Figure Skating: From the Boards

A look ahead: Cup of China’s ladies and gentlemen November 2, 2011

You know, we spend the entire summer counting the days until the Grand Prix season begins. Then, just like that, we’re headed into week three! It always goes so quickly once it starts.

But enough of that. On to China!

As I was working on my icenetwork.com column this week, I realized — this is the least “elite” event thus far, and yet, it could be the most competitive! So many skaters have the chance to improve on their past senior performances or, in some cases, stun the world with their senior debuts. Add in a handful of veterans who would like to regain their top spots, and I have quite the headache. Oh, and yes, we also have quite the competition on our hands!

Today we’ll talk ladies and gents. Tomorrow, the couples.

It’s any man’s game

When you pit the young Artur Gachinski against the talented Nobunari Oda and the determined Jeremy Abbott, it’s enough to make your head spin. Then throw in Yuzuru Hanyu, Kevin Reynolds and Ricky Dornbush and it essentially becomes a shoot out — the three  men who skate cleanest will likely find the podium.

Jeremy Abbott missed Worlds last year, and wasn’t too happy about it. He is a strong competitor, and can match his technical excellence with his artistic superiority. This is his first event since Four Continents, and he’ll want to make a statement. Much like Ashley Wagner last weekend, he may skate with a chip on his shoulder.

If Nobunari Oda could ever put together back-to-back programs, he would be in the discussions with the Chans and Takahashi’s of the world. But more often than not, silly mistakes cost him titles. Still, I don’t know anyone who has deeper knees and softer edges. He’s a joy to watch, and will compete for gold.

Ricky Dornbush is the only one man skating in his second event. He struggled a bit at Skate America, and will likely make some adjustments for China. However, Yuzuru Hanyu is the wild card with the potential to upstage them all. He’s young and a bit volatile, so he’s not a sure thing. However, I’m willing to bet on him this year.

Of course, we can’t eliminate Artur Gachinski from the medal discussions. He did, after all, take third at Worlds. Still, outside of the jumps, he doesn’t bring a lot to the table. That said, his jumps serve him well, and that can’t be discounted.

We can’t forget Kevin Reynolds after his quad clinic last season. Two in one short program? He’s something else. But he, too, tends to get so bogged down in the jumps (says the girl who will never land a quad!) that as the jumps go, so goes the rest of the program. And it’s not always good.

Podium predictions (in no particular order:

Abbot
Oda
Hanyu/Gachinski

Leave it to the ladies to complicate things

Last season, the ladies event was the most complicated because it was the most unpredictable. Inconsistency leads to that. Well, this season — and this event, in particular — is continuing that trend.

Carolina Kostner *just* missed out on a gold in her first event of the season. She has much stronger programs than she has in recent years (and, perhaps, ever), and she seems to be healthy. However, she still has limited jump content that could cost her in the long run.

After last week, I’m not entirely sure what to expect out of Mirai Nagasu. She has the goods in every aspect of her skating. But delivering seems to almost get harder and harder as she grows in this sport. I hope — and think — she will bounce back. She is a competitor and she won’t be happy with last week’s performance. I just hope she starts to believe in these programs … and in her ability to be the best.

Especially with kids like Adelina Sotnikova hot on her heels. This little gem is coming off of an undefeated junior season that included a Junior Grand Prix Final title, a senior Russian National title, and the Junior World Title. Not too shabby. It’s always a mystery how young phenoms will perform on the “grown up” stage, but Adelina has, no doubt, seen her countrywoman Elizaveta Tuktamisheva’s performance last week and has hopes to repeat it.

Don’t ignore Japan’s Kanako Murakami, either. She’s a dynamo with personality to the moon and back. She started last season with bang, and she’s likely to do the same here. She’s still a little rough around the edges and inconsistent, but, well, most of the girls here are!

Look for a strong senior debut from Christina Gao, as well. She may not be a podium threat here (although, depending on the day, she could be!). But what she does bring to the table is simply lovely.

Podium predictions (again, no particular order)

Nagasu
Kostner
Sotnikova

More tomorrow!

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