschler are currently the second team (other than the Brits and Finnish) to have earned two medals at this year’s Challenger Series, with a silver medal won at Lombardia Trophy and a bronze medal won at Nepela Memorial. The Czech siblings present a free programme that means a lot to them, as it is dedicated to their father who passed away a couple of years ago.
The Georgian ice dance movement can also claim two medals: a bronze at Lombardia Trophy for Maria Kazakova & Georgy Reviya, and a silver at Nepela Memorial for Diana Davis & Gleb Smolkin, who this year switched from representing Russia to Georgia.
Also medalling, and at their first senior season, are Junior silver world medallists Hannah Lim & Ye Quan, representing South Korea. They are also joined by other teams stepping up from junior to senior this season, including junior world champions Kateřina Mrázková & Daniel Mrázek from the Czech Republic (fifth at Lombardia Trophy and Nebelhorn Trophy), Nadiia Bashynska & Peter Beaumont from Canada (seventh at Nepela Memorial), and Phebe Bekker & James Hernandez from Great Britain (eight at Nepela Memorial).
Only few teams have not yet showcased their new programmes, including world medallists Madison Chock and Evan Bates of the United States and bronze medallists Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier of Canada. With the Grand Prix competitions about to start (Skate America kicks off the Grand Prix series on 20th October), we look forward to another exciting season of great skating competitions!