The Senior Grand Prix Final starts tomorrow and will finally be a chance for this year's top-performing skaters to challenge each other. Here is a look at what's to come this weekend in Beijing, China.
Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy (Germany): Without a doubt, these two have been the top-performing pair of the season. They won both of their Grand Prix events handily and I think it would take a few errors or a much more inspired performance (and less error-ridden one) by Qing Pang and Jian Tong in order for this pair to be challenged. They have the difficulty as well as the visuals. My only concern is that they haven't truly had a great performance where they looked perfectly comfortable with that free skate yet. So maybe this weekend, The Pink Panther gets his due.
Qing Pang and Jian Tong (China): These two are absolutely lovely, but they showed up to their second Grand Prix at Cup of China looking lost in a fog. I like both of their programs but they're not up to par with last year's efforts. Still, I think they should be confident of a medal, likely at least the silver if they can stay clean enough. Their technical and artistic strengths are ahead of all of the other pairs other than Savchenko and Szolkowy. If they channel their last-season selves, they will be a gold medal threat.
Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov (Russia): This pair is starting to come into their own. I really look forward to watching their beautiful pairs basics and quiet elegance. If they are clean, I think they'll get the bronze medal here. But they have been plagued by mistakes here and there, so I think it's really up to how they skate. I'm not sure they'll be able to err in the Final and still garner a medal the way they did in the other Grand Prix events.
Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch (Canada): I like watching this pair and the judges definitely seem to like them. I think that they have some really fun lifts and some nice skating qualities. If they can stay clean here while others make mistakes, it could be a medal opportunity. On the whole, I don't necessarily put them in the same group as Bazarova and Larionov, but perhaps they can prove me wrong here.
Lubov Iliushechkina and Nodari Maisuradze (Russia): These two had a bit of a roller coaster Grand Prix, winning their debut at Skate Canada and then faltering the next week to only come in fourth at Cup of China. They are an exciting pair to watch and if they are as good and clean as they were at Skate Canada, this should be an interesting bid for a medal.
Wenjing Sui and Cong Han (China): This pair is absolutely adorable. They have gigantic tricks and a whole lot of energy, and should keep the home crowd entertained. If the crowd has any pull, I think they will get some pretty huge marks. Personally, I don't see them challenging for gold here and I don't think they skate together or with much connection. I think they have some maturing to do before getting a Grand Prix Final medal, but their technical marks alone will be so high that I can't count them out for a medal.
1) Savchenko and Szolkowy (Germany)
2) Pang and Tong (China)
3) Bazarova and Larionov (Russia)
Daisuke Takahashi (Japan): Takahashi has had some pretty impressive program components this season, although Patrick Chan can definitely challenge them with his own love from the judges. Takahashi also has a quad. However, his jumping has been up and down through the first two Grand Prix events he has won this season. I think in an event like this, that opens the door for a more consistent competitor. If Takahashi holds it together and lands most of those jumps, though, he should at least medal.
Takahiko Kozuka (Japan): Kozuka's season's best is far higher than Takahashi's, and he's been more impressive on jumping this season. Still, while Kozuka has nice components, he might not look quite as good held up right next to Takahashi, based on Takahashi's showmanship. Kozuka has a great chance to win this based on his strong skills and consistency.
Patrick Chan (Canada): Chan is a great skater with components through the roof. He is prone to falling several times in a competition. He has a quadruple toe/triple toe that is to die for and two strong programs. It will be harder for Chan to medal here the way he has been skating than it was to medal in the other events. But if we see a marginally cleaner Chan (or a sloppy field) then he has a good shot at gold.
Nobunari Oda (Japan): Oda is another Japanese skater with amazing skills who never quite holds up against a direct comparison to Takahashi. However, he has performed better technically than Takahashi and gave away the victory at Skate America. I think Oda is a medal threat but he may find it difficult to outshine the other gold medal contenders. He has the technical goods, though, to make a run.
Tomas Verner (Czech Republic): Verner used to be big on the quads but he's taken a conservative approach to his skating this season, which is serving him just fine. Verner's program components will not be high as some of the others but he can use some clean programs and nice jumps to his advantage. And another chance to showcase his Michael Jackson free skate.
Florent Amodio (France): Speaking of Michael Jackson free skates, while I don't think Amodio will necessarily be competing for the gold here, it's another chance for him to gain experience. He is one of the smoothest skaters out there right now and he can really work the crowd in both of his programs. I'm not a fan of his Michael Jackson free, and Amodio does not have a quad this season, but I think he is really asserting himself as the top French contender.
1) Kozuka (Japan)
2) Daisuke Takahashi (Japan)
3) Patrick Chan (Canada)
This is a very tough one. I'm not confident at all about these predictions. I think Chan and Takahashi could easily wind up off the podium and Oda could easily take the whole thing. However, I will say that I'll be surprised if Kozuka does not medal.
Meryl Davis and Charlie White (USA): This does feel like a bit of an off-year for Davis and White, despite their utter dominance of their two Grand Prix events. Their short dance is lovely but short dances in general kind of stink, and their free dance doesn't do it for me. They've also been reworking their programs so perhaps they are not quite settled into them yet. Additionally, they have had some mistakes in the past. However, I don't think anyone challenges them here.
Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat (France): I think this team has grown this season and is beyond prepared. I don't think they should challenge for gold unless Davis and White make some mistakes...but this IS ice dancing, so I won't be surprised to see their scores up there with Davis and White's. This season is a great opportunity for Pechalat and Bourzat and they aren't going to let it slip away. I like both of their dances.
Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier (Canada): These two are quite strong as well and have a very popular free dance to Eleanor Rigby. I think that if everyone performs their best that this team would be my pick for bronze.
Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev (Russia): I'm not really a fan of this team and I think they've risen a little more quickly than I think maybe they should have. Like I said, this is ice dancing, and they are Russian, so there's no surprise if they make the podium. I just don't think they've been quite as cohesive or impressive as some of the other top dancers. That being said, their season's best is pretty much tied with that of Crone and Poirier, so keep that in mind.
Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje (Canada): They've been fun to watch this season but they've been mistake-prone and I don't expect them to medal unless the others err.
Nora Hoffmann and Maxim Zavozin (Hungary): Another pair I truly enjoy watching but do not expect to necessarily be contenders here unless there is a disaster for the top-ranked dancers.
1) Davis and White (USA)
2) Pechalat and Bourzat (France)
3) Crone and Poirier (Canada)
Miki Ando (Japan): Unfortunately, I don't really see much competition here for Miki Ando if she skates the way she has been this season. She is just landing those jumps with such confidence that whatever she lacks in artistry she has been making up for. And she is not exactly scoring low in components anyway. However, I think Ando's big advantage is that she's been clean this season, but she's not some dominating skater. If others can get it together, the gold is definitely up for grabs.
Akiko Suzuki (Japan): Suzuki will always tend to have little mistakes here and there, but her programs are beautiful and she has such a wonderful presence on the ice. She's a medal threat here and I won't be surprised if she sneaks in for gold.
Carolina Kostner (Italy): Kostner is going to get wonderful component scores and she's going to not do any of the more difficult jumps. If she is clean and others err (and this is ladies skating, so we know everyone is going to be making mistakes all over the place) she has a definite podium case.
Rachael Flatt (USA): Flatt is dealing with tendinitis which hampered her in the short program at Skate America. Still, she won the free skate there, and I have a feeling she'll skate very well here. Still, Flatt's only chance to win competitions is to have others falter, because she won't get the same GOE scores and program components marks as others. So she will always be waiting for that perfect storm. Will it come in Beijing?
Alissa Czisny (USA): If Czisny can skate clean, she takes the whole thing. Now that the pigs flying portion of the Czisny preview is over, I'll realistically say that her competition (aside from her brain) will be with Kostner. Czisny has more difficult jumps and pretty good components and could edge out Kostner if both err about the same amount of times.
Kanako Murakami (Japan): Murakami is cute and has a nice triple/triple and some fantastic skating. She doesn't have the maturity of some of the other skaters but her technical elements may be able to vault her into a podium position. And if it's a case like Skate America, she can ride others' mistakes all the way to the top.
1) Ando (Japan)
2) Suzuki (Japan)
3) Flatt (USA)