Well, the skating in the Grand Prix Final from Goyang City, Korea starts on Friday (way before the crack of dawn for those of you in America with me). If your favorite skater didn't make it or doesn't win, just think "Jeffrey Buttle, Jeffrey Buttle, Jeffrey Buttle," as Buttle did not make the final last year but had no problem winning the world championships a few months later. So here is my breakdown of the singles categories. Pairs and Ice Dancing will come later.
This is a tough one. It's being billed as a showdown between Japanese reigning world champion Mao Asada and two-time Grand Prix Champion Yu-Na Kim of Korea. The rest of the field is getting somewhat lost in the process. There's not a skater in there who I would put definitively out of the medal mix, but I also don't necessarily see the potential for a major spoiler unless Asada and Kim completely implode. Let's take a look at each skater's chances:
Miki Ando (Japan): Miki Ando's program is light on choreogrphay, and the judges have let her know that in no uncertain terms. Unless she's made some changes since Cup of China (or everyone else falls all over the place), I don't think she's going to take the crown. Still, she should be in the medal mix.
Carolina Kostner (Italy): I'm sorry to say this, but I've said it before: I don't love to watch her and I don't like to watch her scores. Still, the judges do seem to like her, and unless she makes a bunch of mistakes, her scores (at least, program components), will likely be high. I also have to respect her ability to rebound; she came back from a fourth place performance at Skate Canada to win Cup of Russia a few weeks later. That takes heart.
Yukari Nakano (Japan): While we're on the subject of comebacks, Nakano's was the great overlooked story of NHK Trophy, overshadowed by the magical win of Mao Asada. Nakano has asserted herself as the number two Japanese female in my book. All things being equal, I think she'd score lower than Asada, Kim, and even Rochette if everyone skated clean.
Mao Asada (Japan): Ah, the question of the hour: Which Mao will show up? Trophee Eric Bompard Mao, who was a mess, or NHK Trophy Mao, was was AMAZING? Additionally, does Mao have a chance of beating Kim if she doesn't do two triple axels? Jack Gallagher analyzes the triple axel situation in the Japan Times. I think, however, if someone is relying on landing her second triple axel in order to beat the competition's two-time reigning champion, that does not bode well, especially since she is marked down for under-rotation as often as everyone else is. And if you ask me, despite Tatiana Tarasova's influence, Asada's choreography in the free skate does not stack up to Kim's. However, Asada's free skate at NHK had such great energy that I think if she can recreate that it would obliterate Kim's advantage (in my mind).
Joannie Rochette (Canada): Rochette has been an absolute delight to watch this season. I'm happy when she's out on the ice. I don't know if she can measure up to Asada and Kim in the technical department (if they skate cleanly), but she's been having a great season. If anyone provides an opportunity, clean skating by Rochette will be well-received by the judges. However, I read that she was dealing with a sore back and she's been quite busy since getting back from France; I'm not sure what shape she'll be in for the final.
Yu-Na Kim (South Korea): The judges love her. She's won this event twice in a row. Her programs are balanced and entertaining. She's won two Grand Prix events by a landslide leading up to this. And she's AT HOME. IN KOREA. She has been (nearly, if not definitely, judging by the screams) the most popular competitor at each competition she's been in this season. And now she's AT HOME. Could that create an immense pressure for Kim and lead to disaster? Possibly, but not likely. Kim's used to her intense followers, and a supportive crowd is not a disadvantage. I find it hard to bet against her.
1) Yu-Na Kim
2) Mao Asada
3) Yukari Nakano
I was going to put Rochette in third place, and I think it's really up for grabs if Asada and Kim skate clean and take the top two spots. But I was a litle worried when I read about Rochette's backand I think Nakano has built some momentum. We'll see...
The men's field is so confusing to me this year. I can't say I've understood all of the judging. Still, I think it's going to be a great competition.
Tomas Verner (Czech Republic): Verner was lucky to qualify, and I don't think he has what it takes to win or even necessarily medal in this competition. We've seen several skaters land quads and not make it to the medal podium, so I don't think his jumps will be enough to get him there.
Brian Joubert (France): Joubert is another one counting his lucky stars that he overcame a terrible fourth place performance in his home country at Trophee Eric Bompard to win Cup of Russia and snag a spot in the Grand Prix final. He was not perfect at Cup of Russia, either, but relied on a lead built up in the short program to score the win. He's not going to have such a luxury here, based on the competition he's up against. If Joubert skates clean and lands some quads, he's capable of big things. Those are two important "if"s.
Jeremy Abbott (USA): This American is on the upswing and has garnered a very loyal following. Now is definitely the time to make his mark if he wants any consideration in Vancouver. He’s a lovely skater and if he’s clean, some of the other skaters will have reason to be worried. If he’s not clean, as in Cup of Russia, he’ll be an afterthought (which can’t necessarily be said for the other skaters in this crew).
Johnny Weir (USA): Well, he managed a second place finish at NHK while fighting off a cold, so that's impressive. I sincerely hope he is all recovered, because that type of skating is just not going to do it in Korea. I think it would be great if Weir could land the quad, and I think maybe he needs it right now. I don’t believe that it would guarantee him a win, but it would make him more relevant. I don’t know if he is one of the skaters, like a Buttle or a Chan, who can win these major international competitions without one, because while his program components are good, I don’t think the judges are as blown away by the beauty of his skating as they are with some of the others.
Takahiko Kozuka (Japan): The judges and I are in agreement that it’s fun to watch this guy skate. I don’t think he’ll be able to catch Patrick Chan in their eyes though, not even if he is clean and Chan falters. Maybe I’m overestimating Chan, but it seems like he is the golden boy of skating this Grand Prix.
Patrick Chan (Canada): And here he is, your next Olympic hometown hero…? I think maybe. I am happy whenever he’s on the ice, although I never quite understand his marks. And he has yet to put two clean performances together this season. But his ability to win (big) while faltering should scare the other skaters.
<!--[if !supportLists]-->1) Brian Joubert
<!--[if !supportLists]-->2) <!--[endif]-->Patrick Chan
<!--[if !supportLists]-->3) <!--[endif]-->Takahiko Kozuka
I had originally predicted Chan winning but then I freaked that maybe his mistakes will finally catch up with him? Although Joubert has made plenty of mistakes himself this season. And I flirted with putting Weir in the bronze medal slot, but nothing I’ve seen from him this season makes me think he’ll be able to do it (that doesn't mean much though, as he skated in Skate America two months ago and he was sick for his last competition). And colds at this time of year take a long time to fight off, so I don’t know if he’ll be in tip top shape. If Chan wins though, I think it will mean that Joubert has faltered somewhere. It will also mean he is going to be maaad, unless he's changed since last year's worlds...