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Cup of China: Grand Prix Preview

Cup of China is the third senior ISU Grand Prix event of the season and it starts this Friday in Beijing. Here's what you can expect:

Ice Dancing

Why to Watch: Our first chance to see America's Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto compete this season. I have been a bit of a Goldilocks on the major ice dancing pairs this season...will this pair have the program that I think is just right? It will be interesting to see how they're scored. Also, we'll get the chance to see two Grand Prix winners from last year, Italy's Faiella and Scali and Russia''s Khokhlova and Novitski.

Keep an Eye Out For: Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlein of the USA in their senior Grand Prix debut.

1) Belbin and Agosto

2) Khokhlova and Novitski

3) Faiella and Scali

Men

Why to Watch: World Champion Evan Lysacek of the USA has been so quiet this offseason that I barely remembered he won the championship. But that is probably a good thing. Lysacek had a bit of a rocky start with scoring at last year's Grand Prix events, but I think that ended up helping him be victorious in the end. We'll see if he has a similar start this year, but we'll know it's not necessarily that bad if things aren't ironed out yet for him. We'll also get another chance to see Japan's Nobunari Oda - can he make it two wins in a row?

Keep an Eye Out For: There should be a lot of interesting skating going on here. Remember how Italy's Samuel Contesti and Kazahkstan's Denis Ten skated at the World Championships in March? If they bring that energy they will make things interesting in Beijing! And then there's France's Yannick Ponsero and Russia's Sergei Voronov - will they live up to their potential?

Predictions
1) Oda

2) Lysacek

3) Contesti

Pairs

Why to Watch: The competitive return of China's Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao, definite Olympic medal favorites who are expected to be very strong here. In their last competitive season (2006-2007) they won every single event they competed in. How will countrymates Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang respond to the return of Shen and Zhao?

Keep an Eye Out For: Ukraine's Tatiana Volosozhar and Stanislav Morozov, who made the Grand Prix Final last season.

Predictions

1) Shen and Zhao

2) Zhang and Zhang

3) Volosozhar and Morozov

Ladies

Why to Watch: Canada's Joannie Rochette is making her 2009 Grand Prix debut. She's become a much more consistent skater and should be a medal contender in Vancouver. It's also the first Grand Prix for Americans Rachael Flatt and Mirai Nagasu. I think Flatt is the most likely US female to make the US Olympic team. And it will be interesting to see how Nagasu looks under the tutelage of Frank Carroll.

Keep an Eye Out For: Japan's Akiko Suzuki, who had a Grand Prix medal last season. And how will Carolina Kostner look this time?

Predictions

1) Rochette

2) Flatt

3) Kostner*

*Ok, this is the last time I'm predicting a high placement for Kostner - if she melts down here, then I'll acknowledge that she's not likely to have a chance at an Olympic medal or even at the European Championships. But I hope she does better - it's much more fun to complain that she is overscored than to see her skate the way she has recently.