Impressively, four Japanese men have qualified: current World bronze medalist Yuzuru Hanyu, former World silver medalist Takahiko Kozuka, Tatsuki Machida, and former World Champion Daisuke Takahashi. Joining them are top regular-season top qualifier and two-time reigning World Champion Patrick Chan of Canada and Spain's Javier Fernandez, who won bronze in this event a year ago.
Hanyu has run away with the short program this season, setting a new world record at both of his events. Patrick Chan has yet to deliver a perfect performance, but he came close at Rostelecom Cup and earned the highest free skate point total of any of the men here. I believe the gold medal will come down to these two men. Chan will have to deliver in the short program if Hanyu is on again, or he may find himself in a sizable deficit going into the free skate. Kozuka, Takahashi, and Fernandez look to be in a three-way battle for the bronze, or higher, if the two leaders make mistakes.
1. Patrick Chan
2. Yuzuru Hanyu
3. Takahiko Kozuka
4. Daisuke Takahashi
5. Javier Fernandez
6. Tatsuki Machida
I think Chan has been building with each competition and will pull off the win, with Hanyu not far behind. I don't love Yuzuru's free skate and really wish he had a program as high-quality as his short. Takahashi doesn't look as into his programs this season as he was for the last several years, and I feel that his quadruple attempts seem to always short enough to warrant under-rotation calls, which may be enough to hold him off the podium here. Fernandez is a total wildcard. He had a moment of brilliance at Skate Canada but then really let the pressure get to him at NHK Trophy.
American Ashley Wagner and Japan's Mao Asada both won two events in the series and lead the way, while Kiira Korpi of Finland, at age 24, makes her first appearance at the Final. Akiko Suzuki of Japan and two Russian ladies, World Junior Champion Julia Lipnitskaia and Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, round out the field.
Wagner has looked the strongest of all the ladies this season, delivering two great free skates en route to her wins. Asada had a controversial win at NHK Trophy, but the judges seem to really be enjoying her new, non-risky technical approach to the programs and have rewarded her with the highest components of any lady thus forth. Suzuki had the skate of her life at NHK and looks to still be improving at age 27.
1. Ashley Wagner
2. Akiko Suzuki
3. Mao Asada
4. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva
5. Christina Gao
6. Kiira Korpi
This one is actually tough, as I believe it could be really close after the short program if all of the ladies deliver. Wagner has looked so solid that I believe she will continue the trend and win here, while second through fourth was somewhat of a toss-up.
Three Russian pairs, World silver medalists Volosozhar/Trankov, Bazarova/Larionov, and Kavaguti/Smirnov qualified in the top four spots. Former World Champions Pang/Tong of China, and two Canadian teams, Duhamel/Radford and Moore-Towers/Moscovitch, have also qualified. World Champions Savchenko/Szolkowy of Germany had to withdraw from their second event after she came down with an illness at her first event and subsequently did not qualify.
Based on how everyone has skated so far this year, this also could end up completely unpredictable. Volosozhar/Trankov had a disastrous free skate (by their standards) at Rostelecom Cup, and none of the six teams have really had moments of brilliance in the regular-season.
I think Volosozhar/Trankov will get it together at home and earn the title, but then second through fifth is the biggest question mark of the entire event, in my opinion. All of the teams scored relatively close to each other in the regular season. Duhamel/Radford have made great improvements as a pair and have set the technical bar exceptionally high. They come in as the third-highest scoring team in this field, behind the aforementioned and Bazarova/Larionov, who have shown good results but troubles technically throughout their events. They were able to win NHK in a much-watered down field. Pang/Tong looked more solid in their second event of the season, but I am not convinced that they are in top form yet to be on the podium here. Kavaguti/Smirnov have had troubled with their individual jump elements in the free skates so far this season, but they still have an opportunity to set themselves up for the podium with a strong short program. It should be an exciting event.
Americans Davis/White and Canadians Virtue/Moir, who were silver and gold medalists at the 2010 Olympics, easily won both of their events leading to the final. World bronze medalists Pechalat/Bourzat also won both of their events, while Russians Bobrova/Soloviev and Ilynikh/Katsalapov, and Italians Cappellini/LaNotte all won silver twice in their regular-season events.
I believe that Davis/White have the strongest programs this season, particularly their short dance to Giselle, and will be able to win the title here. I respect Virtue/Moir's take on Carmen, but I feel that the choreography is a little too off-kilter and abstract to really garner top scores. Pechalat/Bourzat look good for bronze, while I think Bobrova/Soloviev will be the best of the next group after making tremendous improvements in the off-season.
What do you think? Share your opinions and predictions in the comments section! I am guessing there will be many differing opinions (particularly in mens and pairs), so let me hear them :)