This weekend marks the ends of the Grand Prix season for 2013. From there, it will be full steam ahead to Sochi in February. The ISU Grand Prix returns to Japan. But this time, it takes place in the city of Fukuoka, where over $250,000 dollars in prize money will be awarded. More importantly, it also gives skaters the upper hand for the 2014 Winter Olympics this February. In addition to the Senior final, the Junior Grand Prix will take place, as well.
Analysis: Daisuke Takahashi’s season just took a tumble, when he withdrew from this weekend’s GP final due to injury. His replacement, Nobunari Odo still gives Japan a chance to sweep the medals. However, the clear favorite is Canada’s Patrick Chan, who has dominated the field in his last two competitions including a whopping 295.27 total score in Paris last month. His main competition will be Tatsuki Machida, who looked impressive capturing Skate America and Rostelecom Cup in Moscow. Yuzuru Hanyu surprised many with his 2nd place finishes at Skate Canada and Trophee Eric Bompard in Paris, where he received a personal best 95.37 in the short program.
Skater to watch: Han Yan had a strong showing at Cup of China, capturing Gold. But he staggered down the stretch, finishing 4th at Trophee Eric Bompard. He still has a chance to medal with a strong performance this weekend.
Smooth’s Pick –
1. Patrick Chan (CAN)
2. Tatsuki Machida (JPN)
3. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN)
Analysis: The big surprise this weekend was two of the top ranked skaters in the ladies division won’t be competing this weekend. Italy’s Carolina Kostner, currently #1 in the ISU world rankings, fared poorly in Grand Prix competition this fall, while Japan’s Akiko Suzuki, ranked #2 in the world, was upended by her competition. That leaves Japan’s Mao Asada the odds-on favorite to win this weekend. Russia has a juggernaut at this weekend’s GP final with 4 skaters qualifying. The skater with the most to gain is Julia Lipnitskaia, who surprised many by winning Skate Canada with a personal best 198.23 and capturing Gold Rostelecom Cup in Moscow. Fast behind is Adelina Sotnikova, who has two 2nd place finishes this fall.
Skater to watch: Russia’s Elena Radionova has the most to gain this weekend. Any place on the podium will improve her chances at Russian nationals and for Sochi. She’s currently ranked 18th in the ISU World standing.
Smooth’s Pick –
1. Mao Asada (JPN)
2. Julia Lipnitskaia (RUS)
3. Ashley Wagner (USA)
Analysis: This weekend’s competition is a prelude to what we’ll see in Sochi this February. The Russian team of Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov are the reigning world champions and have showed no signs of “wear n’ tear”, dominating the Grand Prix circuit. In fact, they haven’t lost a competition since the 2012 Worlds. They’ll be the favorites versus Germany’s Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy. Both teams easily won both their qualifiers. On their heels is China’s Qing Pang and Jian Tong, who captured Gold and Silver in Grand Prix competition.
Skaters to watch: Look for the Canadians to make impressions this weekend. Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch had a season best 208.45 points at Skate America in October, while reigning world Bronze medalists Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford had a strong showing at Skate Canada and Trophee Eric Bompard.
Smooth’s Pick –
1. Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov (RUS)
2. Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy (GER)
3. Qing Pang and Jian Tong (CHN)
Analysis: All six of the top ice dancers are competing this weekend. The only other US/Canada rivalry that would match up to this weekend would be in ice hockey. Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White have pretty much dominated over Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir the last two years. Davis & White put up personal bests at the NHK Trophy Free Dance (112.95; total 186.65), while Virtue and Moir came pretty close to matching the total at Skate Canada (181.03). Reigning World bronze medalists Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev of Russia (season’s best 168.32 points) and two-time European Champions Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat of France (season’s best 171.08) look to fight for the bottom of the podium.
Skaters to watch: Either of the remaining two teams are capable of pulling off the upset. Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Canada finished 2nd in each of their GP appearances, while Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte of Italy also pulled off 2nd place duty at Skate America and NHK Trophy.
Smooth’s Pick –
1. Meryl Davis and Charlie White (USA)
2. Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir (CAN)
3. Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev (RUS)
And as an added bonus, here are my picks in the Junior Grand Prix circuit.
Nathan Chen (USA)
Polina Edmunds (USA)
Xiaoyu Yu and Yang Jin (CHN)
Junior Ice Dance:
Anna Yanovskaya and Sergei Mozgov (RUS)