Figure Skating: From the Boards

A look ahead: Cup of China’s hottest couples November 3, 2011

The dance and pairs disciplines bring us another dose of fresh faces, but also a few couples looking to claim one one of the first spots in the Grand Prix Final. Let’s get right to it, shall we?

Dancers spicing it up

The sambas and rumbas of this year’s short dance will bring an element all their own to the ice in China — heat. The ice dance event in has, in a handful of seasons, become one of the most popular among skating fans. The increased difficulty brought on by the Code of Points system, coupled with the intense competition spurred by the Shpilband/Zoueva camp has made it a highlight of every competition.

This weeks event features largely inexperienced teams, save the top two.

Maia and Alex Shibutani are fresh off of a second place finish at Finlandia Trophy earlier this season, as well as a surprise bronze medal at Worlds to end last season. The are good. Simple as that. And with their youth, they’ll continue to improve. The short dance is a stretch for them (brother/sister teams always have a challenge with the more sultry dances!), but if they manage that, they soar in the free dance.

Their biggest competition will come from the Russians, Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev. These two had success on the Grand Prix circuit last season, but struggled at the end of the year. They tend to score well on some big elements, and they may have polished things up a bit since last year. They’ll need that to face the young Americans.

Pernelle Carron and Lloyd Jones will be pushing for a place on the medal stand. They finished in those “bubble” spots last season — 4th or 5th in the Grand Prix. But here, in a field without much experience, they should be pushing the top three.

Trying to be the next junior-to-senior phenoms, American’s Charlotte Lichtman and Dean Copely make their senior debut with a chance to impress. Also making their debut as a couple are Emily Samuelson and Todd Gilles. Of course, Emily made the 2010 Olympic team with Evan Bates (who debuted with his new partner last week). They will ahve work to do, but this is a good place to get their feet wet and see what they have going for them.

Podium predictions (no particular order):

Shibutani/Shibutani
Carron/Jones
Bobrova/Soloviev

Can youth trump experience?

Two Chinese teams will compete for the second time this season — both Wenjing Sui and Cong Han and Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang took second in their first events (Skate Canada and Skate America respectively). Both will again compete for the medal stand, but if their first events are any clue, Sui/Han’s youth — and mind boggling tricks! — may give them an edge over their veteran counterparts.

Also looking for a second Grand Prix medal are Canadians Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch. They finished third behind the Zhangs at Skate America, but only by a little over one point. They’ll be ready to take advantage of whatever opportunity their given.

Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig are veterans in this event. They struggled a bit last season, but some instances were due to freak situations … like a blade coming unglued (literally!) just prior to a long program. With the rest of the US pairs scene in a bit of disarray, these two may be primed for their best season yet.

Likely the favorites, Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov are coming off of a season that saw its share of ups and downs. They only skated in one GP event, and looked to be well on their way to a Worlds medal. But, even though their free skate was stunning, it was not clean enough to put them on the podium. They can be hit and miss sometimes, but they certainly have the goods to go all the way.

Podium picks (as always, no particular order):

Sui/Han
Moore-Towers/Moscovitch
Kavaguti/Smirnov

Among these, we’ll also see some newbies — some skaters without a real medal chance, but with every opportunity to gain international experience and prepare themselves for years to come.

For those of you braving the wee hours of the morning to watch live, here’s the TV schedule via Icenetwork.com.

Friday, Nov. 4
3:30 a.m.: Short dance
5:00 a.m.: Ladies short program
6:45 a.m.: Men’s short program
8:45 a.m.: Pairs short program

Saturday, Nov. 5
2:30 a.m.: Free dance
4:15 a.m.: Ladies free skate
6:15 a.m.: Men’s free skate
8:30 a.m.: Pairs free skate

I’ll be live on twitter for most of the event. Follow me @fromtheboards. See you there!

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