Smooth’s Podium Picks – Grand Prix Final 2017

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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.

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Japan’s Shoma Uno looks to win the Grand Prix Final on home ice.

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)

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In one of the biggest surprizes of the season, Russia’s Alina Zagitova looks to continue her hot win streak.

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)

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Russia’s Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov look to come out on top this weekend in pairs competition.  

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)

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Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are the overwhelming favorites to win this weekend. 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Ice Dance – Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko (USA) – This American team is undefeated in Junior competition this season and look to continue the streak.

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Smooth’s Podium Picks – Skate America 2017

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Happy Thanksgiving! The Grand Prix season moves back to Lake Placid, where some skaters can qualify for the Grand Prix Final next month. This is the latest I can remember Skate America being held, as it’s usually held in October.  This is the first time the event is held in the Adirondacks since 2009.  The site also held Skate America from 1979 to 1982.

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American Nathan Chen can head to Nagano, Japan next month with a win this weekend.

Men – This could be a wide-open affair with only one real favorite this weekend. American Nathan Chen leads the field, as he hopes to win his second Grand Prix event of his career and qualify for the Final next month. Teammate Adam Rippon looks to find his way to the podium and a possible GP berth after a 2nd place finish at NHK Trophy. He was third at last year’s event. Russia’s Sergei Voronov looks to make it two in a row after his 1st place victory in Osaka. A placement in any podium spot will punch his ticket to Nagano. China’s Boyang Jin is also a threat to medal. He finished 2nd at the Cup of China.

Skaters to Watch – China’s Han Yan continues to battle his way back from injury. He was 5th at Cup of China. Jorik Hendrickx of Belgium has seen his star rise the last four months in regional competitions, but have only managed a 5th finish (Skate Canada) in Grand Prix action. Canadian Kevin Reynolds continues his struggles as he also battles to regain his 2016 form when he place 3rd at Skate Canada. He was 8th at Cup of China. Other contenders include Russia’s Maxim Kovtun, Japan’s Takahito Mura and American Ross Miner.

Smooth’s Pick –
1. Nathan Chen (USA)
2. Sergei Voronov (RUS)
3. Adam Rippon (USA)

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Canada’s Gabby Daleman looks to bounce back after a disappointing finish in Beijing.

Ladies – Hoping to successfully defend her title, Ashley Wagner leads the field of 11 ladies this weekend. Her third place win at Skate Canada means she will have to win the competition for a berth to the Grand Prix Final. He main competitor will be Canadian Gabby Daleman. The World bronze medalist took a tumble this season with a 6th place finish at Cup of China, but is still considered a contender for the podium this weekend. Russia’s Polina Tsurskaya was successful in her first Grand Prix event with a third place finish at NHK Trophy. Japan’s Satoko Miyahara returned to the ice after a long injury layoff with a 5th place showing at NHK. She looks to improve her standing going into Japanese Nationals next month.

Skaters to Watch – The loss of Gracie Gold from Grand Prix competition means a pleural of great competitors scheduled to skate this weekend. One is Russia’s Serafima Sakhanovich, who will make her second appearance in Grand Prix action. Last week, she won a competition in Warsaw, Poland; so she’ll be looking to repeat the task. American Karen Chen looks to do better in international competition. She was 7th at Skate Canada last month. Other to watch out for are Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto and Russian Alena Leonova.

Smooth’s Pick –
1. Polina Tsurskaya (RUS)
2. Gabrielle Daleman (CAN)
3. Ashley Wagner (USA)

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Germany’s Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Masso are looking to avenge their narrow lost at Skate Canada to Duhamel and Radford.

Pairs – This weekend looks like a preview of the final skate at Pyeongchang, as two of the top teams in the world go for the gold. Two time pairs champs Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford fought hard and won Skate Canada, giving them an inside track to the Final. Germans Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot were the hard luck team that wound up second to Duhamel and Radford. They get a second chance to avenge the loss. China’s Xiaoyu Yu and Hao Zhang could play spoiler to the two teams as they finished 2nd at Cup of China. Alexa and Chris Knierim are one of three American teams vying for the podium this weekend. They were 5th at NHK Trophy two weeks ago.

Skaters to Watch – Russia’s Natalia Zabiiako and Alexander Enbert missed the podium at Skate Canada finishing in 4th place. They hope for better luck this weekend. Canadians Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro have an outside chance to make the Grand Prix Final by virtue of their 3rd place finish at Cup of China. But for that to happen, they would need to win the competition outright, a monumental task given the talent out there. The two other American teams are looking for valuable international experience. Haven Denney and Brandon Frasier finished 2nd at Skate America last year, but it will be a tougher go this year. They were 7th at Skate Canada. Deanna Stellato marks her fourth competition in 16 years, this time in pairs with 2014 Olympian, Nathan Bartholomay.

Smooth’s Pick –
1. Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford (CAN)
2. Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot (GER)
3. Xiaoyu Yu and Hao Zhang (CHN)

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Italians Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte look to spoil the Shib-Shib’s home ice advantage.

Ice Dance – There are three intriguing match-ups this weekend. One is Americans Maia and Alex Shibutani, who are the defending champions. They beat out two top Russian teams at Rostelecom Cup and look to clinch a berth for the Grand Prix Final. One team standing in their way is Italians Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte who were victims of the numbers game, finishing 3rd to two tough teams at NHK Trophy. The third is Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, who also had a tough time with the numbers and ended up 4th at Rostelecom Cup. Russia’s Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov pulled off a 4th place finish at NHK and will look to contend for the podium.

Skaters to Watch – Americans Rachel and Michael Parsons first senior Grand Prix was one to forget, finishing 7th at Rostelecom Cup. Last year’s Junior Grand Prix champs look to bounce back this weekend. Also looking to bounce back are teammates, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, who were 4th at Skate Canada. Russia’s Tiffani Zagorski and Jonathan Guerreiro were also 4th at Cup of China, as they prepare for nationals next month.

Smooth’s Pick –
1. Maia and Alex Shibutani (USA)
2. Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte (ITA)
3. Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier (CAN) 

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Smooth’s Podium Picks – Internationaux de France 2017

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The Grand Prix series takes us across the continent to Grenoble, France; where more skaters can punch their ticket to the Grand Prix Final. Grenoble was the site of the 1968 Winter Olympics. 50 years ago, a young lady by the name of Peggy Fleming dazzled the world with her elegance and grace on her way to a gold medal. Her win brought USA figure skating back to world prominence after a tragic plane crash in Belgium that killed all of its team members. With 2018 being an Olympic year, a few skaters could see the podium at Pyeongchang in February.

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Japan’s Shoma Uno looks to keep his hot streak alive on his way to the Grand Prix Final.

Men – A stomach virus ruined Spain’s Javier Fernandez’s Grand Prix Final chances in China. He ended up 6th, his worst showing in four years. He’ll still considered the favorite to win in Grenoble this weekend. Japan’s Shoma Uno may just ruin his plans. Uno has not lost yet this season and has posted 300+ points at Skate Canada. Israel’s Alexei Bychenko puts in high miles, having skated in Japan last weekend and now has to perform in France. He finished third at NHK Trophy last weekend. American Max Aaron looks to qualify for the Grand Prix final with a 1st or 2nd place finish.

Skaters to Watch – Kazakhstan’s Denis Ten is far from the skater he was nearly four years ago when he won the Bronze medal at the Olympics in Sochi. His ninth place finish at Rostelecom Cup proves he has more work to do if he wants to find the podium at Pyeongchang in February. American Vincent Zhou had a good senior GP debut at the Cup of China with a 4th place finish. Uzbekistan’s Misha Ge also started strong this season, just barely missing the podium at Rostelecom Cup. Russia’s Alexander Samarin looks to parlay his 3rd place finish at Skate Canada into a Grand Prix Final berth.

Smooth’s Pick
1. Shoma Uno (JPN)
2. Javier Fernandez (ESP)
3. Max Aaron (USA)

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Russia’s Alina Zagitova looks to prove she’s a contender for gold this weekend and in February.

Ladies – Canada’s Kaetlyn Osmond looks to clinch a berth to Nagano. She can win with a placement no lower than 3rd with her 1st place finish at Skate Canada. She will have a tough lineup to go against, with three top Russians to face. Surprise Cup of China winner Alina Zagitova looks to duplicate the success and qualify for the GP Final. Maria Sotskova finished Skate Canada with a strong free skate and took 2nd. Liza Tuktamyasheva is still a threat to the podium, despite her 7th place finish in Beijing. Japan’s Mai Mihara is also a contender this weekend with her 4th place showing at Cup of China.

Skaters to Watch – After two years of injuries, American Polina Edmunds makes her return to the Grand Prix circuit. Her best finish was 4th place at Cup of China in 2014 and Rostelecom Cup in 2015. She’s not expected to find the podium, but can play spoiler. Elizabet Tursynbaeva can also play spoiler with a good showing this weekend. She’s shown shades of greatness in her skating, but has only an 8th place showing at Rostelecom Cup last month. France has two representatives to look out for, Mae Berenice Meite and Laurine Lecavelier.

Smooth’s Pick
1. Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN)
2. Alina Zagitova (RUS)
3. Maria Sotskova (RUS)

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Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres hope to continue their outstanding performance on the ice in their home country.

Pairs – Russia’s Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov are the favorites to take this competition. They won over their Russian comrades at Rostelecom Cup, but this weekend they skate as the only representatives. Their main competition will be from France’s Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres, who continue to move up the ranks in pairs. They took 3rd at Skate Canada, their best showing in two years. China’s Cheng Peng and Yang Jin had a poor showing in the short program at Skate Canada but was able to recover in the free skate and finish 5th. They’re still contender for the podium this weekend. Canada’s Liubov Ilyushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch had a bit of a set back with a 6th place finish at Skate Canada, but are poised to contend.

Skaters to Watch – Italy’s Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise almost made it to the podium at Cup of China, placing 4th. Another good performance may take them there. Americans Marissa Castelli and Mervin Tran look to improve on their 7th place finish in Moscow. The other two teams, Lola Esbrat & Andrei Novoselov for France and Zoe Jones & Christopher Boyadji of Great Britain each make their debuts in Grand Prix action.

Smooth’s Pick
1. Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov (RUS)
2. Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres (FRA)
3. Cheng Peng and Yang Jin (CHN)

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Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates hope the second time will be the charm as they aim for the top of the podium.

Ice Dance – France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron are the clear cut favorites this weekend. The team cruised to victory at Cup of China and look to clinch their third straight Grand Prix Final. Two teams could make their trip to the top of the podium a challenge. Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates gave them a run for their money in Beijing, finishing 2nd and will most certainly be on their heels. Canada’s Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje also have a 2nd place finish this season at Skate Canada and are well worthy of taking the top spot. Of the remaining teams, Russia’s Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin have the best chance to reach the podium.

Skaters to Watch – The remaining skating teams don’t have placements above 5th in Grand Prix competition. Of the few with the most promise, Italy’s Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri have the best chance to reach above 5th place. They reach that mark at Rostelecom Cup. Russia’s Alla Loboda and Pavel Drozd also look to be the closest to the podium. They were 5th at Skate Canada. Americans Elliana Pogrebinsky and Alex Benoit position themselves for Nationals with their performance this weekend.

Smooth’s Pick
1. Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron (FRA)
2. Madison Chock and Evan Bates (USA)
3. Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje (CAN)

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Smooth’s Podium Picks – NHK Trophy 2017

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This weekend the Grand Prix circuit heads to Osaka, Japan, where a number of skaters could qualify for the Grand Prix final this weekend.

Here are our picks.

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Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu looks to punch his ticket to the Grand Prix Final this weekend.

Men

Despite a 2nd place finish at Rostelecom Cup, the overall favorite is Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu. A win should move him to the Finals next month, as he was 2nd at Rostelecom Cup. Three skaters could challenge him this weekend. One is Israel’s Alexei Bychenko, who makes his Grand Prix season debut. His best finish is Rostelecom Cup in 2016 where he finished on the podium in 3rd. Two Americans will fight for the third spot. Jason Brown gave one of his best performance at Skate Canada, finishing in 2nd, Adam Rippon made the Grand Prix Final last season finishing 6th. He looks to return in his season debut this weekend.

Skaters to Watch – Patrick Chan was scheduled to appear this weekend, but withdrew due to injury. Canadian Keegan Messing gets the call up. He finished 8th at Skate Canada. Teammate Nam Nguyen looks to improve from his disappointing 7th place finish at Rostelecom Cup last month. Michal Brezina of the Czech Republic has had a tough start to the season with a 6th place finish at Skate Canada. Russia’s Sergei Voronov continues to improve and has two pre-GP finishes of 1st and 2nd. Daisuke Murakami was scheduled to compete this weekend, but has pulled out due to pneumonia. He will be replaced by 2016 junior national champion, Kazuki Tomono.

BREAKING: Just a few hours ago, the Japan Times reported Yuzuru Hanyu suffered a right ankle injury in practice. His status for this weekend is unknown. If he can’t go, look for Jason Brown to take his place at the top of the podium, with Alexei Bychenko in 2nd. My pick for 3rd will be Michal Brezina of the Czech Republic.

Smooth’s Pick
1. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN)
2. Jason Brown (USA)
3. Alexei Bychenko (ISR)

Satoko Miyahara of Japan performs during the ladies free skating program at the Skate America figure skating competition in Milwaukee

Japan’s Satoko Miyahara maker her return to the ice and looks to regain her edge.

Ladies

Russia’s Evgenia Medvedeva has an obsession with “Sailor Moon”, a popular cartoon from Japan so much that she’s incorporated it into her exhibition skating program. We’ll probably see that exhibition this weekend, but before that, she’ll try to continue her hot win streak, as she’s the favorite to take the top of the podium this weekend. However, all eyes will be on the return of Japan’s Satoko Miyahara. She’s been out of action all season long due to injury and will finally make her season debut. Italy’s Carolina Kostner looks to get back on the podium and a possible Grand Prix Final berth. She was 2nd at Rostelecom Cup. Russia also has a possible secret weapon in Polina Tsurskaya. She makes her senior debut and has not lost a junior competition in two years.

Skaters to Watch – Two Americans could play spoiler in Japan. Mirai Nagasu skates in her 6th NHK Trophy. Her best finish was in 2012, when she finished on the podium in 3rd. Mariah Bell has shown signs of greatness, but a 6th place showing at Rostelecom Cup was a small stumble ahead of Nationals. Others looking to re-group this weekend are Japan’s Rika Hongo, Korea’s Park Soyoun and Canada’s Alain Chartrand.

Smooth’s Pick
1. Evgenia Medvedeva (RUS)
2. Carolina Kostner (ITA)
3. Satoko Miyahara (JPN)

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Americans Alexa and Chris Knierim return to Grand Prix competition after a long layoff.

Pairs

No rest for the weary, as China’s Wenjing Sui and Cong Han look to make it two in a row after winning their home tournament at Cup of China last week. They’re the favorites to win this weekend, but should they stumble, two teams could slide up to the top. Russia’s Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov won at Rostelecom Cup and a place on the podium this weekend will give them the chance to defend their Grand Prix Final title. Teammates Kristina Astakhova and Alexei Rogonov were 3rd in Moscow and can also improve their chances for the GP final berth with a first or second place finish. Canadians Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau chances for a 2nd straight GP final berth slipped away with a 5th place finish at Rostelecom Cup. But they can still grab a spot on the podium with a flawless performance this weekend.

Skaters to Watch – Americans Alexa and Chris Knierim’s 2016 season was challenging, as they had to deal with a serious medical emergency. But the duo are back on the ice and look to improve on their 3rd place NHK finish in 2015. Austria’s Miriam Ziegler and Severin Kiefer were 6th at last year’s NHK. Japan has two teams looking to improve their international standing. Sumire Suto and Francis Boudreau-Audet mussed out on an Olympic berth, but can improve their standing in International competition with a strong showing this weekend (8th at Rostelecom Cup). Miu Susaki and Ryuichi Kihara skate in only their 6th competition and make their Grand Prix debut.

Smooth’s Pick
1. Wenjing Sui and Cong Han (CHN)
2. Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov (RUS)
3. Kristina Astakhova and Alexei Rogonov (RUS)

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Italy’s Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte may the only team standing in the way of Virtue and Moir.

Ice Dance

Canada’s lone representatives in Ice Dance are the favorites this weekend. Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir continue their comeback tour with another win at Skate Canada. The last time they’ve lost at NHK Trophy was in 2007 (2nd). Their biggest competitors this weekend are 2014 World champs, Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte of Italy. They return to the ice with two pre-GP wins at the Bavarian Open and Minsk Ice Star. Americans Madison Hubbell and Zack Donohue continue their upward trend in International competition with a third place showing at Skate Canada. Russia’s Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov have struggled a bit with a 5th place finish at last year’s NHK, but will also figure in the mix for the podium.

Skaters to Watch – Denmark’s Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sorensen begin their Olympic journey with their fourth competition of the season. Their best finish so far this season was at Finlandia, where they finished 3rd. Chris Reed competes in his 10th NHK Trophy event. He team with his sister, Cathy eight times. This will be his 2nd with current parner, Kana Muramoto, where they finished 7th. Israel’s Isabella Tobias and Ilia Tkachenko’s best Grand Prix finish was 5th at Trophee de France in 2016.

BREAKING:  Penny Coomes and Nicholas Buckland received a last minute invitation to NHK Trophy. Israel’s Isabella Tobias Lites and Ilya Tkachenko have withdrawn.

Smooth’s Pick
1. Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir (CAN)
2. Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte (ITA)
3. Madison Hubbell and Zack Donohue (USA)

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Smooth’s Podium Picks – Cup of China 2017

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The third round of the Grand Prix series moves to Beijing for the Cup of China. A couple of world champions make their debut this season, while a few skaters have a chance to move on to the final. Beijing will get the winter Olympics in 2022, marking the first time a city has had both summer and winter Olympics.

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Spain’s Javier Fernandez begins his Olympic quest this weekend.

Men

Analysis – Reigning two-time world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain makes his Grand Prix season debut this weekend. He beat out Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu at the Autum Classic in September and despite the long layoff is still the odds on favorite this weekend. His main competition will be from China’s Boyang Jin, who finished 2nd in this competition last season. Teammate Han Yan has struggled with injuries and poor skating that last few years, but has bounced back with a win at Cup of Nice last month. American Vincent Zhou will make his senior Grand Prix debut this weekend and is the current world junior champion. His second place showing at US nationals last season gives the judges something to look at this weekend.

Skaters to Watch – Since winning Skate America in 2015, American Max Aaron has only managed a 4th place best finish in last year’s Cup of China. He still has the ability to place this weekend. Canada’s Kevin Reynolds has endured ups and downs in his career. Injuries have curtailed his potential the last few years, but this weekend could be a new start for him. Other skaters looking to score valuable international experience include China’s He Zhang, and Japan’s Keiji Tanaka.

Smooth’s Picks
1. Javier Fernandez (ESP)
2. Boyang Jin (CHN)
3. Vincent Zhou (USA)

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Japan’s Mai Mihara could be a surprise winner this weekend.

Ladies

Analysis – An active field of ladies may make it tough to read who has the advantage this weekend. Japan’s three skaters have the potential to sweep the podium. Wakaba Higuchi had a 3rd place finish at Rostelecom Cup two weeks ago. Marin Honda finished 5th at Skate Canada last weekend. But the best of the three may be Mai Mihara, who placed 2nd at the Autumn Classic in September. Russia also has three skaters who could place this weekend. Elena Radionova placed 4th at Rostelecom Cup two weeks ago. Liza Tuktamysheva makes her Grand Prix return. She’s had four competitions under her belt the last 8 months with her best finish at The Nordics finishing 2nd. Alina Zagitova could have the most to gain this weekend. She makes her senior debut and has already won one competition (at Lombardia) this season.

Skaters to Watch – Canada’s Gabby Daleman took home bronze last season at worlds, but a 6th place finish at Finlandia brought a disappointing start to the season. The lone American entry is Amber Glenn, who will use this weekend to improve her international standing. This is her first senior Grand Prix competition. China enters two skaters who aren’t expected to medal. Xiangning Li and Ziquan Zhao finished 10th and 11th respectedly at Cup of China last season.

Smooth’s Picks
1. Alina Zagitova (RUS)
2. Mai Mihara (JPN)
3. Wakaba Higuchi (JPN)

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Current world champs, Wenjing Sui and Cong Han of China look to bring the gold home this weekend.

Pairs

Analysis – Only seven teams are participating this weekend. Xiaoyu Yu and Hao Xhang are the defending Cup of China champs. They also finished 2nd at last year’s Grand Prix Final. Teammates Wenjing Sui and Cong Han are the defending world champs, but haven’t participated at the Grand Prix in two years, where they finished 2nd at Cup of China. Canadians Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Mariano are probably the best team to make the podium. They won the US International Classic in September and their best Grand Prix finish was 3rd at Skate Canada in 2015. Italy’s Valentina Marchei and Ondrej Hotarek are also contenders to medal. They came up short at Rostelecom Cup two weeks ago, finishing 4th.

Skaters to Watch – Americans Ashley Cain and Tim Leduc replaced Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea back in September due to injury. They finished a surprising 3rd at US Nationals after less than a year as a team. Though it’s an outside chance to sweep the podium this weekend, China’s Mingyang Zhang and Bowen Song make only their second competition as a team. The other team competing is Italy’s Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise who finished 5th at last year’s Cup of China.

Smooth’s Picks
1. Wenjing Sui and Cong Han (CHN)
2. Xiaoyu Yu and Hao Xhang (CHN)
3. Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Mariano (CAN)

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Two-time World Ice Dance champs Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron look to re-gain their edge.

Ice Dance

Analysis – France’s two-time world ice dance champs Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron are off to a quick start, as they started their season with a win at Finlandia Trophy. They’re the favorites to win this weekend. A win or a 2nd place finish by Russians Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev will put them in good shape for the Grand Prix Final. They finished 2nd at Rostelecom Cup two weeks ago. There are two American teams that will challenge for the third spot. Perennial favorites Madison Chock and Evan Bates figure to be in the mix. They’ve reached the Grand Prix final twice in two years. Despite being in their first senior Grand Prix competition Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter have dominated on the junior level and have the potential to be the next big ice dance team.

Skaters to Watch – China brings three teams to the ice this weekend. Of the three, Shiyue Wang and Xinyu Liu have the most experience and are most likely to contend. They 6th at last season’s Cup of China. Russia’s unlikely pairing of Tiffani Zagorski and Jonathan Guerrio could make a splash this weekend. They were 2nd at Minsk Arena Ice Star earlier this season.

Smooth’s Picks
1. Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron (FRA)
2. Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev (RUS)
3. Madison Chock and Evan Bates (USA)

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Smooth’s Podium Picks – Skate Canada International 2017

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The Grand Prix series continues as we head to Regina, Saskatchewan for this year’s Skate Canada International. A couple key matchups in pairs and in the men’s division stand to make this weekend interesting. Canada may have a big weekend in store, as they look to solidify their standing in world competition.

Here’s our picks for this weekend.

Men’s

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Canada’s Patrick Chan looks for a record 8th Skate Canada title this weekend.

This weekend’s competition squares on Canadian Patrick Chan. He has won this tournament seven times and is the favorite. But Japan’s Shoma Uno is Chan’s biggest competitor this weekend. He’s come on strong last year with victories at Skate America and a third place Grand Prix Final and could give Chan a run for his money. American Jason Brown is the lone American man this weekend, he looks to improve his standing from last year, where he stumbled to a 7th place finish at NHK, which ruined his Grand Prix Final plans. Japan’s Takahito Mura finished 8th at last year’s Skate Canada and will look to improve this weekend.

 

Skaters to Watch – Belgium’s Jorik Hendrickx could be making a push as an elite skater this season. He won two pre-GP tournaments and finished 2nd at Nice few weeks ago. Canadian Keegan Messing is also on the move with a 3rd place finish at the Autumn Classic. Russian Alexander Samarin makes his senior debut this weekend along with Canadian Nicolas Nadeau.

Smooth’s Pick –
1. Shoma Uno (JPN)
2. Patrick Chan (CAN)
3. Jorik Hendrickx (BEL)

Ladies

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Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond rounds out a competitive field of ladies.

This is a highly competitive field with Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond the front-runner for gold. The reigning World silver medalist hasn’t won since 2012, so she’d due for a victory. Three skaters will vie for the top spot. American Ashley Wagner is a perennial contender in any competition. She’ll be making her season debut this weekend. Russia’s Anna Pogorilaya is also a contender, but we’ll have to see how her health is after withdrawing from Russia Cup due to injury. She should be at 100% percent. Another American, Karen Chen will be debuting a new program this weekend. She was 3rd at the US International Classic last month.

 

Skaters to Watch – Russia’s Maria Sotskova won at Finlandia last month and could surprise the field. American Courtney Hicks has found the podium in previous GP competitions (Rostelecom Cup last season, NHK in 2015). Canadian Alaine Chartrand struggled last season in International competition, but could do well with a fresh start. Japan’s Marin Honda and Riko Hongo are also contenders for the podium.

Smooth’s Pick
1. Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN)
2. Ashley Wagner (USA)
3. Anna Pogorilaya (RUS)

Pairs

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Can former two-time World champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford return to greatness this weekend?

All eyes will be on the former two-time World pairs champs, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford. Last year was one to forget, as they were taken off the top spot with a disappointing 7th place finish. Some concern, as they finished 2nd at the Autumn Classic, but they’re still considered the home favorites this weekend. Germany’s Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot are their main rivals this weekend. Last season, the team had do withdraw from the Grand Prix Final due to injury. China only has one team competing this weekend with Cheng Peng and Yang Jin. They have two 2nd place finishes in the GP last season and an early victory at Finlandia last month. French pairs skaters Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès has seen their fortunes climb recently. A 3rd place showing at Trophee de France and a surprise win at the Autumn Classic could give them a strong showing for the judges this weekend.

 

Skaters to Watch – Canadians Liubov Ilyushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch were there to carry the team when Duhamel and Radford fell. They finished 3rd at last year’s Skate Canada and will figure into this year’s tournament. Americans Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier have two 2nd place finishes in GP competitions, both at Skate America. Russia’s Natalia Zabiiako and Alexander Enbert have two early wins (Lombardia and Ondrej Nepela Trophy) and are contenders this weekend. Canadians Sydney Kolodziej and Maxime Deschamps make their senior debuts in Regina.

Smooth’s Pick –
1. Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford (CAN)
2. Cheng Peng and Yang Jin (CHN)
3. Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot (GER)

Ice Dance

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Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje face a monumental task of unseating Canadian teammates, Vitue and Moir.

It’s a far-gone conclusion that barring a catastrophe, Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are a lock for the top spot this weekend. But don’t be surprised if there’s an upset. If, by chance, it does happen it could come from two teams. Teammates Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje were on a trajectory for the top spot in the world until Virtue and Moir announced their comeback last season. They finished 2nd to them at the Autumn Classic and will be waiting in the wings for a stumble. The other team is Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue. The team made back-to-back Grand Prix finals and won the US International Classic last month. Teammates Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker are former world Junior Ice Dance champs, but because of a log-jam in the US field, they will have to improve internationally on the senior circuit. They finished 2nd to Hubbell and Donohue in Salt Lake last month.

 

Skaters to Watch – Turkey is not known as a figure skating powerhouse, but they’ve sent a team to Skate Canada this weekend. Alisa Agafonova and Alper Uçar din’t fair well last weekend at Rostelecom Cup, finishing 9th, but they’ll get another go this weekend for Olympic preparation. Russia only sends one team with Alla Loboda and Pavel Drozd making their senior debut this weekend. They finished 2nd at the Junior Grand Prix final last season. Poland’s Natalia Kaliszek and Maksym Spodyriev make only their third GP start this weekend. Their best finish is 5th at Cup of China last year.

Smooth’s Pick –
1. Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir (CAN)
2. Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje (CAN)
3. Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue (USA)

Posted in Figure Skating, Figures skating, Grand Prix, Ice Skating, International Skating Union, Skate Canada, Skating, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Smooth’s Podium Picks – Rostelecom Cup 2017

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It’s that time of year again, figure skating season is here. Regionals are currently taking place in the first steps to nationals. It’s also an Olympic year. That means the best of the best skaters will be competing for all important spots they’ve been training years in. The focus this weekend will be in Moscow, where over 40 skaters will compete for Grand Prix points. The big stories so far this short season is the sudden withdrawal of American Gracie Gold, who has taken time off due to personal issues. Russia’s Julia Lipniskaya has retired due to health-related issues. There are a few skaters who will make their mark this weekend and will look to focus on PeyongChang this winter.

Men

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Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu was not too pleased about finishing second to Spain’s Javier Fernandez at Skate Canada’s Autumn Classic last month.  He’ll look to take the men’s competition this weekend.

Analysis – This will be a battle between Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu and American Nathan Chen. Hanyu is the reigning Grand Prix title holder and didn’t begin his season right, as he lost to Spain’s Javier Fernandez at the Autumn Classic in Montreal. Chen began his season with a victory at the US International in Salt Lake City. Russian Dimitri Aliev is the reigning Junior Grand Prix champion and makes his senior debut in this event. Teammate Mikhail Kolyada captured the Ondrej Nepela Trophy in September, but finished 4th at Finlandia. Israel’s Daniel Samohin looks to continue last year’s success.

Skaters to Watch – Kazakhstan’s Denis Ten has fallen off the radar in the last 12 months due to injuries, but this being an Olympic year, look for him to bounce back. Uzbekistan’s Misha Ge also looks to grab a spot along with American Grant Hochestein, Canadian Nam Nguyen and Japan’s Kenji Tanaka.

Smooth’s Pick –
1. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN)
2. Nathan Chen (USA)
3. Mikhail Kolyada (RUS)

Ladies

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Olympic Champion Adelina Soltnikova (right) won’t compete this weekend, but Evgenia Medvedeva and Elena Radionova will look to repeat.

Analysis – There’s an outside chance of a Russian sweep this weekend. At the top of the list is the reigning two-time world champion, Evgenia Medvedeva, who shows no sign of stopping her success. teammate, Elena Radionova will figure into the other two slots this weekend. She finished third at Ondrej Nepela Trophy last month. There are two contenders for the third spot. Japan’s Wakaba Higuchi surprised many with a 2nd place finish at Lombardia, upsetting Italy’s Carolina Kostner, who came in 3rd. Kostner also had a 2nd place finish at Finlandia.

Skaters to Watch – If American Mirai Nagasu hits her triple axel and has a clean skate in both programs, then all bets are off on who will take the last two podium spots. She placed 2nd at US International at Salt Lake City. Kazakhstan’s Elizabet Tursynbaeva has shown signs of improvement last season and fionished 3rd at Skate Canada’s Autumn Classic. Others to watch are American Mariah Bell, Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto and France’s Mae Berenice Meite.

Smooth’s Pick –
1. Evgenia Medvedeva (RUS)
2. Elena Radionova (RUS)
3. Wakaba Higuchi (JPN)

Pairs

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Canadians Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau will look to return to the Grand Prix Final this season.

Analysis – eight teams will compete in Moscow this weekend. At the top of the contenders are Russia’s Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, who are the defending Grand Prix champions. They just cam off a victory at Nebelhorn Trophy. Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov are also contender for the top spot. They were past Grand Prix Pairs champions in 2015 and are coming off a two year stretch due to injury. Canada’s Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau have a very good chance at the podium, as they bounce back from a series of injuries late last season. They finished 3rd at the Autumn Classic. Hot of their heels are Italy’s Valentina Marchei and Ondrej Hotarek, who finished 3rd at Lombardia Trophy.

Skaters to Watch – Russia’s Kristina Astakhova and Alexei Rogonov givesthe country an outside chance for a sweep this weekend. They have a 2nd place finish at Ondrej Nepela and a 5th place finish at Finlandia. Americans Marisa Castelli and Mervin Tran continue their international trek, with a 4th place finish in the Autumn Classic. Other teams include Japan’s Sumire Suto & Francis Boudreau-Audet and Austria’s Miriam Ziegler and Severin Kiefer.

Smooth’s Pick –
1. Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov (RUS)
2. Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau (CAN)
3. Valentina Marchei and Ondrej Hotarek (RUS)

Ice Dance

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Americans Maia and Alex Shibutani are slight favorites this weekend in their first competition this season.

Analysis – The competition should be fun to watch with 10 teams skating this weekend. At the top are Americans Maia and Alex Shibutani. This will be their first competition of the season and they’re the reigning bronze medalists in last year’s Grand Prix Final. Their challenge will be with Russia’s Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev, who started their season with a victory at Ondrej Nepela last month. Teammates Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin will also figure into this weekend’s competition. They had a 2nd place finish at Finlandia to start their season. Americans Rachel and Michael Parsons begin their careers on the senior circuit this season. They’re the reigning junior Grand Prix champions and began their season with two 2nd place finishes at Lake Placid and Ondrej Nepela.

Skaters to Watch – Keep your eye on Italy’s Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri. They won two pre-GP events at Golden Spin and Lombardia and could make wave this weekend. Don’t forget Canadians Piper Gillies and Paul Poirier who look to break out this season. They have a 2nd place finish at the Autumn Classic and two third place finishes in Grand Prix competitions last season. Turkey’s Alisa Agafonova and Alper Ucar and France’s Marie-Jade Lauriault and Romain Le Gac also will contend this weekend.

Smooth’s Pick –
1. Maia and Alex Shibutani (USA)
2. Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev (RUS)
3. Piper Gillies and Paul Poirier (CAN)

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