After struggling at times with issues both on and off the ice last season, Japan's Mao Asada seems to have turned the corner heading into her Grand Prix season debut this week at the Cup of China.
For the past few weeks there were rumblings in the press that the Japanese figure skating team would not compete at this week's Cup of China Grand Prix because of recent anti-Japan demonstrations in China. The situation was resolved and, truth be told, not having the Japanese skaters in attendance in Shanghai would have diminished the excitement around the event.
Take the men's competition. Not only do we get a second look at Skate America bronze medallist Tatsuki Machida, we also get to see 2010 world champion Daisuke Takahashi in his season debut. Takahashi just keeps getting better and better.
I know that there are fans out there who think that Brian Joubert of France can take Takahashi. If Joubert has continued to evolve and make the changes he needed to, it could be close, but I still think the event is Takahashi's to lose.
Ice dance: Can Weaver & Poje clean up free program?
I don't think we'll see a repeat of what happened in the ice dance event at Skate America, where the Russian team of Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitry Soloviev squeaked past Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje in the free dance to grab the silver medal, behind winners Meryl Davis and Charlie White.
By their own admission, Weaver and Poje had a couple of errors in their free dance. I'm pretty sure in the intervening two weeks they'll have done enough run-throughs to make sure that won't be a factor here.
Ladies: Asada looks to overcome struggles
Mao Asada has a skating pedigree that is outstanding. She struggled but persevered when she decided that she needed to re-vamp her jump technique. She has also really struggled personally over the last year with the death of her mother. These issues, understandably, must have played a part in some less-than-stellar results (she finished sixth at the world championships).
Asada seems to have turned the corner. Look for that "it" factor on the ice along with great jumps as she sails to the top of the podium in her Grand Prix season debut.
I was intrigued by the "baby Russians" last year. I won't lie, I'm anxious to see how 2012 world junior champion Julia Lipnitskaia stacks up against Asada in Shanghai.
Pairs: New Chinese team piques interest
There are two veteran pairs teams competing this weekend: Qing Pang and Jian Tong of China, and Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov of Russia. Having seen a tired Pang and Tong at Skate America, they could be overtaken by the Russians if the latter skate well.
The team that has piqued my interest is the new Chinese pair of Cheng Peng and Hao Zhang. Zhang, an Olympic silver medallist, decided to seek a new partner after former partner Hao Zhang retired earlier this year. Peng is an unknown, 13 years Zhang's junior and presumably a strong enough partner for him to consider staying in competitive skating.
Pj's gold-medal picks
Men: Daisuke Takahashi (Japan) Ladies: Mao Asada (Japan) Dance: Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje (Canada) Pairs: Qing Pang and Jian Tong (China)
PJ KwongPJ is a self-proclaimed Word Broker who goes by the motto: I read them. I write them. I speak them. A degree from the University of Toronto studying Modern Languages has been put to good use as a bilingual PA announcer for, among other things, the last 5 Olympic Games, the FIFA U-20 2007 Men's World Cup and numerous international figure skating events since 1993.
Working as a figure skating coach for the last 25+ years led to commentating opportunities from CTV/TSN, ABC, Tokyo Broadcasting, CBC, Fuji TV, Seoul Broadcasting and CCTV among others. CBC has been home to Pj's skating voice, writing and commentary opinions since 2007. She would tell you that although working in skating is where her passion lies; she is the voice of lots of commercial projects, a blogger on her own site, a public speaker and with "Taking The Ice: Success Stories from the World of Canadian Figure Skating" a published author. You want opinions? She's got them. Follow her on Twitter to see.