The ISU Challenger event, one level below the Grand Prix Series, is the final Olympic qualifier for the fourth consecutive cycle, dating back to 2009.
Twenty total spots are up for grabs at the event, which gets underway on Thursday morning local time, including seven in men’s singles, six women’s, three in pair skating and four in ice dance.
Spots are just that – allotted positions for each nation at the Winter Olympics in February – and do not qualify individual skaters themselves, a process up to each national governing body.
Olympic figure skating teams are generally announced in December and January of the Olympic season.
Americans Vincent Zhou, the 2019 world bronze medallist, and Alysa Liu, a two-time senior national champion, headline the event, as the U.S. looks to lock in third spots for both its men’s and women’s team.
Beijing places were previously secured at the 2021 World Figure Skating Championships earlier this year in Stockholm, with some nations looking to secure a second or third spot in certain disciplines, while others are attempting a first.
Each skater must hit the minimum technical scores set by the International Skating Union, and can do so at designated events throughout the season.
Olympic spots are awarded in each discipline to the top finishers in accordance with the number of spots available in said discipline. A skater or skaters who finish within the qualifying cutoff but are not eligible for Olympic qualification will be passed over.
Olympic spots available: 7
It’s the U.S. and Russia that are both looking to secure a third spot, while Canada, France and South Korea could nab a second.
The aforementioned Zhou is far and away the favourite, the 20-year-old having been sixth at PyeongChang 2018 before earning bronze at worlds in 2019. But a disastrous short program in Stockholm earlier this year meant he missed the free skate at worlds – hence his appearance at Nebelhorn.
Zhou’s 299.01 personal best is 50 points above the second best, that of 2020 Canadian national champion Roman Sadovsky.
Zhou, Sadovsky, Russian youngster Mark Kondratiuk, France’s Adam Siao Him Fa, German Paul Fentz and Brendan Kerry of Australia could factor into the top six.
Ten men have personal bests over 200-point mark, while Kondratiuk’s 260.31 came at a domestic competition, Russian nationals, in December 2020.
Zhou scored a 288.36 at Cranberry Cup earlier this month.
Olympic spots available: 6
The U.S. women are also attempting to nab a third spot, as Belgium and Austria are trying to secure a second.
Liu looks well-placed to do so, the 16-year-old coming off the heels of her senior international debut at Lombardia Trophy two weeks ago, where she emerged as champion behind mature, strong skating – and a triple Axel.
Her 219.24 there is a best among the women’s field by some 20 points, with Poland’s Ekaterina Kurakova next at 201.47. Kurakova, a Moscow native who began skating for Poland in 2019, formerly trained with Olympic champion Brian Orser in Toronto.
Belarus’ Viktoriia Safonova, Alexia Paganini of Switzerland, Nicole Rajicova of Slovakia and Lara Naki Gutmann of Italy look to round out the top six, though another five skaters have bests above the 150-point mark.
Australia’s Kailani Craine is attempting to make her second Olympics, too.
Olympic spots available: 3
Host nation China is looking for a third spot in pairs, while Japan tries for a second.
Experienced team Minera Fabienne Hase and Nolan Seegert (Germany) will factor into the pairs standings, but they are not a part of the Olympic qualification process.
Spain’s Laura Barquero and Marco Zandron look to grab one of those three available Beijing spots, the reigning Spanish national champions impressed at Lombardia Trophy with silver, scoring a 184.94.
Only Karina Safina and Luka Berulava of Georgia (168.26) and Hailey Kops and Evgeni Krasnopolski of Israel (165.85) have previously scored above 160.
Wang Yuchen and Huang Yihang will look to secure Olympic host China that coveted third spot in a discipline it factors into podium consideration.
Olympic spots available: 4
Italy and Great Britain are trying to qualify a second spot each.
Maria Kazakova and Georgy Reviya (Georgia), Natalie Taschlerova and Filiip Taschler (Czech Republic) and Juulia Turkkila and Matthias Versluis (Finland) are the top dance teams as far as personal best scores go.
Sasha Fear and George Waddell (Great Britain) and Carolina Portesi Peroni and Michael Chrastecky (Italy) will have to skate above their best to earn the aforementioned Olympic spots.