Literally the final stop in this year's Grand Prix Series, the Grand Prix Final comes to Tokyo this week. The field, as of now, looks strong with only two withdrawals to this point (Joubert, Belbin/Agosto). However, last season there were several "in progress" withdrawals (Joubert, Khoklova/Novitski, Belbin/Agosto) so fingers crossed that doesn't happen this time.
The men's field, even without Joubert, Chan, and Plushenko, looks solid. I did some research and three U.S. men have never qualified for the final, so that's quite an accomplishment for Abbott, Lysacek, and Weir. Of the three Lysacek certainly looks the most consistent and composed, but both Wier and Abbott have the ability to surprise. Abbott is the defending champ and Weir was the bronze medalist in this event last season so anything can happen. Kind of lost in translation (did you get the movie/Tokyo reference there?) is Tomas Verner. He lucked his way into the final as a result of Joubert's bum foot. Part of me thinks he'll be upset about his performance in Lake Placid and will come thirsty for blood while the other part of me thinks Brezina may have slipped past him this season as the top Czech skater. I think a medal of any color would suit Verner and a win for him would be like an all-stop on the press. Home field advantage goes to Nobunari Oda and Daisuke Takahashi. They'll have the crowd support but will also have to deal with the pressure of living up to those expectations from all those screaming fans (and also the Japanese Media that will no doubt be following them everywhere). These two haven't competed against each other in a while since Takahashi was out last season with his knee injury and Oda was on a suspension the prior season. That, I think, will be an equally fun match-up. Medal Predictions: (GOLD) Oda, (SILVER) Lysacek, (BRONZE) Abbott
It looked like this season, Shen and Zhao were going to make their triumph comeback this season and waltz right over all of the competition. They put a thwomping on all their competition in Beijing but then struggled in Lake Placid and won only because the rest of the field was equally bad or worse. On the polar opposite of that, reigning World Champs Savchenko and Szolkowy struggled in their season opener in Paris and managed only a bronze. They then went home, went to work, and showed up in Canada a new team, taking the title an setting a new world record in the process. Needless to say, it will be a close and exciting match-up between those two teams with all the others, I think, looking for the consolation prize. Pang and Tong won both their events but looked far less impressive than Shen and Zhao and Savchenko and Szolkowy in the process. However, they probably have the best shot at spoiling the party at the top. We can't forget it's an Olympic year and Russian teams have the ability to just "get it done" every four years. Mukhortova and Trankov have looked solid on the Grand Prix this season skating comfortable and mostly clean performances. Kavaguti and Smirnov are arguably one of the most exciting teams on the scene and could shock everyone as well. They also have a secret weapon in their back pocket...I'm not talking about the quad salchow, I'm talking about Tamara Moskvina. Zhang and Zhang looked like the odd ones out this season with programs that lack charisma and in desperate need of choreographic help. I think they are hoping to just get two good performances under their belt. Medal Predictions: (GOLD) Shen and Zhao (this is hard!), (SILVER) Savchenko and Szolkowy, (BRONZE) Pang and Tong
Ice Dance, like Pairs, is a tough one to call. Two teams have being battling despite having not competed against each other. Virtue and Moir have the edge with a big score from Skate Canada but Davis and White were ahead with their performance from NHK until then. These two teams are both coached by Igor Shpilband and are equally matched in talent. They've been the top two teams this season and will be interesting to see how it plays out. After those two teams it's an absolute free for all for the bronze. The two teams with the best shot are probably Pechalat and Bourzat and Kerr and Kerr, but Cappellini and Lanotte might surprise us if one of those teams slips up. Crone and Poirier were the benefactors of Belbin and Agosto's withdrawal and are more than likely just thankful for the international exposure ahead of what will be a terrific fight to make the Olympic Team at Canadian Nationals. Medal Predictions: (GOLD) Virtue and Moir, (SILVER) Davis and White, (BRONZE) Pechalat and Bourzat
The ladies event will serve as platform or serving platter for Kim Yu-Na. The big question everyone wants answered..."Is she unbeatable?" I think if Kim gives a resounding victory here, she lands a devastating blow to the confidence of everyone hoping to possibly slip past her and sets herself up for a coast to victory in Vancouver. If she struggles at all, I think she'll make her competitors more hungry and more determined to catch her (I think she's already fired up Flatt!). The ball, so to speak, is in her court. Home field advantage for both Miki Ando and Akiko Sukuki. Suzuki has the better of the programs among the two but Ando is more consistent and has tougher jumps. Like Takahashi and Oda, they'll be dealing with the Japanese Press and have the opportunity to lock a spot on the Olympic Team...tough stuff indeed. Europe's lone entry in the ladies field comes from Alena Leonova...she has charmed her way to final with gusty free skates to Chicago, a program that has served her well. I don't think she can win this event but she might make a dent on the podium if she skates as she has. Joannie Rochette and Ashley Wagner round out the field. Joannie was really unimpressive in her win at Skate Canada and heads to Tokyo in an attempt to get back on track. Ashley Wagner was consistent enough in her Grand Prix appearances to make it. If she can turn on the star power and pull off something big, she can really put pressure on her American competitors (none of which are here) to step it up a notch at U.S. Nationals. Medal Predictions: (GOLD) Kim Yu-Na, (SILVER) Miki Ando, (BRONZE) Alena Leonova (risky choice!)
Someone asked me how Grand Prix Final medalists in Olympic years correlated to Olympic Podiums. Did some research and it's surprisingly close! It's not exact science but take a look and most GPF podiums highly resemble the Olympic Podiums in 98', 02', and 06'.