The Grand Prix Finals is upon us!
I always find the GPF to be a defining moment in the season. The GPF is often the first time all the heavyweights come to compete after a series of seeded competitions where they can win or at least medal easily. Even without some of the top contenders on the list, the GPF can help or hinder skaters – they can either prove that they have what it takes to be on top in a tough field or they can fall into the wayside of irrelevancy. There are definitely some match-ups to watch this weekend, which will make for a good competition. Let’s just hope that actual good skating gets thrown into the mix here as well.
Half of the competition at the GPF will be Japanese, including Olympic Champion, Yuzuru Hanyu. Hanyu has had a tough season after suffering a concussion from a huge collision at the Cup of China, resulting in less than stellar skates whose scores have been buoyed with some generous PCS marks. Despite the advantages of high PCS, Hanyu’s performances have in the past, opened doors for some of the up and coming Japanese men who are no longer content in staying in Daisuke Takahashi’s shadow. Both Tatsuki Machida and Takahito Mura have performed admirably in their GP assignments and are looking to be at the top of the podium here. For these men, being the top Japanese man is extremely important as it will decide who will win Nationals and subsequently, have a better chance at winning a medal at Worlds.
Predictions for this competition will be difficult as the roster is quite stacked at the GPF. Javier Fernandez may not always have the consistency but he does have the jump ability and charm to garner high marks in both TES and PCS. I’m still not a huge fan of his LP this season but both his programs are built to be crowd pleasers, which definitely helps him in his second mark.
Rounding off the roster are two Russian men, Maxim Kovtun and Sergei Voronov, who I don’t have high opinions of mostly because their skating styles consist of windmill-like movements and bland choreography. The judges don’t really seem to dislike this style as much as I do, so this is more of a detriment to my sanity than to them. Nonetheless, both men have solid jump technique that can get high technical marks that can snatch medals away from the other competitors if they falter. This will be a hard podium to call. I expect to be wrong.
Gold: Tatsuki Machida
Silver: Maxim Kovtun
Bronze: Takahito Mura
Gracie Gold has withdrawn from the GPF due to injury, which hampers the momentum she was gaining this season quite a bit. As a result, Gold will have to make up for lost ground by doing well at the Four Continents but with a thinned out field and a weaker Asian contingent, I think she can post a good result if she heals well.
With Gracie gone, the entire competition will be about the young Russian ladies coming up the pipe. Specifically, I see the race for gold as a re-match between Elena Radionova and Elizaveta Tuktamysheva. These two ladies have done well at their GP assignments and in their last match-up, rising star Radionova defeated her older teammate. Radionova’s skating has yet to reach a level of divinity displayed from some of the veterans who retired last season but it shows promise, perhaps more so than Tuktamysheva who unfortunately has been skating similar programs for several consecutive seasons and has lacked consistency in the past.
Also vying for gold is Julia Lipnitskaia who became a sensation last season in Russia after helping her country win the gold medal for the team event. It seems that puberty hit Lipnitskaia and she is currently undergoing a period where her jumps are not cooperating with her. Her jumps were small even before this season and I fear that they will no longer come naturally to her as they have in the past.
If Lipnitskaia skates the way she has been skating all season, then the battle for bronze will be a battle of TES vs. PCS against Anna Pogorilaya. Pogorilaya does not emote well on ice but she still has consistent jumps which makes her a competitor to be considered for the podium. Again, this podium will be hard to call and may be completely wrong.
Some of you may be wondering why Ashley Wagner is not in my mix for podium predictions and that’s mostly because I feel that Wagner has become more of a performer – interesting to watch if she has the right vehicle to skate to but technically, she lags behind the Russian girls and her under-rotation calls have hurt her scores greatly in the past and frankly, for this competition, under-rotated jumps won’t cut it anymore.
Gold: Elena Radionova
Silver: Elizaveta Tuktamysheva
Bronze: Anna Pogorilaya
The match-up to watch here will definitely be between Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford and Olympic silver medalists, Ksenia Stolbova & Fedor Klimov. Duhamel & Radford have done well this season to set them apart from the pack by putting more difficult elements into their programs and increasing their TES. Stolbova and Klimov, on the other hand, have stuck to what is working and is skating solid with two decent programs. (I’m rather fond of the last throw 4S at the end of their LP…) The gold medal will likely come down to how well Duhamel & Radford skate (the judges will likely heavily penalize a mistake-ridden program) and whether there will be a big difference in PCS between the two teams. Assuming that D&R skate well and that their PCS is close enough to S&F’s, they will likely win the gold.
As for bronze, I would like to see Yuko Kavaguti & Alexander Smirnov step up and improve on their performances on the GP circuit, especially since they have a great vehicle that is their LP to carry them to a medal finish. I think this team has what it takes and they really need to find that consistency to take their programs to great heights.
Gold: Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford
Silver: Ksenia Stolbova & Fedor Klimov
Bronze: Yuko Kavaguti & Alexander Smirnov
Ice dance will prove to be an interesting event as the GPF will likely be a decisive competition in the ranking of ice dance for the rest of the season. For now, it looks like the team to beat will be Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje who have skated solidly so far this season even though their programs lacked the pizzaz that they had last season.
Other podium contenders will include Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron who have skyrocketed in the rankings last season. They don’t quite have the speed or power and I’m not a huge fan of their SD (her dress is very distracting and makes it really hard to discern their movements) so I’m still a little confused about their sudden popularity. However, being the top ranked European team at the moment as Cappellini & Lanotte have taken themselves out of the GP circuit to work on their programs, they can gain some good momentum at this competition if they medal here.
Also fighting to reach the top of the podium are Madison Chock & Evan Bates. Technically, these two have proven that they can skate solidly, however, Madison carries the performance for the entire team while their choreography lacks a je ne sais quoi that keeps you interested. They are, however, the top U.S. team now that Meryl Davis & Charlie White have left that space open and with that title in hand, the Shibutanis will not likely pose a great challenge to the podium unless Chock & Bates falter in their skating.
Gold: Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje
Silver: Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron
Bronze: Madison Chock & Evan Bates
What are your predictions for the GPF? List them for me in the comments!
~The Rinkside Cafe