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Figure SkatingFavourites given run for money at Cup of China

Posted: Monday, November 5, 2012 | 08:44 AM

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Mao Asada of Japan performs her free program in the ISU Cup of China at the Oriental Sports Center in Shanghai on Sunday. (Feng Li/Getty Images) Mao Asada of Japan performs her free program in the ISU Cup of China at the Oriental Sports Center in Shanghai on Sunday. (Feng Li/Getty Images)

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Mao Asada captured the women's title at the Cup of China this past weekend, but Russian teenager Julia Lipnitskaia, the reigning world junior champion, gave her a run for her money.

The Cup of China had me on the edge of my seat wondering whether or not my Pj's Picks would pull through to take the titles. Only two of them did -- in ladies and in pairs.

Mao Asada won the women's title, but not in the definitive way I thought she would have. Fourteen-year-old Russian upstart Julia Lipnitskaia, the reigning world junior champion, gave her a run for her money by leading after the short program.

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In the end, Mao's beautiful free program with its high degree of sophistication made the difference, giving her the nod.

Lipnitskaia is still too young for worlds this season, but will be old enough for the 2014 Sochi Olympics. My advice to the other women in the field would be to keep an eye on her. You may disagree, but I think she is going to continue to develop into something pretty special.

In previewing the Cup of China, I would have thought that world silver medallist Daisuke Takahashi of Japan would have easily come out on top. He stayed ahead of teammate Tatsuki Machida in the short program but only just -- by a margin of 1.31 points.

Machida's Firebird program caught my eye first at Skate America, where he took the bronze medal. In Shanghai, Machida outskated Takahashi technically by 11 points in the free program. Takahashi's glorious components were stronger than Machida's, but still not enough to keep him afloat and he settled for silver.
 
Even more shocking to me is that I can't really tell you that much about Takahashi's free program. I know I saw it, but do I remember it? Not a good sign, especially since this is a very memorable skater.

BACK TO DRAWING BOARD

It may be time to go back to the drawing board for Canadian ice dancers Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje. In the second of their two Grand Prix events, they were second after the short dance, only to drop behind Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitry Soloviev of Russia into third overall.

Weaver and Poje's Sound of Music short dance is terrific. At the same time, the Russians have made huge strides under the guidance of coach Alexander Zhulin and are also terrific.

I love Weaver and Poje's free dance. The concept of Kaitlyn as a statue being brought to life by her sculptor Andrew is an interesting one. I think that they have continued to improve technically in the off-season and I 'got' this program both times I saw it.

There are a couple of things though that may be getting in the way. First, the fact that last year's free dance program was brilliant. Following up on brilliance is never easy and people will always compare this year to last.

WHERE'S THE BEEF?

I spoke to ice-dance insiders to see what they thought might be contributing to Weaver and Poje's problem. It seems that some people feel that there isn't enough 'meat' in the middle of their free dance. There is a beautiful sequence of Kaitlyn coming to life and then, at the end, becoming a statue again. In between, though, there may not be enough exploration of a statue experiencing life for the first time and her sculptor relating to that process.

The mysteries of ice dance. 

Actually, not so mysterious. The high level of technical ability at this level is pretty much a given. What separates the teams from each other is the material they are working with. I think that Weaver and Poje's concept and skating are strong enough that I wouldn't count them out come worlds in March.

French ice dancers Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat took the gold. I want to mention them because they decided to go with a Rolling Stones medley for their free dance. I loved the fact that it was totally accessible and understandable.

PANG & TONG LESS RAGGED 

In pairs, Qing Pang and Jian Tong of China looked less ragged than they did at Skate America on their way to the top of the podium. Tong has been struggling with a knee injury, Which showed itself on a couple of jump elements. The good news for them is that they have qualified for the Grand Prix final taking place next month in Sochi.

It was no surprise that Russia's Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov took the silver.

It was a bit of surprise, however, that teammates Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov were able to creep ahead of Canadians Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch by a margin of 0.19 to take the bronze.

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