The only thing left in the skating season for the senior ranks is the upcoming World Figure Skating Championships in London, Ont. in March, and it appears like it might be Italy's turn to revel in some depth in their skating pool.
The only thing left in the skating season for the senior ranks is the upcoming World Figure Skating Championships in London, Ont. in March.
When trying to figure out the 'who's who' in the figure skating world, there is lots to take into consideration and one of the rewards is watching skaters put their respective countries on the skating map.
Japan did it with their outstanding male and female skaters. Korea moved up in the ranks on the strength of 2010 Olympic champion Yu-Na Kim's success. Spain has done it with the emergence of Javier Fernandez as newly-crowned European champion.
It appears like it might be Italy's turn to revel in some depth in their skating pool.
Take the fact that at the recent European championships, Italy claimed two bronze medals in ice dance and pairs, and also the women's title to go along with a fourth-place finish in the women's event.
The significance of these results is important. The now five-time European champion Carolina Kostner is in a very good position to be able to defend her world title in London next month.
Her teammate, Valentina Marchei, is also on the move. As a four-time national champion, she has already demonstrated her potential. By finishing in third at the Europeans in the short program, she proved that she is able to hold her own in a tough field.
Marchei's final fourth-place result was her best in her nine outings at the Europeans since 2004.
What is wonderfully disarming about Marchei is her engaging personality and humility off the ice. On the ice her personality shines through coupled with strength and speed.
Fate has not been kind in helping Marchei reach her goal of getting to the Olympics. They are, after all, in her blood as her father competed for Italy as a marathon runner at the 1980 and 1984 Games.
I think that's about to change. Marchei was eighth at last year's worlds; finishing in the top 10 for the first time in five outings since 2004.
In 2011, Marchei made the move to Detroit to train with 1994 world champion Yuka Sato and Jason Dungjen, and it seems to have helped her progress.
"My head is working in a different way," she said. "It's a process working with Yuka [Sato] and Jason [Dungjen] and Franca Bianconi too to get to Sochi. I am learning to trust the coaches and the training. I have improved as a skater and grown up as an athlete."
The real test will come next month in London.
The other names that jumped off the page from Europeans for me were three-time Italian pair champions Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek. Finishing with a bronze medal at Europeans was not only personally satisfying for the team, it was also a huge accomplishment for Italy.
This was the first time that Italian pair skaters have ever made it to the podium at this level.
Theirs is an interesting story in which Berton was a singles skater for Italy until 2009 and Hotarek initially competed for the Czech Republic. Hotarek moved to Italy and had another partner before connecting with Berton in June 2009.
Hotarek explains it this way: "We had this connection. Skating with each other from the first time felt right."
While Berton says simply: "I had the feeling I could trust him. In thought I would never skate pairs but if I ever did it would be with him. He is my first and only pair partner."
Berton and Hotarek are heading to their fourth world championship where they are looking to improve on their best 10th-place finish. With the confidence of a European bronze medal in their pocket, capitalizing on their current momentum seems a distinct possibility.
Their goal is to finish in the top eight in London. They are looking for two clean programs at worlds: Their short program choreographed by Anjelika Krylova and free choreographed by Pasquale Camerlengo.
This is a team that is profiting from training on two continents: in Detroit with Jason Dungjen and with their Italian coach Franca Bianconi at the Palasesto near Milan.
Already in Canada for an ice show, the team will continue to train in Michigan until heading off to worlds.
Ice dance champions Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte have continued the in the fine tradition of modern Italian ice dancers with their first European bronze medal. This has been a very good season for Cappellini and Lanotte.
They took two silver medals at their grand prix events, finished in fourth at the Grand Prix Final before taking their second national title.
Cappellini and Lanotte are looking to take that next step on to the podium at Worlds and the question in my mind is if Italy can take home some of the hardware.
PJ KwongPJ is a self-proclaimed Word Broker who goes by the motto: I read them. I write them. I speak them. A degree from the University of Toronto studying Modern Languages has been put to good use as a bilingual PA announcer for, among other things, the last 5 Olympic Games, the FIFA U-20 2007 Men's World Cup and numerous international figure skating events since 1993.
Working as a figure skating coach for the last 25+ years led to commentating opportunities from CTV/TSN, ABC, Tokyo Broadcasting, CBC, Fuji TV, Seoul Broadcasting and CCTV among others. CBC has been home to Pj's skating voice, writing and commentary opinions since 2007. She would tell you that although working in skating is where her passion lies; she is the voice of lots of commercial projects, a blogger on her own site, a public speaker and with "Taking The Ice: Success Stories from the World of Canadian Figure Skating" a published author. You want opinions? She's got them. Follow her on Twitter to see.