Monday, December 6, 2010

Grand Prix Final - The Preview

After the marathon that is the regular Grand Prix season, it's always strange having this small lull in the action while the skating world waits for the Grand Prix Final to take place. This season is certainly no exception. So far, surprisingly, there have been no withdrawal announcements (although there are still a few days left for that). With the lineups the way they currently stand, the event has the potential to be rather interesting and in the case of the ladies (and the men to some degree), unpredictable. All that said, here are my thoughts.

 Ice Dance Qualifiers
1. Meryl Davis/Charlie White (USA)
2. Nathalie Pechalat/Fabian Bourzat (FRA)
3. Vanessa Crone/Paul Poirier (CAN)
4. Ekaterina Bobrova/Dmitri Soloviev (RUS)
5. Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje (CAN)
6. Nora Hoffmann/Maxim Zavozin (HUN)
7. Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA)
7. Madison Chock/Greg Zuerlein (USA)
8. Ekaterina Riazanova/Ilia Trachenko (RUS)

I think the battle for gold here will most likely be between Davis/White and Pechalat/Bourzat. I'd still give the edge to Davis/White, but the French have come much closer to their point total than anyone expected before this season started. In all honesty, it seems like everyone else will just be fighting for the bronze.And my personal hope? Simply that a team will withdraw so that the Shibutanis get a chance to compete at the GPF this year and so we get a last chance to see them compete before Nationals.

Pairs Qualifiers
1. Aliona Savchenko/Robin Szolkowy (GER)
2. Qing Pang/Jian Tong (CHN)
3.  Vera Bazarova/Yuri Larionov (RUS)
4.  Kirsten Moore-Towers/Dylan Moscovitch (CAN)
5. Lubov Iliushechkina/Nodari Maisuradze (RUS)
6. Wenjing Sui/Cong Han (CHN)
7. Narumi Takahashi/Mervin Tran (JPN)
8. Caitlin Yankowskas/John Coughlin (USA)
9. Paige Lawrence/Rudi Swiegers (CAN)

 As in the ice dancing event, in pairs the top two teams are the clear frontrunners. Savchenko/Szolkowy and Pang/Tong should be the teams to watch here, but if either team really falters, Barazova/Larionov are the most likely to crash their party. Sui/Han will also be looking to place well in their home country and might be a threat for bronze if all of their tricks are there. Also, a fun fact: Sui/Han also qualified for the Junior Grand Prix Final this season, but chose to compete in the Senior event instead (which I feel is definitely a wise choice), and the first alternates Takahashi/Tran also qualified for the JGPF. 

Ladies Qualifiers
1. Miki Ando (JPN)
2. Alissa Czisny (USA)
3. Carolina Kostner (ITA)
4. Kanako Murakami (JPN)
5. Akiko Suzuki (JPN)
6. Rachael Flatt (USA)
7. Kiira Korpi (FIN)
8. Mirai Nagasu (USA)
9. Ashley Wagner (USA)

As I previously stated, the Ladies event is likely to be the most unpredictable in Beijing, which could be exciting or just disastrous. I'd normally say that Miki Ando has possibly the best chance at gold here, but she got injured at Cup of Russia and was skating in pain during the freeskate. How she places will probably be determined by how well she has recovered. If Miki is healed enough to rotate and land her jumps well, it might just be enough for the title. Carolina Kostner will likely still be skating with watered down jumping content but if she lands what content she has, the judges are pretty likely to reward her with a medal. Alissa Czisny is as inconsistent as can be, and while her spins and spirals are very pretty, I really doubt that the jumps will be there for her and consequently am not convinced that she'll manage more than a bronze, if that.

I also think that Akiko Suzuki has a clear shot at a medal if she just lands her jumps and is just a lovely skater to watch; I'm definitely hoping that she can put all the elements together at this event and claim the title. Kanako Murakami and Rachael Flatt are each a bit of a question mark here; Kanako is lively and vivacious, but not necessarily the most consistent jumper, and I still find her rough around the edges, while Rachael is somewhat the opposite; consistent, but never exciting, and the judges haven't been doing her many favors lately (compared to other ladies).

Mens Qualifiers
1. Takahiko Kozuka (JPN)
2. Daisuke Takahashi (JPN)
3. Patrick Chan (CAN)
4. Tomas Verner (CZE)
5. Nobunari Oda (JPN)
6. Florent Amodio (FRA)
7. Jeremy Abbott (USA)
8. Brandon Mroz (USA)
9. Adam Rippon (USA)

As has been the case all season, the men look to be the highlight of the competition. All of these guys have the potential to be on the podium, so this event is somewhat hard to predict, though there's one or two that I find more likely to be on the podium than the others. Patrick Chan may have a harder time getting away with big mistakes in a field this deep, but I have a feeling that he's likely to medal even with those mistakes unless his competitors skate lights out. Daisuke Takahashi hasn't been as clean as he would've liked thus far this season, but his freeskate has been getting stronger at each event, so hopefully it will come together for him here. If Daisuke is clean, that along with his high (deservedly so) component scores will likely give him the win, and even if he has a couple of minor mistakes, he'll probably still be in the mix for a medal. Takahiko Kozuka, the surprise top qualifier for the Grand Prix Final,, will find himself in good stead if he skates as consistently as he has at his two Grand Prix events; if Patrick and Daisuke really fall short, Takahiko potentially could beat both of them and win his first major ISU championship. Even if he doesn't win, he has an excellent shot at medaling.

Nobunari Oda is also a possible medal threat - when he's on, he's great, and he always garners a lot of positive Grades of Execution on his jumps. He'll need to keep track of his combinations in this field though; it might be a close contest and he can't afford to give away that many points. Tomas Verner and Florent Amodio are the wild cards of sorts here; if either skate flawlessly, they could find themselves on the podium, but it may take mistakes by others to make that happen. Also, neither of them have attempted a quad in competition so far this season and if the other guys land theirs, that might end up being the difference between 3rd and 6th. Tomas plans to put a quad in at some point this season, possibly at the Final, but Florent has no such plans (his coach Morozov is leaving it out in attempt to build consistency and thus far, it is working).

Overall, the Grand Prix Final looks like it could really be a good competition, with some of the top skaters facing each other for the first time this season. The action starts Friday morning at 4:15 AM, Eastern Standard time.

Grand Prix Final Entries
Grand Prix Final Live Streaming Times

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