The road to Sochi, Russia begins this week, with the anticipated return of Skate America. The event takes place in Detroit, and skaters will be vying to get ahead of the competition in the Grand Prix series event. There have already been withdrawals by some skaters due to injury, most notably, France’s Brian Joubert and 2010 Olympic champion Evan Lysacek. It’s unknown of his status for the rest of the season due to his recurring injury.
Analysis: The withdrawal of Lysacek leaves the field to a three skater race between Japan’s Daisuke Takahashi, Tatsuki Machida and Kazakhstan’s Denis Ten. Last year, Ten stunned the skating world by grabbing the first ever medal for his country in any figure skating event. He’ll be hard pressed to continue the streak. Takahashi, ranked 3rd in the ISU World standings had a great 2013, winning the Grand Prix final in Sochi, placing 2nd in Shanghai and the NHK Trophy and finishing 3rd in Worlds. Other skaters to keep an eye on is Russia’s Artur Gachinski, who had a disappointing nationals, finishing 4th and America’s Max Aaron, who took the men’s US championship.
Skater to Watch: Lysacek’s loss means Jason Brown will get a second look this Senior Grand Prix season. He made his debut at Nebelhorn, finishing 2nd and has made waves in the Junior circuit.
BREAKING NEWS: (10/15/2013) According to Jenny Kirk of The Skating Lesson, Denis Ten has withdrawn from this weekend’s Skate America due to an undisclosed injury. No replacement has been announced.
Smooth’s Pick –
1. Daisuke Takahashi (JPN)
2. Max Aaron (USA)
3. Artur Gachinski (RUS)
Analysis: There are at least six skaters who have a chance to make the podium. But all eyes will be on reigning World Bronze medalist Mao Asada, who will look to improve on her disappointing finish last season. In her arsenal will be the triple axel, which will be highly anticipated. One skater that may give her trouble is American Ashley Wagner, who despite finishing 5th at last year’s Worlds, is still a dangerous competitor on the ice. Also skating this weekend is Italy’s Valentina Marchei, who had a few wins in non-GP events (Gardena Spring Trophy and Lombardia Trophy) and Russia’s Liza Tuktamysheva, who will look to improve on her 10th place finish at Worlds.
Skater to Watch: Georgia’s Elene Gedevanishvili has struggled in recent competitions, but is still has plenty of Grand Prix experience. Also, look for America’s Samantha Cesario, who will skate in her first Senior Grand Prix event.
Smooth’s Pick –
1. Mao Asada (JPN)
2. Ashley Wagner (USA)
3. Liza Tuktamysheva (RUS)
Analysis: Reigning world champions Tatiana Volosozhar & Maxim Trankov were virtually unbeatable and are the odds on favorites to win at Sochi this February. Their main competitors not participating this weekend, the only real competition will be from Canadians Kirsten Moore-Towers & Dylan Moscovitch, who’ve steadily improved every year since moving up to Senior competition (Currently ranked 7th in the World.). Other teams of note are Russians Ksenia Stolbova & Fedor Klimov, who have struggled since moving up to Seniors and Americans Caydee Denney & John Coughlin who missed the second half of the season due to injury, but will still skate a strong performance.
Skaters to Watch: Two teams to keep an eye on are Americans Marissa Castelli & Simon Shnapir, who showed some promise last season, winning the US pairs title and runner’s up, and Felicia Zhang & Nathan Bartholomay, who will be skating in only their 2nd Senior Grand Prix event.
Smooth’s Pick –
1. Tatiana Volosozhar & Maxim Trankov (RUS)
2. Kirsten Moore-Towers & Dylan Moscovitch (CAN)
3. Ksenia Stolbova & Fedor Klimov (RUS)
Analysis: Since 1997, the team of Meryl Davis & Charlie White have basically ascended to the top of the skating world, with only Olympic Gold alluding them in 2010. They’ll be the slight favorites in Sochi with Canadians Virtue and Moir heaving on their tail. This weekend, they’ll go for their 4th straight Skate America title in their home town (Royal Oak in suburban Detroit), as their only competition will be from Italy’s Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte and the brother and sister team of Maia & Alex Shibutani of the USA. Both are ranked 6th and 9th in the world. Another brother and sister team skating this weekend is Japan’s Cathy & Chris Reed. The team had a disappointing 2013, which was attributed to an injury to Cathy. Look for the team to bounce back strong and in contention.
Skaters to Watch: The strong performance by team Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue at last month’s Nebelhorn Trophy competition may give the USA something that has never happened in the history of Grand Prix or any World ice dance competition, three teams on the podium. Will it happen? It’s a stretch!
Smooth’s Pick –
1. Meryl Davis & Charlie White (USA)
2. Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte (ITA)
3. Maia & Alex Shibutani (USA)
Finally, we’re participating in the U.S. Figure Skating Fantasy Challenge! We’ve made our picks and will be checking periodically to see how we do all season long. Join the team at usfsa.org/fantasyskating.
Good luck to all the competitors this season! “Skate like a champion, today!”