Cup of China begins today with several skaters making their Grand Prix debuts.
In the men's field. Tomas Verner gets his Grand Prix season underway. With Takahashi late withdrawal, Verner looks to take the crown in a slightly watered-down field that also lost Jeffrey Buttle. However, Verner has been known to self-destruct (see 2008 World's Free). Americans Jeremy Abbott and Stephen Carriere, who also get their Grand Prix underway, might have the best shot at taking Verner down if they can tuen in great programs. Abbott is known to achieve high component scores while Carriere is consistent on his jumps. I would also keep an eye on Sweden's Kristoffer Berntsson, who can score well if he turns in a great skate. Also, never count out the home team, three Chinese men will attempt to spoil the podium.
A solid field in Ice Dance looks to make for a great event. I'm torn on who to call the favorites here...so I'm going to go with Americans Belbin and Agosto...but maybe they're co-favorites with Russians Domnina and Shabalin. But wait...Domnina and Shabalin didn't compete at World's and a team that beat Belbin and Agosto at Worlds is also competing, Russians Khoklova and Novitski, so maybe they're the favorites. Should we go by ISU World Rankings? My head is spinning! But to be sure, it will be a very close competition. In my opinion, any of these three teams have an equal shot at winning. A couple of teams that might surprise and slip in for a bronze include the Italians Cappellini and Lanotte and the Israeli team of Zaretski and Zaretski (whom Lifeskate reported some unsettling news on).
The ladies event at Cup of China will again feature Skate America Champion, and apparent Korean Megastar, Yu-Na Kim as well as 2007 World Champ Miki Ando for another face off. These two will not have to contend with Nakano as the main challenger to these two (as if anyone is really challenging Kim) hails from Switzerland, Sarah Meier. Ashley Wagner makes her first appearance this season on the Grand Prix and might surprise by pushing her way into the medals, especially if she's as consistent on her jumps as she was at last season's National Championships. The two Finnish entries, Lepisto and Poykio could also play a role in the medals, as could Canada's Leung. This event also gives Katrina Hacker of the U.S. a chance to prove her top six finish at U.S. Nationals was not a fluke by putting down a decent performance.
The Pairs event will be big for the hometown crowd as Chinese pairs continue to be very dominant (the Germans are about the only ones that have been in their way!) in competition. It will be a great showdown between Pang & Tong and Zhang & Zhang. Both teams are about equally matched and it will be fun to see who comes out on top. It's a bit of an open race for the third slot on the podium. The Ukraine team of Volosozhar and Morozov have the best shot on paper (given a 4th place finish at Worlds in 2007). The Canadian team of Brodeur and Mattatall just placed 4th at Skate Canada in Ottawa. Americans Evora and Ladwig can be very good as well. We'll just have to wait and see.
My Medal Call:
GOLD - Verner
SILVER - Carriere
BRONZE - Abbott
GOLD - Belbin and Agosto (The last two seasons the Americans have won this event)
SILVER - Domnina and Shabalin
BRONZE - Khoklova and Novitski (Might surprise us though!)
GOLD - Kim
SILVER - Ando
Bronze - Meier
GOLD - Zhang and Zhang
SILVER - Pang and Tong
BRONZE - Volosozhar and Morozov