The NHK Trophy kicks off the ever-exciting Grand Prix series this year, and competition begins Friday. This not only means there will be skating on the actual television, but also that I might decide to come out of hiding a little bit more often :-) Just kidding.. I have been working very hard on a database of sorts that will be up soon... more details on that later, but for now a little preview of NHK!
World Champion Daisuke Takahashi leads the way for the home-country team, which also includes potential spoiler and current World Junior Champion Yuzuru Hanu, and 2008/2009 Grand Prix Final Champion Jeremy Abbott of the USA. Abbott has been dealing with boot problems the last few weeks so his readiness is a question mark. Two other skaters with a shot for a medal come into this season with new coaches: French fan-favorite Florent Amodio, now with Nikolai Morozov, and Kazakhstan's Denis Ten, with Frank Carroll. Other outside-shot contenders include Belgium's Kevin Van der Perren, Canada's Shawn Sawyer and Jeremy Ten, Sweden's Adrian Schultheiss, and American Ross Miner- a bronze medalist at the Junior series Final a year ago.
What an unpredictable, less-than-consistent field we have here! Six or seven ladies have a chance at either medaling (or even winning the whole thing), or completely bombing and finishing near the bottom. World Champion Mao Asada may be considered an early favorite, but her performance at the recent Japan Open was nothing short of a disaster. European Champion Carolina Kostner has returned to old coach Michael Huth, but has never shown consistency in her career and generally does not fare well early in the season. The three Americans (Rachael Flatt, Ashley Wagner, and Caroline Zhang) all have had strong moments, but Flatt seems to have started the season out slowly in national competitions, while Zhang has a new coach (Tammy Gambill) who has hopefully cleared up some of her severe jumping issues. Wagner was the only American lady to qualify to the Grand Prix Final last season. World Junior Champion Kanako Murakami and Finland's Kiira Korpi are also skating here. Korpi won the silver medal at the recent Finlandia Trophy and started off the senior international season by winning the Nebelhorn Trophy.
World Champions Qing Pang / Jian Tong of China are the headliners here, while Russia's Vera Bazarova / Yuri Larionov and Americans Caydee Denney / Jeremy Barrett should battle it out for the other podium spots. Denney / Barrett are now coached by former US pairs Champion John Zimmerman and his wife, former Italian skater Silvia Fontana. Also in this field are Americans Caitlin Yankowskas / John Coughlin, and the Japanese team of Narumi Takahashi / Mervin Tran-- a pair that already has won two silver medals on the Junior Grand Prix this season and qualified a spot to Beijing for the Finals in December.
Olympic silver medalists Meryl Davis / Charlie White of the USA are the heavy favorites, while Italians Anna Cappellini / Luca Lanotte and Russian World Junior Champions Elena Ilinykh / Nikita Katsalapov hope for medals. Cappellini / Lanotte look to rebound from the disaster they experienced at home during the World Championships last season, while Ilinykh / Katsalapov have already created a huge buzz while skating at the junior level. Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver / Andrew Poje and American siblings Maia / Alex Shibutani have outside chances for the podium.
Men: Gold- Takahashi Silver- Hanyu Bronze- Abbott
Ladies: Gold- Wagner Silver- Asada Bronze- Zhang (however, who knows!)
Pairs: Gold- Pang/Tong Silver- Bazarova/Larionov Bronze- Denney/Barrett
Dance: Gold- Davis/White Silver- Ilinykh/Katsalapov Bronze- Cappellini/Lanotte
What am I looking forward to seeing the most? Shawn Sawyer has always been a favorite of mine, and I think his "Alice in Wonderland" free skate choice intrigued me the most of any music selection, so I definitely can't wait to see it. I'm also really looking forward to Jeremy Abbott's "Life is Beautiful" free skate. Any other pleasant surprises would be nice, too :-)