The last of the six Grand Prix events, the Rostelecom Cup (former the Cup of Russia), takes place this weekend in Moscow. This is the last chance for skaters to qualify for the Grand Prix Final in Quebec City in December.
The competition across the board will be intense, particularly in the men's field.Men: Fernandez hungry
At the Skate Canada event in Mississauga, Ont., last month, Spaniard Javier Fernandez was brilliant on his way to collecting the first ISU Grand Prix medal for his country, a silver. He took the short program over world champion Patrick Chan in a powerful display. His free program was strong too, but he was still edged out in the final score
by the Canadian world champion. What I like about Fernandez is that he's polished, prepared and hungry now that he knows he can go toe-to-toe with the big boys.
American Jeremy Abbott won the Cup of China
on the strength of two third-place programs. Knowing Abbott's skating like I do, I can't imagine that he will want anything less than his best here. In fact, with the depth of the field in Moscow, he'll need his best performances in order to compete. That said, it was a bit touch-and-go for Abbott the first couple of days in Moscow while he waited for his luggage containing his skates to arrive.
Michal Brezina of the Czech Republic has already qualified for the Final, but he's competing in his third Grand Prix event anyway, taking advantage of a provision that allows the top six finishers at the 2011 world championships to compete in an extra outing if they wish (skaters are usually limited to two Grand Prix events per season). The problem with this for the other skaters is that his placement could take away from another athlete trying to qualify.
The other men to watch include Andrei Rogozine (the 2011 junior world champion from Canada), world bronze medallist Artur Gachinski of Russia, Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan, and history-making American Brandon Mroz, who this season became the first to land a quad Lutz
.Dance: Weaver, Poje at top of game
I'm also looking forward to the ice dance event, where 2011 world champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White are in contention for their second Grand Prix gold medal of the season after winning Skate America
. I can't imagine that they won't take the title, so it's how the rest of the podium shakes down that really interests me.
Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje have qualified for the Final with two silver medals and are looking to this event for added experience. They're at the top of their game this season with solid programs and improved speed and consistency.
I'm a big fan of European silver medallists Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev of Russia, who have already won
a Grand Prix title this season in China. They have great power and performance and cannot be underestimated at any stage of a competition.Ladies: 3 contenders for Final spot
There are still two Final spots up for grabs for the ladies, with three serious contenders eyeing them.
Two-time world champion Mao Asada of Japan was not her brilliant self
at the NHK, but was strong enough to take the silver. Last year's disappointing season was the result of a coaching and ensuing jump-technique change. Make no mistake, in my mind her foot is already firmly and comfortably on the ladder of success heading towards the world championships in Nice in March 2012.
A pair of Russian women are also contenders. Junior world champion Adelina Sotnikova and Alena Leonova both have bronze medals from their first Grand Prix and can be very strong competitors.Pairs: Savchenko, Szolkowy look to get back on track
In the pairs event, Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov of Russia have already qualified with two Grand Prix titles. They have also qualified in the "biggest transformation" category with quality programs that are refined and filled with high-risk elements.
What piques my interest about the pairs event is whether or not the three-time and reigning world champions from Germany, Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, can improve on their lukewarm performances from earlier in the Grand Prix season. With a gold and a bronze medal, they have already qualified for Quebec City. A win here could go a long way to boosting their confidence and getting them back on track.Pj's picks for goldMen:
Javier Fernandez (Spain)Ladies:
Mao Asada (Japan)Pairs:
Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov (Russia)Dance:
Meryl Davis and Charlie White (United States)Pj Kwong with be chatting with fans during CBCSports.ca's streaming coverage of the Rostelecom Cup on Saturday (starting at 3 p.m. ET) and Sunday (1 p.m. ET). Click here to join in.
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