Here it is, the final qualifying event in the Grand Prix series, the NHK Trophy, starting this weekend in Japan. Things are still obviously technically up in the air as to which top six skaters/teams will make the Grand Prix final. Here is my category rundown and once again my (probably miserable!) predictions:
Why to Watch: I just want to take some time to say how saddened I am by Daisuke Takahashi's injury and surgery - I hope he can get ready to compete in the Olympics. I definitely miss the excitement he brings. But, the show much go on, and there are definitely other reasons to watch. Because Johnny Weir and/or Stephen Carriere have simply got to place high high high in order to get to the final. We're talking each needs to medal, which is not impossible.
Keep an Eye out for: Japan's Nobunari Oda. He is a Takahashi rival, coached by Takahashi's former coach/choreographer Nikolai Morozov, and this is his only Grand Prix event, so he can't qualify for the final but he could play spoiler.
1) Johnny Weir (oooh snap, I said it)
Explainer: I have been out of the country a lot lately so maybe that's why I am being overly generous to the Americans in this category. Homesickness?
Why to Watch: World Champion from Japan Mao Asada has to bounce back from a loss at TEB to win this competition if she has any shot at repeating her title. In my humble opinion.
Keep an Eye Out For: There are some ladies who can use this event to propel them into what might have been thought of as an unlikely bid for the final. If the United States' Ashley Wagner or Finland's Laura Lepisto somehow win this competition, look out. It's highly doubtful, but anything can happen.
1) Mao Asada
2) Yukari Nakano
3) Ashley Wagner
Explainer: I like the way Wagner's skating. I think she's going to bring it to Tokyo.
Why to Watch: Can Canadian skaters Jessica Dube and Bryce Davison seal the deal and make the final? Their performance here will likely knock Americans McLaughlin and Brubaker out of Grand Prix final contention.
Keep an Eye Out For: China's Pang and Tong, also looking to make the final but not as easy a path for them due to their lower point total coming in.
1) Pang and Tong
2) Dube and Davison
3) U.S.'s Inoue and Baldwin
Explainer: If Inoue and Baldwin can't win bronze in this field, time to hang up the skates.
Why to Watch: To watch France's Pechalat and Bourzat duke it out with Italy's Faiella and Scali for final slots in the final. I give the Italians the edge...
Keep an Eye Out for: America's Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates. Not going to make the final this year but they are a lot of fun to watch.
1) Faiella and Scali
2) Pechalat and Bourzat
3) Samuelson and Bates
Explainer: May be rolling the dice on the bronze pick but I think some wishful thinking comes into play in my bronze medal choices here. Maybe this is why I am not so good at picking. But some of the ice dance has been unpredictable anyway, so it should be fun to watch!