Grand Prix of Figure Skating assignments out a month earlier than even the skaters had thought they were going to come.
It seems the Swiss judge who told us the International Skating Union meeting at which the Grand Prix assignments would be determined was at the end of June was a month off. It in fact took place this week, and assignments went up today, taking skaters and fans alike by surprise.
As the top six skaters in all four disciplines from Worlds are participating, the reigning World medalists were all seeded to not meet, and those who finished fourth through sixth were similarly arranged. The top twelve were all guaranteed two events, and various other skaters were guaranteed one. Nonetheless, some of the choices of which ice dance teams got two events and which ones didn’t proved a bit dodgy. Although that may change anyway; there are always withdrawals, and replacements. There are two men with assignments that might still retire before the fall.
The locations of the six grand prix events are now settled, though some only specified their city very recently. The French event also has a new name, which is the first most fans have heard about that. As is typical, while most of the skaters for each event have been chosen, a single host entry in the majority of the fields remains TBA. The host federations will fill those out later. Most of the time that doesn’t affect the competition much, but one last-minute replacement host entry, Mariah Bell, won the silver at Skate America last year.
Rostelecom Cup (Moscow, Russia, October 20-22)
The men’s field at the opening event is potentially the strongest of the series, except that most of the skaters in it aren’t very predictable. Yuzuru Hanyu will be the favorite, but he’ll face a serious challenge in the form of Nathan Chen. He might even be threatened by Denis Ten if the latter skates well, though he usually doesn’t in the fall. Also with the potential to do well but suffering from inconsistency is home hope Mikhail Kolyada. But if neither of them are up to filling out the podium, the rest of the field are guys who either have the goods but struggle with delivery, or are at the kind of level where they’d need help to medal, but could if they got it.
Olympic gold favorite Evgenia Medvedeva will in all likelihood win the ladies. The interesting question is who’ll join her on the podium. Elena Radionova on home ice sounds like a good bet, and so does Carolina Kostner. But they’ll have to be on top of their game, when Wakaba Higuchi, Mirai Nagasu, Mariah Bell and even Elizabet Tursynbaeva all also having the potential to make the podium. They also all have their consistency issues, the last especially. Also, the way Russian ladies are, an open host spot at this event could very easily got to another surprise medal contender.
The biggest battle of the competition might be the one between the two home pairs teams. Evgenia Tarasova & Vladimir Morozov might have won the last two battles against Ksenia Stolbova & Fedor Klimov, but that could easily reverse here. Bronze will probably be a battle between Julianne Seguin & Charlie Bilodeau and Valentina Marchei & Ondrej Hotarek. But another team getting by them if they skate badly is also very possible. The third Russian pair may end up being the kind of newly formed one that’s good enough to make the podium a home sweep.
The Rostelecom Cup is also the event with the best chance of actually having some suspense on who wins gold in the ice dance. Maia & Alex Shibutani will be firm favorites, but their holding off Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev on the latter’s home ice is far from guaranteed. Similarly, Piper Gilles & Paul Poirer will have to hold off Alexandra Stepanov & Ivan Bukin if they want the bronze. That’s if Rachel & Michael Parsons, who inexplicably didn’t get a second event, don’t decide to make a statement at this one, and is barring a hot newly formed Russian team doing the same instead.
Skate Canada (Regina, Saskatchewan, October 27-29)
Young Shoma Uno will be the favorite to win the men’s in Canada. But it could easily go to home skater Patrick Chan. They should both distance the rest of the field if they skate well. But a lot of the men left could easily win bronze. If either Takahito Mura or Maxim Kovtun deliver their best, they probably would, but the recent history of neither man is encouraging. Jason Brown also has a good chance to make the podium. But one probably shouldn’t count out either Jun Hwan Cha or Alexander Samarin, the two hot skaters coming up from juniors.
The ladies field, meanwhile, has four skaters who could all easily win. Kaetlyn Osmond, Anna Pogorilaya, and Ashley Wagner most control their destinies. In all likelihood which of the three of them skates best will win. But they are all just inconsistent enough to make Maria Sotskova winning also possible, if she’s the one who delivers instead, and she’s actually slightly more consistent than them. Marin Honda, Rika Hongo, and Karen Chen all also have their consistency issues, but none of them should be counted out for at least the podium.
Pairs will likely be a two-way battle between home team Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford and Aliona Savchenko & Bruno Massot. It may come down to which of those two teams skate cleaner. Bronze may be the real free for all. Natalia Zabiiako & Alexander Enbert are more or less the favorites for it. But Vanessa James & Morgan Cipres won’t be far behind, and nor will Cheng Peng & Yang Jin. Even the last two teams named, Lubov Ilyushechkina & Dylan Moscovitch and Haven Denney & Brandon Frazier, have medaled on the circuit and could conceivably do so here.
The Canadian federation set things up well for their home skaters in the ice dance field. Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir, of course, have once again established themselves as the favorites for every competition they enter. But they also managed to clear out anyone likely to challenge Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Pojé for silver. Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue are also beneficiaries of the federation’s choosing weaker teams, and are almost as likely to win the bronze.
Cup of China (Beijing, China, November 3-4)
In China, too, the hometown star is looking to spoil. Javier Fernandez will by the favorite, but Boyang Jin is very capable of beating him. China’s other men’s star, Han Yan, has his only event here. He too has a chance to medal, but he’ll have to get past Kolyada. Also everyone has to look out for Vincent Zhou, just up from juniors, who showed last year he’s already a man to be reckoned with. Also in contention for the podium is Keiji Tanaka, who medaled on the circuit last year. One probably shouldn’t even count past Skate America winner Max Aaron out.
The ladies, meanwhile, sees the hotly anticipated debut of Alina Zagitova, the latest young Russian sensation. She could very easily win this event, especially if Gracie Gold fails to recover from last season. But this may be the most stacked ladies field of the series. Gabrielle Daleman is here, as is Radionova. So are not only Honda and Higuchi, but Mai Mihara, who lately has been continually finishing higher than anyone expected her to. And that’s if Elizaveta Tuktamisheva, after failing to turn things around last season, doesn’t suddenly do so in this one.
The Chinese federation might not have been able to clear the field for Jin, but they did clear the pairs field for Wenjing Sui & Cong Han, and they even made Xiaoyu Yu & Hao Zhang favorites for silver. This left bronze a bit more open. Marchei & Hotarek are more or less the favorites for it, but if Tarah Kayne & Danny O’Shea come back swinging at their only event, they could take it. It’s not even impossible for Kirsten Moore-Towers & Michael Marinaro to surprise.
At both of Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron’s events, they are of course extremely likely to win, but Madison Chock & Evan Bates will be involved in a huge battle for silver below them. In China, Chock & Bates will have to face off against Bobrova & Soloviev. On the other hand, it would be a huge shock if either of those teams failed to medal; there’s no one in the field who anyone could even imagine upsetting them.
NHK Trophy (Osaka, Japan, November 10-12)
Unlike Canada and China, Japan managed to come up with a men’s field it’ll be hard for their top star to lose in. When that star is Hanyu, they could still have a field full of very strong skaters. Yet the only one of them even close to the favorite is Chan, and he doesn’t have the technical content to beat a well-skating Hanyu. He does has a leg up for silver over the rest of the field, but as at the Rostelecom Cup, this is a field where everyone either has medaled in the past, or has indicated they very easily could. Most notable is the American trio: Brown, Adam Rippon, and Joshua Farris, who managed to get in as a comeback skater.
Unfortunately, in the ladies, they got saddled with Medvedeva. Their own star, Satoko Miyahara, may be the only lady on the circuit with a serious chance of beating her, but even she’s facing hard odds. Plus Miyahara will have to contend with Kostner. Those three will be strong favorites for the podium, but there are other skaters who can make it too, especially if either Miyahara or Kostner fumble. They include Nagasu and Bell, as well as Hongo, and also Polina Tsurskaya, trying to fight back after a bad final junior season.
Sui & Han will compete here for the second week in a row, and this’ll be the harder one for them not only because of that, but because they’ll be up against Stolbova & Klimov. Seguin & Bilodeau will likely be in their second bronze medal battle of the series, this time against Alexa Scimeca Knierim & Chris Kneirim. Kristina Astakhova & Alexei Rogonov, who haven’t received a second event, will have the potential to upset the both of them for it.
Virtue & Moir will likely win their second gold of the series in the dance. Silver will be a bigger battle. Definitely in the mix for it will be both Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte and Hubbell & Donohue. But Victoria Sinitsina & Nikita Katsalapov may yet recover enough from last season’s woes to challenge for the podium if either of those teams aren’t careful, or might even get the better of them both.
Internationaux de France (Grenoble, France, November 17-19)
France may have the most even battle for men’s gold of the series. Between one thing and another, it’s hard to guess whether it’ll be Fernandez or Uno who’ll come out on top. Meanwhile, a perfect Ten could insert himself in the mix, though that’s an unlikely scenario. If Ten isn’t up to it, bronze could end up being between young skaters Zhou and Samarin. But none of the other four non-French skaters aren’t without an outside shot at it, Aaron especially.
Zagitova will once again find herself with a serious shot at winning, especially, once again, if Gold isn’t up to it. But once again she’ll have Mihara looking to defy expectations, and this time Osmond will be an even bigger worry. Osmond’s officially the favorite right now, though if Zagitova makes enough of an impression in China, that might no longer be true when this event begins. Sotskova will be another contender. Outside shots at medals will include Polina Edmunds, getting a comeback assignment after missing last season, Tuktamisheva, and Tursynbaeva.
Vanessa James & Morgan Cipres may not be gold medal favorites yet, but the French federation arranged for one of the weakest pairs fields of the series, hoping to at least get them silver. Tarasova & Morozov were the lucky team to benefit and become gold favorites instead-though even they aren’t entirely safe from the home team. Peng & Jin and Ilyushechkina & Moscovitch are not incapable of beating the French for silver, and, failing that, would be left to battle each other for bronze.
Papadakis & Cizeron are the home skaters more certain for their gold medal. Below them, Chock & Bates will go up against Weaver & Pojé, though once again, it’s extremely unlikely that either dance team battling for silver will fail to medal. It’s not quite as unthinkable here as in China, because this field does include Stepanova & Bukin. But the chances of them beating either team nonetheless remains low.
Skate America (Lake Placid, New York, November 24-26)
After starting the series challenging Hanyu, Chen will finish it as the favorite to win his home event. This field does, however, pit him against Jin for it, a battle that could ultimately go either way. Meanwhile, Rippon will also be trying to medal. But so will Mura, and if he recovers and skates well, Kovtun could beat them both for it. They’re not the only ones in the field either who have either medaled on the Grand Prix or easily could.
Wagner will find herself in an even harder battle, especially with both Miyahara, Pogorilaya, and Daleman in the field. It could come down to how many jumps both she and Miyahara manage to rotate, and whether Pogorilaya skates well or not, with Daleman someone who could very easily get the better of all three of them. And that’s if Chen doesn’t have a competition good enough to also enter that mix. Or Tsurskaya doesn’t recover by then and storm them all.
The pairs field, meanwhile, might be the strongest of the series. Once again it should be Duhamel & Radford versus Savchenko & Massot for gold. Zabiiako & Enbert will also be back for their second bronze battle. But this time they’ll be pitted against Yu & Zhang for it. Denney & Frazier will be the lesser of their American worries, with the Knierims a bigger threat. There will probably also be Ashley Cain & Timothy leDuc, who surprisingly got no Grand Prix assignments, which makes them heavy favorites for the open spot here. Poor Moore-Towers & Marinaro will have a harder time trying to surprise here.
The American federation managed to give the Shibutanis a relatively easy field. The team here closest to them are Cappellini & Lanotte, who still haven’t been very close. Gilles & Poirier are once again favorites for bronze, though this time around it’s a little more complicated. Here, the main Russian team to worry about it Sinitsina & Katsalapov. They could easily beat Gilles & Poirier if they recover. But right now they’re not looking like much of a threat to them.
Favorites for the Finale
The six skaters from each discipline who combine the best results as their two events will qualify for the Grand Prix Finale in December. The projected two-man battles in the men, if all six men involved rise to the occasion, would get them in regardless of their various outcomes. The ice dance may be a little more influenced by who wins silver and who wins bronze beneath the three teams that will likely split the golds between them. In the pairs, there are five teams very likely to make it, with the sixth uncertain. The ladies are the most volatile field, with most contenders capable of winning their events, but also of failing to make the podiums at them.