As the skaters hit the ice for the Cup of China
- the third leg in the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating series starts Friday in Shanghai - I'll be looking to have a few ideas either confirmed or denied.Ice dance: Are the Shibutanis for real?
The first is whether or not Maia and Alex Shibutani of the United States have done enough work during the off-season to seriously threaten for the ice dance podium by the time the world championships arrive this coming March. The brother and sister duo ended up moving up for a surprise world bronze in Moscow in 2011, and they're solid as dancers, but do they have enough artistry (not just technique) to keep their competitors at bay?
We may find out in Shanghai, where they'll go up against Russia's Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev, last season's European silver medallists.Ladies: Russians run deep
Some of my Russian fans on Twitter
have been telling me for some time that there are four or five young Russian girls who are taking their skating seriously. We saw one last week at Skate Canada, where Elizaveta Tuktamisheva didn't wait for anyone else's mistakes to claim the title
. This week, 2011 world junior champion Adelina Sotnikova takes the ice in her first senior Grand Prix. Will she provide confirmation of the sudden depth of talent in the Russian field of women?
Look for Italy's Carolina Kostner to improve on her silver-medal performance at Skate America
and to clinch a spot for the Grand Prix Final. American Mirai Nagasu, on the other hand, will just be looking for redemption. Her disappointing fifth-place finish last week at Skate Canada
makes it impossible for her to qualify for the Final in Quebec City.Men: Gachinski must do more than jump
Russia's Artur Gachinski is the reigning world bronze medallist for no good reason aside from being a jumping machine. Truth be told, those jumps can come in handy, and he did earn his medal fair and square. The question of the hour for me is whether or not his jumps will be enough to stay ahead of men who can jump and also have artistry.
The men's field in Shanghai has more than its fair share of terrific skaters, including Nobunari Oda of Japan, American Jeremy Abbott and Canadian Kevin Reynolds. The key to success for the man who wins will be performing the elements in the context of richly textured choreography - something that all of these top men should be capable of doing.Pairs: Chinese look to capitalize on home ice
Some great performers are slated for their second appearance of the season in a Grand Prix event. Two Chinese teams will have home ice advantage: Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang, and Wenjing Sui and Cong Han, both of whom took silver in their first event.
Canadian pairs champions Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch are coming to Shanghai off a bronze-medal showing
at Skate America. The Canadians need a second podium finish in order to qualify for a second consecutive trip to the Grand Prix Final.
Making their first Grand Prix appearance this season are the 2011 European silver medalists from Russia, Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov. My issue with this team is that, for the most part, I'm not buying what they're selling. They have the ability to draw me in from time to time (like their Swan Lake
program, which was exquisite) but they usually don't. So, with as much talent as they have, my question is: will they stop with the superfluous theatrics this season and deliver the artistic programs that can match their technical ability?Pj's picks for goldMen:
Nobunari Oda (Japan)Ladies:
Carolina Kostner (Italy)Pairs:
Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang (China)Dance:
Maia and Alex Shibutani (United States)Want to see Battle of the Blades in person? Follow Pj Kwong on Twitter next week, and answer her question for your chance to win tickets.
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