Ice dance battle too close to call at Grand Prix Final | Figure Skating | CBC Sports

Figure SkatingIce dance battle too close to call at Grand Prix Final

Posted: Monday, December 5, 2011 | 02:12 PM

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Canada's Tessa Virtue, left, and Scott Moir have never won a Grand Prix Final title. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press) Canada's Tessa Virtue, left, and Scott Moir have never won a Grand Prix Final title. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

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I can't wait for the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final to begin this week in Quebec City, where all four events will feature a significant pair of competitors going head to head.

Take ice dance for example: defending world champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the United States will go up against 2010 Olympic and world champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada for the first time this season.
I can't wait for the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final to begin this week in Quebec City, where all four events will feature a significant pair of competitors going head to head.

Ice dance: The final jewel

Take ice dance for example: defending world champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the United States will go up against 2010 Olympic and world champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada for the first time this season.

Fans of Davis and White have been saying that, because they earned a little more than two points combined in their two Grand Prix events than the Canadians, that makes them the favourites. It's true that Davis and White qualified in top spot, but in the final analysis I don't know that it means that much. Both teams have outstanding programs this season with free dances that play to their strengths.

It has to be said that Virtue and Moir have yet to win the Grand Prix Final title. It's the missing jewel in their ice dance crown.

The short dance, in my opinion, is where this event will be won or lost. If ever there was a rivalry too close to call, this would be the one.

Men: Young man's game

I think the men's event is a young man's game. With Spain's Javier Fernandez coming in as the first man from his country to qualify for the Grand Prix Final and to earn Grand Prix medals, he is poised on the threshold of the big time. He was stellar in three of the four programs he performed during his two events, only losing focus in his short program at the Cup of Russia. Fernandez has nothing to lose and everything to gain with success at the Final.

For 2011 world champion Patrick Chan of Canada and 2010 world champion Daisuke Takahashi of Japan, it's another story. Both men have great track records but have gotten off to slow starts this season and have not yet hit their competitive strides. If ever there was a time to put it together, this would be a good one. Time to show the world that their world titles were no fluke.

Pairs: Unexpected twists

I love the fact that the Grand Prix pairs competitions have not been what I would have predicted on paper at the beginning of the season. Having seen the Chinese team of Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang in Toronto in the summer, I thought they would have been stronger. Same went for Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov after their surprise world silver medals last spring.

Who knew I would instead be talking about Russia's Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov without rolling my eyes? The two-time world bronze medallists have reinvented themselves in a way that makes me take them seriously. Gone are the theatrics, replaced with subtlety, grace and refined choreography. Talk about a transformation!

I think the frontrunners for this event are the three-time and defending world champions from Germany, Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy. Although their performances were hit and miss in their first two events, their results weren't. By their third event of the season, the Cup of Russia, they seemed to have shaken off whatever was holding them back. With so many powerful teams looming Savchenko and Szolkowy would be smart to establish clear dominance in Quebec City.

Ladies: Youth vs. experience

Last, but certainly not least, are the ladies. If we were to go solely on the strength of solid performances in competition, the nod would have to go to Russia's 14-year-old phenom Elizaveta Tuktamisheva to take the top spot. I'm convinced that this girl is one of the world's best jumpers. There is still room (and time) for improvement in the performance area, but for the moment she is strong enough.

On the other hand, Mao Asada of Japan has both jumping and performance ability in spades. The two-time world champion has already won this event twice and is firmly on the comeback trail after a disappointing sixth-place finish at worlds last season. Asada's strength as a skater has always been in drawing the audience in. Now, with her jumps back on track, she's once again a formidable opponent.

Pj's picks for gold

Men: Patrick Chan (Canada)

Ladies: Mao Asada (Japan)

Pairs: Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy (Germany)

Ice Dance: Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir (Canada)

CBC figure skating analyst Pj Kwong will be chatting with fans during live streams of the Grand Prix Final, starting with the ladies' short program Friday at 1 p.m. ET. Click here to watch the action live and interact with Pj, and go here for full broadcast and streaming details.

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