Yay! And so the Grand Prix begins with the first stop in Nagoya, Japan for NHK Trophy. So excited!
In Ice Dance I predict very smooth sailing for Davis and White. I'm excited to see their new programs. Last season we got an early sneak peek at Nebelhorn but have had to wait in suspense this season. Tessa Virtue's surgery have, by default, made this team the front runners this season. It will be interesting to see how they go about motivating themselves without a real competition push (at least yet). I suspect Marlie will be just fine! The real interesting part about dance I think will be the podium scramble for second and third. Canadians Weaver and Poje, Americans Shibutani and Shibutani, Russians Ilinykh and Katsalapov, Italians Cappellini and Lanotte, and even the Czech team of Mysliveckova and Novak have a shot at the podium (Hell...I'll even throw in Reed and Reed of Japan! Long-shot but you never know...). Who's mastered the short dance and who can get through their free dance the cleanest I think will tell the story. Medal Predictions: (GOLD) Davis and White, (SILVER) Cappellini and Lanotte, (BRONZE) Weaver and Poje (I do think the Russians will be hot on the Canadians tails!)
The ladies competition could be dynamite. NHK Trophy provides one of the deepest fields we'll see on the Grand Prix this season with all eyes on World Champ Mao Asada. She debuted her free skate at the Japan Open and had a terrible skate. It will be interesting to see if she and new coach Nobuo Sato have had time to clean it up and be ready for this competition. If so, she becomes very tough to beat. A strong trio of U.S. women will make the trip to NHK including National Champ Rachael Flatt, the only U.S. women to make the Grand Prix Final last season Ashley Wagner, and Grand Prix wildcard Caroline Zhang. Any of the three could spoil Mao Asada's party if they skate well. I'll be looking to see if Rachael has upped her artistic game with better connection to her music, if Ashley Wagner has smoothed out some of her technical issues (including that flutz), and if Caroline Zhang can get some speed going in her performances. Also in the mix is reigning European Champ Carolina Kostner who is coming off a rough season. The only bright spot was her win at Europeans and even that wasn't a great performance. She's gone back to Michael Huth (who seriously leaves Frank Carroll?) hoping to recapture some of her former glory? Also hailing from Europe is fire-cracker Elene Gedevanishvili from Georgia and Finland's Kiira Korpi. Kiira competed in two early season competitions winning Nebelhorn and placing second at Finlandia so she looks ready to go. Elena will hopefully have upped her technical game to compete with the best. The biggest story at the event may end up being Kanako Murakami. The Japanese junior star is making her senior grand prix debut after sweeping the junior events last season with the cool confidence of a skater far more experienced than she. She might make a splash if she manages to steal the show in Nagoya. Medal Predictions: (GOLD) Mao Asada, (SILVER) Rachael Flatt, (BRONZE) Kanako Murakami
Just like Ice Dance, the Pairs event looks to be a complete runaway for World Champs Pang and Tong of China. The field offers little resistance to them barring a complete meltdown. But should that meltdown occur, the very consistent U.S. Team of Denney and Barrett could capitalize. They've got new programs this season choreographed by David Wilson and have been working with former American Champ John Zimmerman...a possible recipe for success? The Japanese team of Takahashi and Tran have been skating well on the Junior Grand Prix this season and hope to duplicate those efforts on the Senior Grand Prix. Two other teams of note are the Russians Bazarova and Larionov and the other American team of Yankowskas and Coughlin. Medal Predictions: (GOLD) Pang and Tong, (SILVER) Denney and Barrett, (BRONZE) Bazarova and Larionov
A very interesting mix of men are competing at NHK and I get the idea anything could happen. The favorite at the event is World Champ Daisuke Takahashi...but he has a habit of not looking great in his season openers...but he didn't look to shabby at the Japan Open. If he skates well I think he'll do well. He will be pushed by Jeremy Abbott who can go toe-toe with Daisuke technically and artistically. Jeremy has recently been plagued with boot issues so it will be interesting to see if that effects him in Japan. His Tweets (btw he is above 10,000 followers!) indicate he is ready to go. Behind these two is quite a group of men who could surprise at any instance. Cheif among them Frenchman Florent Amodio and Denis Ten of Kazahkstan. Both have the ability to light up audiences. Florent's free skate this season is a bit messy with tons of music cuts so I think he's at a disadvantage. Too much dancing on the ice and not enough skating. Kevin van der Perren is in the field. He didn't find his groove last season until Worlds which he announced was his farewell to eligible competition, but alas, he and wife Jenna McCorkell are again competing this season (both at NHK). Like Murakami amongst the women, Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu makes his debut on the senior grand prix after sweeping the junior events last season. He looks poised to be one of the top contenders here. Also in the mix is Canadian Shawn Sawyer who can pull component scores like no other, Adrian Schultheiss of Sweden who is also interesting, and American young'n Ross Miner who also makes his senior grand prix debut. Should be interesting to say the least. Medal Predictions: (GOLD) Jeremy Abbott, (SILVER) Daisuke Takahashi, (BRONZE) Yuzuru Hanyu
My plan is to tweet live during the events (yes...that mean's 1am CST Friday morning!)so be sure to follow me on Twitter @skating102. I also plan on posting my "flashes," basically my at first glance thoughts about the performances.