The third event of the Grand Prix Series, Nations Cup, was held in Gelsenkirchen, Germany from November 7-10, 2002. Nations Cup was the season debut for World Champions in pairs, Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao of China, and the #1 ranked man in the world, Russia’s Evgeni Plushenko.
Shen and Zhao appeared in top form, skating nearly clean short and long programs. The duo earned marks of up to 5.9 for both technical merit and presentation – an area that has been their downfall in the past. Even the new scoring system could not provide controversy, as Shen and Zhao’s lowest marks in both categories were higher than every other competitor’s highest marks.
In a bit of an upset, Russian upstarts Yulia Obertas and Alexei Sokolov knocked off their countrymen, the former World Champions Maria Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov, for the silver medal. Petrova and Tikhonov slid all the way to fourth place, even behind Dorota Zagorska and Mariusz Suidek of Poland, following a disastrous free skate.
Evgeni Plushenko handily won the men’s event with two virtually flawless programs, though instant replay showed a slight touchdown of the free foot on his second quadruple toe loop in the free skate. Debuting new more sophisticated programs, Plushenko earned marks up to 5.9 for both his short program to Albinoni’s Adagio and his free skate to St. Petersburg 300 by Igor Korniliuk, which is a tribute to St. Petersburg.
Plushenko’s teammate, Alexander Abt, won the silver medal with two sloppy performances marred by errors late in the program. Abt finished just ahead of China’s Chengjiang Li, who opened with a strong quadruple toe loop only to make errors on many of his triple jumps.
In the ladies event, Japanese sensation Yoshie Onda stood up on a triple Axel in her free skate, though it was ultimately deemed incomplete by the ISU. The biggest improvement in Onda’s skating, however, is her presentation. The nineteen-year-old demonstrated significantly more attention to carriage and line, and as a result earned marks of up to 5.7 in both programs.
The top-ranked Japanese lady, world bronze medalist Fumie Suguri, defeated Onda in the short program but had a free skate that included just three clean triple jumps. Despite the sub-par performance, Suguri finished a solid second ahead of a sloppy field. Finland’s Susanna Pöykiö claimed the bronze medal with an equally lackluster performance that also included just three triples, and no triple lutz.
The ice dance event once again proved to have the most surprising results. Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski of Bulgaria, fourth at Skate Canada just one week prior, won all three phases of the event, while a team that had beaten them – Canadians Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon – found themselves in fourth place.
At Skate Canada, Denkova and Staviski’s original dance was ruled to be in violation of the prescribed “Grand Ballroom theme,” as their chosen music was baroque, and deductions of -0.2 were applied to each mark. Sometime in the week between competitions, the deductions must have been resolved as the Bulgarians earned marks of up to 5.8 for technical merit and 5.9 for presentation. The Egyptian free dance, Afrah Baladi by Mostafa Sax, that was so harshly received at Skate Canada also received a much different set of marks from the judges, and the Bulgarians walked away with the title. The highly unusual combination of a fourth place and a first place will almost assuredly qualify them for the Grand Prix Final.
Another team who was seemingly on their way down, Galit Chait and Sergei Sakhnovsky of Israel, rebounded here as well. At Skate America, Chait and Sakhnovsky – the world bronze medalists – found themselves behind the thirteenth-ranked team in the world, Tanith Belbin and Benjamin and Agosto of the U.S. While much gloom and doom was predicted, the result here indicated that it is too soon to write off Chait and Sakhnovsky.
German fan favorites, Kati Winkler and René Lohse, finished an unpopular third with a medley of modern music. This was their non-scoring event, and they will compete at the Cup of Russia and the NHK Trophy later this month for points toward the Grand Prix Final.