Competition kicks off this weekend with the third stop in the Grand Prix, SAMSUNG Anycall Cup of China in Beijing.
There are four ice dance teams I have my eye on. Of course, one of those is Americans Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto who get their season underway in Beijing. They narrowly missed winning their first World Title in L.A. and are the clear favorites here in China. With Domnina and Shabalin currently sidelined with Maxim's knee injury, you might consider them the slight favorites in Vancouver (well...there's still a lot to happen yet). But behind them, I'm completely unsure of how the rest will shake out. I'm envisioning a battle for the silver between Italains Faiella and Scali, Russians Khoklova and Novitski, and the young American team of Chock and Zuerlein (reigning Junior World Champions). I'm very curious to see how Chock and Zuerlein fit into this world of senior dance. Medal Predictions: (GOLD) Belbin and Agosto, (SILVER) Khoklova and Novitski, (BRONZE) Chock and Zuerlein
Amongst the women, Joannie Rochette looks to keep her momentum going. She looked very solid at the recent Japan Open and the reigning World Silver medalist looks to control her own destiny in China. She'll have steep competition from some American and Japanese competitors. Last season Akiko Suzuki put herself on the map as part of a Japanese podium sweep at NHK. With the Japanese Federation relying heavily on Grand Prix placements for choosing the Olympic Team, there is no better time than now for Suzuki to shine. Ditto for Japanese veteran Fumie Suguri. With Mao Asada's stock sinking...now is the time to step up. Rachael Flatt is getting her season underway here in Beijing. She came on late last season with solid performances at U.S. Nationals and a top five finish at World's. She's made steady improvements and perhaps this is her breakthrough season. She'll be joined in Beijing by 2008 National Champ Mirai Nagasu. She's made a coaching switch and perhaps under the gaze of Frank Carroll she'll improve upon last season. She is, admittedly, nervous this season with Sasha Cohen (?) in the U.S. mix...she'll need to shirk those feelings of doubt and get her skating back on track. Finally there's Carolina Kostner who, again, bombed in Paris. She'll have to do better or she'll be written off this season. Medal Predictions: (GOLD) Joannie Rochette, (SILVER) Rachael Flatt, (BRONZE) Carolina Kostner
The pairs competition brings us the much anticipated return of Shen and Zhao. The Chinese team makes a competitive return this season to add Olympic Gold to their collection (which includes two Olympic Bronze medals). I expect they'll be on top of their game here and very tough to beat. The team with the best shot is reigning World Silver medalists Zhang and Zhang. No matter how you slice it, China is in complete control of this competition. The spoilers in this competition, however, could be Ukraine's Volosozhar and Morozov. This team has a quiet consistency and tends to place high in international competition. Another team with a chance at the podium is Canada's Duhamel and Buntin. Medal Predictions: (GOLD) Shen and Zhao, (SILVER) Zhang and Zhang, (BRONZE) Volosozhar and Morozov
The men's competition gives us our first look at the reigning World Champion, American Evan Lysacek. After Plushenko's dominating performance last week in Moscow, Evan needs to comeback with a solid performance of his own to keep the momentum going and not let it all go Plushenko's way. He's going to have steep competition from Japan's Nobunari Oda who will be attempt to become the first skater to lock a spot in the Grand Prix Final in Tokyo. Italian Samuel Contesti will get his season started in China. The big question everyone wants answered from Contesti is if last season was a fluke or if he can continue to post results. I'm also beyond excited to see Kazakstan's Denis Ten. He might be the best skater no one's talking about yet this season. If he can skate well here and keep up with the heavy hitters, he will not only further put himself on the map but he may make himself a medal contender in Vancouver. France's Yannick Ponsero will attempt to improve upon is performance from Paris as well Russian Sergei Voronov. Keep an eye also on American Stephen Carriere who won the silver medal at this event last season and Canada's Kevin Reynolds who will no doubt come packing a punch with his consistent quads. Medal Predictions: (GOLD) Nobunari Oda, (SILVER) Evan Lysacek, (BRONZE) Yannick Ponsero