Delobel and Schoenfelder maintain lead in Zagreb

Isabelle Delobel (29) and Olivier Schoenfelder (30) of France perform a gavotte (French country dance) for the Original Dance.

Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder of France drew the last starting number, and provided an excellent closure for the folk Original Dance (OD) event with a flawless performance of their Breton Gavotte. The defending European champions still have room to improve as the circular step sequence and the final rotational lift received a level 3, but their execution of all the elements was excellent. The choreography to Replique by Djal is one of the most intricate dances this season, and the team did a wonderful job interpreting the character of their “village fair” theme. They scored 62.72 (31.63/31.09) points and maintain the lead with 103.97 points in total.

“We can be really satisfied with what we did today,” said Delobel. “We really got into it. I was a bit tense in the beginning, and then it’s easy to make errors, but I think we dealt well with it.”

The team chose the gavotte, a French peasant/country dance, because they felt it would be appropriate as the leading French ice dancing team.

“But we also liked this rhythm,” said Schoenfelder. “It’s very fast, very interesting. Of course we worked with a woman who knows a lot about French folklore dance steps and history, and then we went to the ice and tried to adapt all the steps. I think we managed. We won the Original Dance. That was the second part of the competition that we did well. It gives us a good feeling for the free dance, and if we finish our competition like that, we have a chance to win. It’s very close, as was to be expected, and everything will be decided in the free dance.”

Skating first among the leading teams, Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin of Russia didn’t skate their Cossack dance up to their usual level. Although Shabalin claimed on Tuesday that he is fully recovered from the meniscus surgery he underwent at the end of the December, his skating wasn’t as powerful and commanding as the music required. The team tried to match the swing and the grandeur of their music, but what had looked like sincere expression of joy during Cup of Russia in Moscow, came across as a studied effort in Zagreb.

The skaters own impression of their performance, however, was quite different. “Emotionally, I think he skated better here (than at the Grand Prix Final),” said Domnina.

The interpretation was still sound, but it lacked the abandon they exhibited in the past. The 2007-08 Grand Prix Final champions also took a hit in the basic value of the program after Shabalin missed the second twizzle in the required synchronized twizzles section. The element received a level 2, and their midline non-touching step sequence was graded only a level 3. The team earned 61.90 (30.86/31.09) points for a second place finish in the OD and overall (102.15 points).

Shabalin once again reasserted that he is in good health: “My knee is fine. It had nothing to do with the error on the twizzle. On the contrary, we did the twizzles so well in the warm-up that maybe we relaxed a bit too much during the actual performance.”

The team told the press that the dance had been selected by their choreographer Sergei Petukhov, a former folk dancer. “He danced to it in other countries and said it was always very well received from the very beginning,” explained Shabalin.

Countrymen Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski remain in third overall (97.40 points) after placing third in the OD with 60.03 (31.02/29.01) points. The 2008 Russian champions showed good expression and perfect interpretation in their Gypsy dance to Two Guitars, and were the only leading team not to hold anything back in fear of making mistakes. Even their non-touching midline step sequence, usually the hardest element to integrate into choreography, was set right to the beat, and their upper body movement was very appropriate for the style, but it only received a level 3. Novitski also had a minor stumble during the twizzle sequence, which also received a level 3.

“We are quite satisfied with the performance in general,” said Novitski, at a post event press conference. “We improved both emotionally and technically, even though I made a small mistake on a twizzle. Aside from that, we are happy about the way we skated.”

“We are so pleased that the people receive us so well here,” added Khokhlova. “There are many Russian fans here to support us very much. It really helps.”

When asked if they felt they had a chance to medal at their first European championships, Novitski was cautious: “You try not to think about it, but obviously it’s in the back of you mind. At the moment, we are really looking forward to our free dance. We have a great free dance where we play the role of demon and witch.”

Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali preserved their fourth place (95.66 points) with a smooth and lighthearted performance to a Pizzica – a traditional Southern Italian dance. The 2007 Skate America and Cup of China bronze medalists captured the upbeat character of their music well, and their lifts and steps were nicely stylized. However, both their step sequences were graded a level 3, and they placed fourth in the OD with 58.79 (30.50/28.29) points.

“We felt really confident and we enjoyed this dance,” said Scali. “We were not nervous. We were excited to show everyone and ourselves that we can do well. We are a bit disappointed at the marks because we only got level 3 for the two elements, even though I think we did good edges and everything. At this European championships, it’s hard to keep places and to medal, which is what we want to do. We have to concentrated for the free dance tomorrow.”

Sinead Kerr and John Kerr pulled up to fifth place (92.02 points) after they posted the highest technical score of the evening. The students of Evgeni Platov were the only team to receive a level 4 for all their elements. The skaters were very strong technically, and their interpretation of their native Scottish dance was spot on. John wore a kilt, and the dance starting with a series of bows (a traditional part of the dance), and the brother-sister team really captured the authentic folk character and translated it to the ice. They scored 58.54 (31.65/26.89) points.

“The audience was absolutely fantastic for us,” said Sinead. “I think they liked the man in the skirt more than me. Any country can understand that doing your own national dance and wearing national clothes is something very special. We felt very special. Our pride was mixed with adrenalin, and we enjoyed representing our country to the audience.”

Also recovering from meniscus surgery, is Fabian Bourzat (with partner Nathalie Pechalat) of France. The 2007-08 Grand Prix Final participants also made a mistake in their intricate flamenco dance. Bourzat was shaky during their combination dance spin (an element they struggled with during the warm-up) and the team only received a level 2.

The low base value caused the French silver medalists to loose on the technical score to their training mates (and the main rivals for the spot at World Championships team), Pernelle Carron and Mathieu Jost. However, their strong presentation skills allowed them to prevail, and the team from Lyon finished sixth in the OD with 56.97 (29.67/27.30) points and overall (91.55 points).

The skaters were satisfied with their performance. “All the levels were better than what we have got before,” said Pechalat, “but Fabian didn’t feel very good on the ice today, and the spin was only level two.”

“We didn’t work a lot on the spin before we came here,” explained Bourzat. “It was the last element [we practiced] since my [knee] surgery. We might have done some elements better at some of the Grand Prix events, but we came here with a new step sequence and we got a level four for them, so that is good for us.”

Anastasia Grebenkina and Vazgen Azroyan from Armenia withdrew from the competition after they took a hard fall during the compulsory dance. On Tuesday, the team was able to finish the performance after a short break and they finished 17th. Following the event, however, Grebenkina, who suffered from cold and fever on the top of her injury, decided she wasn’t fit enough to compete.

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