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.
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.
1. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN)
2. Jason Brown (USA)
3. Alexei Bychenko (ISR)
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.
1. Evgenia Medvedeva (RUS)
2. Carolina Kostner (ITA)
3. Satoko Miyahara (JPN)
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.
1. Wenjing Sui and Cong Han (CHN)
2. Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov (RUS)
3. Kristina Astakhova and Alexei Rogonov (RUS)
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.
1. Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir (CAN)
2. Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte (ITA)
3. Madison Hubbell and Zack Donohue (USA)