The final Grand Prix event of the season lands back in Japan, where 24 Senior and 24 Junior skaters and teams look for a spot on the podium. But the blockbuster story is the IOC’s decision to ban Russia from competing at the 2018 Winter Olympics. The decision has an immediate effect on Russian skaters, with a number of them competing this weekend and are heavy favorites to win medals. It’s unknown how many will participate under the Olympic Flag, or if Russian President Vladimir Putin will allow them to participate.
Men – For the first time in quite a while, the United States has three entries. The led by Nathan Chen, who has blown through the competition, winning at Rostelecom Cup and Skate America. Adam Rippon is right behind having finished 2nd at NHK Trophy and Skate America. Jason Brown is a last minute replacement for China’s Byong Jin, who is injured. Brown picked up enough points to be an alternate. Their main competitors are Japan’s Shoma Uno, who has come out of Yuzuru Hanyu’s shadow to become a force of his own. He won at Skate Canada and missed the top of the podium at Grenoble. Russia brings two skaters to the final. Mikhail Kolyada won his first Grand Prix tournament at Cup of China and placed third at Rostelecom Cup. Sergei Voronov also won his first ever Grand Prix tournament, capturing the NHK Trophy title and qualified for this weekend with a 3rd place finish at Skate America.
This will be a battle between Chen and Uno for the top spot. But don’t count out Rippon and Voronov. It will go down to the final skate on who will take the top spot.
Smooth’s Picks –
1. Shoma Uno (JPN)
2. Nathan Chen (USA)
3. Adam Rippon (USA)
Ladies – The tournament will be missing the top ladies skater in the world. Russia’s Evgenia Medvedeva pulled out of this weekend’s competition due to foot injury. That will affect her for Russian Nationals later this month. Japan’s Satoko Miyahara takes her place and is an immediate threat to take the top spot. Teammate Wakaba Higuchi is a moderate threat to make the podium with her 2nd place finish in Beijing and 3rd place finish at Rostelecom Cup. The rest of the field is solid. Canada’s Kaetlyn Osmond continues her upward swing with a win at Skate Canada and a 3rd place finish at Grenoble. Italy’s Carolina Kostner has two 2nd place finishes at Rostelecom Cup and NHK Trophy and looks to grab her first GP Final title since 2012. The other two spots are occupied by Russians. Alina Zagitova has surprised the judges in her first season as a senior with her poise and grace, and they rewarded her with two victories at Cup of China and at Grenoble. Her teammate Maria Sotskova has two 2nd place finishes at Skate Canada and in Grenoble.
My money is on the young Russian lady to continue to get better and is a threat to beat Medvedeva at Russian Nationals. 2nd and 3rd will be a fight between Italy, Canada and Japan.
Smooth’s Picks –
1. Alina Zagitova (RUS)
2. Satoko Miyahara (JPN)
3. Carolina Kostner (ITA)
Pairs – This may be the most competitive Grand Prix Final in years. All are capable of winning the top spot. That’s why it’s so hard to choose. The narrow favorites are the team from China, Wenjin Sui and Cong Han. The team won both of their competitions at Cup of China and NHK Trophy, and managed to win a non-GP event in Shanghai last weekend. Russia’s Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov was the only other team to win both their tourmanents this season with gold at Rostelecom Cup and at Grenoble. Germany’s Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot won at Skate America and finished 2nd at Skate Canada to qualify for this weekend. Canada’s Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford fought hard to win Skate Canada and just barely made this weekend’s final with a 3rd place finish at Skate America. The other two slots are occupied by Russia’s Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, who took 2nd twice (Rostelecom Cup and NHK Trophy) this season, and China’s Xiaoyu Yu and Hao Zhang who also finished in 2nd twice to qualify this weekend (Cup of China and Skate America).
This will be a battle that will be won or lost in the short program, with China’s Sui and Han & Russia’s Tarasova and Morozov fighting it out, with Germany and Canada close behind.
Smooth’s Picks –
1. Wenjin Sui and Cong Han (CHN)
2. Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov (RUS)
3. Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot (GER)
Ice Dance – The six teams skating this weekend WILL be in the final flight in Pyeongchang this February, barring injury. Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir have shown that even after a year off, they can come back and finish what they started. They haven’t lost since placing 2nd at Sochi in 2014 and they are the favorites to win this weekend. On their heels are three American teams. At the top of the list are Maia and Alex Shibutani, who won both their competitions this season (Rostelecom Cup and Skate America) and look to improve on their 3rd place finish at last year’s Grand Prix Final. Teammates Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue have greatly improved their game by finishing 3rd at Skate Canada and 2nd at NHK Trophy. They also look to improve from last year’s 5th place finish at the GP Final. Madison Chock and Evan Bates lost a slight step to Hubbell and Donohue, but two 2nd place finishes at Cup of China and Grenoble were good enough to qualify for this week’s final. They finished 6th last season. The other two teams are two of the best in the world. France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron are two time World Ice Dance champions. They won both their Grand Prix competitions (Cup of China and Grenoble), but haven’t won gold at the Grand Prix final, finishing 3rd in 2014 and 2nd in 2016. They look to break the stretch this weekend. Italy’s Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte won the Ice Dance title in 2014, but they too haven’t won gold at the final. They were 3rd at NHK and 2nd at Skate America.
Each are the best of the best and can win the top prize. However, I can’t see anyone else beating Virtue and Moir this weekend. 2nd and 3rd place with be a fight to the finish.
Smooth’s Picks –
1. Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir (CAN)
2. Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron (FRA)
3. Maia and Alex Shibutani (USA)
Finally, here are my picks in the Junior Grand Prix Circuit this weekend.
Men –Alexei Krasnozhon (USA) – This is his second try at a Junior Grand Prix title and has put up some killer numbers, winning at Brisbane and Croatia.
Ladies – Alexandra Trusova (RUS) – Of the five Russian ladies who qualified, she’s probably the best, having won twice in her first season as a Junior.
Pairs – Ekaterina Alexadrovskaya and Harley Windsor (AUS) – This team put Australian Figure Skating on the map after winning the World Junior Pairs title last season. They look to continue success this weekend.
Ice Dance – Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko (USA) – This American team is undefeated in Junior competition this season and look to continue the streak.