All of my Japanese blog readers will have to let me know if I got the title (Figure Skaters...Welcome to Japan) correct.
Of course that means the Grand Prix makes it's first of two stops in Japan. The first stop this week is for NHK Trophy in Nagano. the second stop will be the Grand Prix Final in Tokyo in December.
The pairs field at NHK is a rematch of sorts between Pang and Tong and Kavaguti and Smirnov. The Chinese duo bested the Russians at Rostelecom Cup and will hope to do the same in Japan. The Chinese duo excels on their technical elements while the Russians have unique and inventive choreography. Should be a good match-up...again! Two American teams are competing in Nagano. Inoue and Baldwin compete in their second event and hope to improve upon their 4th place finish in Paris. I'd imagine they'd hope to hit another gorgeous throw triple axel as well (a highlight from Paris). Denney and Barrett make their season debut and it will be interesting to see if they can maintain their position ahead of Inoue and Baldwin. Last season, Denney and Barrett made a habit of putting down solid free skates. Hopefully in the off season they've worked on improving their second mark and polishing their skating up. I'm also keeping my eye on Japan's Takahashi and Tran. They recently won Junior Grand Prix Poland and, if they skate well, might place well here. Medal Predictions: (GOLD) Pang and Tong, (SILVER) Kavaguti and Smirnov, (BRONZE) Inoue and Baldwin
The Ice Dance field looks like a no brainer. Again, Americans Davis and White come in as overwhelming favorites. They looked sharp at Rostelecom Cup and it will be interesting to see if they can better their score (the highest this season) even more. It looks as if the silver is locked up as well for Kerr and Kerr of Great Britain. And the bronze looks like an easy guess for Canadians Crone and Poirier. If it doesn't shake out like this it would be big news. I'm watching Americans Jane Summersett and Todd Gilles as well. Todd Gilles, if you haven't heard, is the voice of Hot Pockets. Medal Predictions: (GOLD) Davis and White, (SILVER) Kerr and Kerr, (BRONZE) Crone and Poirier
The Japanese ladies look to dominate at NHK. World Bronze medalist and recent winner of Rostelecom Cup Miki Ando is the favorite and looks to secure her spot at the Grand Prix Final. She'll face pressure from her teammate Yukari Nakano who took the bronze in Paris. She'll face some pressure from American Ashley Wagner who was right behind her at Rostelecom Cup winning the silver. The Bronze medalist from Rostelecom Cup, Russian Alena Leonova is also in the mix. Literally we could see a podium repeat. Making their Grand Prix debuts are European Champion Laura Lepisto of Finland and Swiss Champ Sarah Meier. On paper, Laura is the biggest threat to Miki Ando. Medal Predictions: (GOLD) Miki Ando, (SILVER) Ashley Wagner, (BRONZE) Yukari Nakano
The mens event is the most exciting of the entire Grand Prix. It's loaded. First the leading men. Brian Joubert, Daisuke Takahashi, Jeremy Abbott, Johnny Weir, and Takahiko Kozuka are all competing. It kind of feels like a crapshoot as to who will come out ahead here. Joubert and Weir have both had poor showings thus far on the Grand Prix. Joubert with a 4th place showing in France, Weir the same result in Russia. Takahashi and Abbott make their Grand Prix debuts in Japan. Takahashi had a strong showing recently at Finlandia, winning that event and looking well on his way to being up to competing with the top guys in the world. Abbott decided in September to change his long program music meaning his program doesn't have the miles the other guys have with their programs. He did compete with it a few weeks ago at the Japan Open. Kozuka comes in with the best footing after a strong performance that earned him the silver medal in Russia.
Past these five there is a strong cast of would be spoilers as well. Adam Rippon had a breakthrough performance in Paris to earn the bronze medal. His skating, under the direction of Brian Orser, seems to have come alive and a solid skate from Adam would definitely make him a podium contender (he'll have to hit those axels though). Recent Bronze medalist from Rostelecom Cup, Artem Borodulin, is in the mix as well. He managed to sneak past Weir in Russia with an outstanding free skate and he'll hope to repeat that effort in Japan. If Canadian Jeremy Ten can combine his incredible speed with solid jumping he'll be one to keep an eye on as well. The always entertaining Kristoffer Berntsson of Sweden is in the mix, it'll be fun to see what he's come up with this season (can he top last season's 80's Robot?). Two young upstarts round out the field; Japan's Daisuke Murakami (who is the only member of the Japanese National Team on Twitter!) and Czech Michal Brezina. What an exciting men's field! Medal Predictions: (GOLD) Daisuke Takahashi, (SILVER) Takahiko Kozuka, (BRONZE) Brian Joubert