Welcome to another season of Smooth’s Podium Picks. We’re very excited for this season to start. When we last looked, a number of high level skaters either retired or decided to take the season off after a highly competitive Olympic year. Some decided to compete on Dancing with the Stars, a few took the Stars on Ice tour, and some decided to go back to school. The senior circuit takes over as Skate America 2014 takes place this weekend in Hoffman Estates outside Chicago. Skaters will compete for points in order to qualify for the Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final in December.
Here are our Podium Picks.
Analysis – Twelve skaters will compete this season, the most in the tournament’s history. Olympic champ Yuzuru Hanyu won’t be competing this weekend due to recovery from back pain. However Olympic Bronze medalist Denis Ten will be participating and is expected to contend for the top spot. His two big rivals is American Jason Brown, who is poised for a big year this season and Japan’s Tatsuki Machida, who is the defending Skate America champion. This is probably Jeremy Abbott’s last chance to win the men’s division. After performing poorly last season, a good showing this weekend will put him in favor with the judges.
Skaters to Watch – 2014 World Junior Champion Nam Nguyen of Canada and World junior silver medalist Adian Pitkeev of Russia will be making their Senior debuts this weekend. This will be their first taste of big time competition. For Nguyen, this will be his chance to be heir apparent to Patrick Chan.
1. Denis Ten (KAZ)
2. Jason Brown (USA)
3. Tatsuki Machida (JPN)
Analysis – The story so far in this short season is the return of Russia’s Elizaveta Tuktamysheva. She took gold in three pre-GP events (Nebelhorn Trophy 2014, Finlandia Trophy 2014 and Cup of Nice) and will look to win her fourth in a row this weekend. America’s Gracie Gold did not have a great pre-GP at Nebelhorn Trophy finishing 3rd, but will skate to a hometown crowd. Two-time World Junior Champion Elena Radionova of Russia will try to improve on her bronze medal showing last year.
Skaters to Watch – Veteran skater Mirai Nagasu will be skating for herself to prove she’s still a contender. Other contenders include American Samantha Cesario, who surprised many with her silver showing at Finlandia Trophy, Mae-Berenice Meite of France and two-time European bronze medalist Elene Gedevanishvili of Georgia.
1. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS)
2. Elena Radionova (RUS)
3. Gracie Gold (USA)
Analysis – The big story is the withdrawal of current Olympic and world champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, who will miss this year’s Grand Prix events due to injury. That leaves two-time World bronze medalists Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov as the favorites in this competition. Their challenge should come from ISU Grand Prix Finalists Cheng Peng and Hao Zhang of China, 2013 World Junior Champions Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier and 2014 Four Continents bronze medalists Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim, both of the USA.
Skaters to Watch – Americans Madeline Aaron and Max Settlage began their senior careers in a couple of pre-GP events, finishing 3rd at the US International Classic and 6th at Nebelhorn Trophy. More international competition will improve their standing. Also, Annabelle Prölss and Ruben Blommaert of Germany were successful on the junior circuit, but have struggled in seniors.
1. Kavaguti and Smirnov (RUS)
2. Peng and Zhang (CHN)
3. Scimeca and Knierim (USA)
Analysis – With the top two teams in the world sitting out this year’s Grand Prix season, it’s a crap shoot on who will take over the top spot. This weekend, the American teams look to grab it. Madison Chock and Evan Bates took 2nd at Nebelhorn Trophy at a pre-GP event last month, while the brother/sister team of Maia and Alex Shibutani won at O. Nepela Trophy and will look to improve on their 3rd place finish at Skate America last season. One team that will contend are Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin of Russia. Their top finish at Finlandia Trophy figures to be the first step recapturing the dominance that once was common in Russian ice dance teams.
Skaters to Watch – Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri of Italy have struggled to find footing in previous GP competition, finishing 7th at Skate Canada last season. A 2nd place finish at O. Nepela Trophy gives them hope for the season. Anastasia Cannuscio and Colin McManus of the USA also finished 7th at last year’s Skate America. This weekend will also be a chance for improvement for their careers.
1. Chock and Bates (USA)
2. Stepanova and Bukin (RUS)
3. Maia and Alex Shibutani (USA)