Thursday, November 10, 2011

NHK Trophy: A Preview

Pairs: Savchenko/Szolkowy are definitely the team to beat, but they'll have more competition this time in Kavaguti/Smirnov. Takahashi/Tran and Iliushechkeni/Maisuradze should be the hunt for the bronze and Denney/Coughlin might be a factor, if they are judged similarly to how they were at their last Grand Prix.

Ice Dance: The Shibutanis, Weaver/Poje, and Ilinykh/Katsalapov seem likely to be the medalists in one order or another. The Shibs have beaten Weaver/Poje before, but not this early in the season; while I'll be rooting for the Shibs, it could go either way. Ilinykh/Katsalapov are the 2010 World Junior Champions and placed 7th at Worlds last season; they also changed coaches during the off season to Nikolai Morozov and this is a good opportunity to see how that has changed their skating.

Ladies: This event doesn't really have a clear favorite. Mao Asada will be competing for the first time this season; she's still working on correcting her flutz, but if her other jumps are being fully rotated, she's definitely one to beat. It still remains a bit of a mystery though - there hasn't been a whole lot of news from her in the off season and I'm very interested in seeing how she skates. Akiko Suzuki is much less of a mystery and is a threat for gold; her main issue is a tendency to pop jumps in the freeskate and that she often doesn't get the PCS that I feel she deserves. Ashley Wagner is coming off of a surprise third place finish at Skate Canada, where despite a fall and flutzing issues, she had an overall strong competition and showed a lot of fight. If she keeps it together like that again here, she could be in the running. Kiira Korpi doesn't have the technical content of some of the other girls, but she usually garners good PCS which, if she does what technical content she has well, could result in a medal. Agnes Zawadzki and Alena Leonova are two more wild cards here; Agnes has massive jumps but lacks consistency, often placing highly in the short program only to falter in the freeskate, while Alena nearly medaled at Worlds last season, but struggled at her first Grand Prix this season.

Men: The battle here should be between Daisuke Takahashi and Takahiko Kozuka, with Tomas Verner, as usual, being a wildcard. Daisuke and Takahiko both had some troubles at their first Grand Prix of the season (and have reportedly both had boot issues) but are still clearly the class of the field. This should make for an interesting matchup (and a stressful one if you're a fan of both, like I am). Tomas played spoiler at Cup of Russia last season, shocking many, and will be looking to do that here, but I believe he'll need his quad if he even wants a fair shake at it. There's a cluster of other guys that will be looking to move up to bronze; the ones that come to mind for more are Armin Mahbanoozadeh, Tatsuki Machida, Brandon Mroz, and Ross Miner. Armin had a poor showing at Skate America and will be looking to improve upon that here and Brandon Mroz has been landing quad lutzes recently, which could help him place highly here if his other jumps remain steady. Ross Miner had a rough short at his last event but came back strong with a solid freeskate; I think it'd be difficult for him to factor in here, but given how the Grand Prix has played out so far... it's hard to count him out. This is Tatsuki Machida's only Grand Prix of this season and he'll want to make a strong statement here to stake his claim on more international assignments. He's one of many good skaters that's had a hard time medaling at Japanese Nationals due to the depth and I'm really looking forward to seeing him skate here.

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