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Monday, June 3, 2013

Grand Prix, not final

The Grand Prix assignments have been published, signalling that the 2013-4 season is right around the corner! Okay, so that might be overstating things just a bit, but there's actual skating news to discuss, and we can't be choosy in our time of need the off-season. The usual disclaimers apply: skaters will withdraw by choice or necessity, new assignments will be made, and at least some events will leave us wondering - where have all the skaters gone?

Nonetheless, here are some quick thoughts about the assignments and how the events stack up with the current entries. The full assignments can be viewed here.

Best fields
Men: The men's fields are just strong in general, but the first two events stand out to me. Skate America has multiple world champions and medalists; in addition to current silver medalist Denis Ten, there are Daisuke Takahashi, Brian Joubert, Evan Lysacek (assuming he's serious about his comeback), Takahiko Kozuka and Artur Gachinski, as well as US Champion Max Aaron. Skate Canada will also be tough, with assigned skaters including Patrick Chan, Yuzuru Hanyu, Jeremy Abbott, Michal Brezina and Nobunari Oda.
Ladies: Yuna Kim, Akiko Suzuki, Kaetlyn Osmond, Alena Leonova, Gracie Gold, Julia Lipnitskaia and Kiira Korpi will be at Skate Canada. Kim should win; the rest is anybody's guess.

Kim kicks off the previous Olympic season, also against a tough field

Pairs: In chronological order... Skate Canada has world bronze medalists Duhamel and Radford, former medalists Kavaguti/Smirnov (the latter now a blonde), former 4CC and JW champions Sui/Han, European medalists Berton/Hotarek, former 4CC medalists Lawrence/Swiegers, and a promising new American pair, Davis/Brubaker. The NHK Trophy has a great mix, with Volosozhar/Trankov as well as several of the top Skate Canada pairs and JW champions Denney/Frazier.
Dance: to be honest, dance fields have become thin across the board. I will go with the NHK Trophy, which Davis and White will predictably win, while Cappellini/Lanotte, Ilinykh/Katsalapov and the Shibutanis all jockey for position.

Remember, the best field on paper often means a dreadful event in practice, as the skaters stress themselves out and splat left, right and center... but for now, if I had to pick the one event to go to, I'd head out to Saint John.

Some intriguing matchups: Pechalat/Bourzat go against Bobrova/Soloviev at the Cup of China; this matchup of the top two European teams has important implications for the battle for Olympic bronze. And yes, I know Cappellini and Lanotte beat P/B at Worlds; but no, they are not one of the top two European teams. Veterans Plushenko and Joubert are matched against current star Javier Fernandez at the Rostelecom Cup. Yuzuru Hanyu and Patrick Chan face off at both their assignments (Skate Canada and the Trophée Eric Bompard).

Please let it turn out like 2012 CoC

Random thoughts: Lysacek and Plushenko both received GP assignments, though only their home GP (I don't believe either was in a position to get two anyway). Will they show up? Joubert has apparently given up on his ambition of winning all six GPs and will not go to the Cup of China; in addition, for only the second time in his career, he is not assigned to TEB. It looks like Tomas Verner has no assignments - ouch. Junior world champion Elena Radionova will make her senior debut at the very first GP of the season, Skate America. Narumi Takahashi and new partner Ryuichi Kihara are assigned to the Rostelecom Cup and are a likely TBA at the NHK Trophy; former partner Mervin Tran, now representing Canada, is headed to TEB with his new partner, Natasha Purich. Why Volosozhar/Trankov prefer to skip their home GP and leave it to Savchenko and Szolkowy is beyond me. In the Skate Canada field, Stefania Berton is engaged to Rockne Brubaker, which I am sure will be remarked upon more than once ;)

A sad thought: this will likely be the final Grand Prix season for Carolina Kostner, Brian Joubert, Daisuke Takahashi, Evgeni Plushenko, Savchenko/Szolkowy, Virtue/Moir, Davis/White, Pechalat/Bourzat and Akiko Suzuki, to name a few. I'll miss so many of these skaters when they retire.

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