This has to be one of the biggest days in the off-season for the hardcore fans: the ISU has released the initial rosters for the six Grand Prix competitions in the upcoming Olympic season. Doesn't it seem like Vancouver just happened?
Lack of Diversity
First things first-- a few seasons ago, in an effort for the ISU to save an additional few dollars, they decided to drop the fields down from 12 in singles to 10, and down to 8 in pairs and ice dance. Since the spots are mostly based upon World Standing and Season Rankings, we see the issue in the mens fields. Aside from world silver medalist Denis Ten (KAZ), Alexander Majorov (SWE), Michal Brezina (CZE), Peter Liebers (GER), and world bronze medalist Javier Fernandez (ESP), all other entries come from one of the six Grand Prix stops (USA, Canada, China, Japan, France, and Russia). That's 51 of 60 possible spots going to the 'powerhouses'. While I agree that many of the skaters from those six countries are indeed the best in the world, I wish the ISU would return to the 12 entries in each event, so decent skaters such as Misha Ge, Viktor Pfeifer, and Jorik Hendrickx, although not top 12 in the World Championships, could still have a chance at an event.
At the same time, I would have liked to see skaters such as Americans Hannah Miller and Angela Wang get a chance at a senior Grand Prix.. But there's just so much depth!
Comebacks and New Teams
Evan Lysacek is on the roster once again for Skate America. We'll see about that. I like the guy but how many times have we heard excuses or last-minute injuries in the last few seasons?
On the other hand, I fully expect Evgeny Plushenko to compete at Rostelecom to start his season.
Yretha Silete (FRA) is back from injury and will be at Eric Bompard.
Davis and Brubaker (USA) are assigned to Skate Canada, Purich/Tran (CAN) have Eric Bompard, and Takahashi/Kihara (JPN) are on the Rostelcom Cup roster; they are likely to also get the TBA for NHK Trophy, since there is no other Japanese pairs team.
Depths of the Fields
Sticking with the men, all I can say is wow. I am planning on attending Skate America, and just look at the roster (and believing that Lysacek will actually be there), here are the accomplishments of the nine confirmed men:
- Olympic Champion (Lysacek)
- Three World Champions (Joubert, Lysacek, Takahashi)
- Six World Medalists (add Kozuka, Ten, Gachinksi)
- 2012/2013 Grand Prix Final qualifier Machida (along with Takahashi and Kozuka)
- 7th-place World Championship finisher and US National Champion Aaron
- 6th-place finisher at Europeans Majorov
All of the mens fields are strong, especially considering the unpredictability of a large group of top men today, but Skate Canada (Chan, Brezina, three Japanese, and three Americans) also is particularly stacked. And then you look at NHK and think the same.. and France.. and Russia.. and China :-)
Somewhat surprised that Adam Rippon only has one event, but he did not have an ideal 2013 season. Jason Brown also grabbed an event, scheduled to compete at Bompard. I am really excited to see the rise of Joshua Farris, who has Chan-comparable skating skills and flow. Watch for him!
Tomas Verner (CZE) is missing from the Grand Prix this year, and he was in the Final just a few short years ago. I really hope he finds some confidence in what is likely to be his final season.
Elena Radionova (RUS) is making the move to the senior Grand Prix, coming in as reigning World Junior Champion. She's not old enough for the Olympics, but remember Mao Asada took the same route in 2005/2006 and ended up winning the entire thing in the Final!
Even though she had a disastrous Worlds (to the point that she has to qualify a spot to the Olympics at Nebelhorn), I have to say that I'm surprised Sonia Lafuente of Spain was not given an event after her great performance at Europeans. All ladies in the top 14 at Worlds have two events, as does Valentina Marchei who finished in 18th. Even Elene Gedevanishvili (GEO), who failed to qualify to the free skate, earned two spots based on her high World Standing.
Caroline Zhang (USA) surprisingly? earned an initial spot at Skate America. I am fine with that decision, as I think she was hosed at Nationals after great efforts.
Strongest field in my opinion? Probably Canada, with NHK and Bompard behind.
No big surprises here, although I don't know if we should hold our breath about the Chinese team of Pang/Tong showing up to their events. They looked like they were running on empty at the World Championships after going through the Grand Prix series last season, and the Olympics are clearly their target.
The German team of Hausch/Wende took last season off due to family-related incidents and, I believe, injury. Does anyone know if they plan on coming back and attempting to earn the second German spot for the Olympics? They did not receive any events.
Again, no major surprises. Nice to see Papadakis/Cizeron get an initial event, with a second likely using the TBA at Eric Bompard.
Will someone like Alissa Czisny be able to grab the open spot at Skate America after missing last season, or will the USFS decide to go for someone new such as Samantha Cesario? Or even someone else?
Is Johnny Weir done for after his abysmal showing in the short program at Rostelecom last season, or has he been working seriously on improving his skating in the last several months? Although highly unlikely for the Skate America spot, will we see him next season?