After six Grand Prix events the season has come to the climax of the series, or as I like to call it, 'The Showdown at the Sochi Corral', more formally known as The Iceberg Skating Palace.
Seriously, I can't think of too many arenas in the world with a better name than that for an ice-skating competition.
From December 6th through 9th, the top six from each discipline will get a crack at the Grand Prix title and all that goes with it. But it's also an up-close-and-personal chance to get a feeling for what the Olympics might be like in that venue in just over a year from now. I should have used bold print for the word 'might' in that last sentence. With all of the hype, colour, spectacle, security and world-level buzz that will be around the real deal in February of 2014, this event is really only a hint of what it 'might' be like.
Let's dig in and have some fun getting excited about this event.MenTatsuki Machida of Japan
- My only surprise in this event is how Tatsuki, with two good competitions, worked his way into the top six. He accumulated enough points with his victory in China and a third in Skate America to place fourth. With confidence, solid programs and scary costumes, he took over the spot that most had held for Jeremy Abbott or Nobunari Oda. After watching Oda practice in Toronto, I had a spot reserved for him, but that is why we compete instead of reserving spots.
A big part of me wishes that I still competed because I believe this is a high mark in men's skating and that to stay at the top of this strong field is something to be proud of. But another part of me feels sorry for these guys because mistakes don't put you in second, they put you out of the event, and leave you in the dust.Javier Fernandez of Spain
- He seems ready to challenge. I call him 'the boy next door.' Watch for quads that, at times, look so easy that they seem simple.Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan
- He seems to be working well with Brian Orser, his new coach, and you can see that he is starting to believe in his ability to routinely put together a short and a long program in the same event. Having Yuzu and Javi training side by side in Toronto makes them both better. It's like a tag-team match and Patrick Chan is the target.Patrick Chan of Canada
- He told the world to chill out a bit with his win in Russia and that everybody needs to have some down time. Of course, when your down time includes four falls in one event you can see why folks would worry. May I remind everyone how hard this is and when flying at the top range of your ability things can and do go wrong. These guys aren't just doing the quad anymore, they do multiple quads and follow that up with great choreography, spins that leave you both dizzy and tired and demanding footwork that includes upper body movement.
Sheesh, I'm tired just writing about it.Daisuke Takahashi of Japan
- When it comes to upper body movement, Daisuke has it and more. What he needs is a tad more altitude on his quad attempts, but when the wind is coming in at just the right angle, he finds it.Takahiko Kozuka of Japan
- He is still my pick as best 'skater'. Patrick has amazing feet and builds speed with ease, almost magical actually, but for blade magic it's still Taka for me. Like Daisuke, he too needs the sun and the moon to line up for a clean quad to happen, but he's going for it and perseverance pays off... Right!
My pick for a winner is....the audience. Get used to it, I'm not picking winners.Dance
The top three teams in the world all won both of their Grand Prix events... Shocking! Oh wait, they didn't compete against each other. Shocking!
Nope, skating fans have to wait for them to go against each other here in the final, and to be honest, it's fine with me. At each of the events we got a good look at their new programs and watched as they each made little changes in their game plans and now seem ready to strut out into the street, and face the music. (I tried for a gun fight/dance blend there but don't think it really worked!)Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat of France
- Even their names have rhythm! They have been using their creative programs to steadily climb the ranks. Along the way their skating has improved (especially Fabian) and I find them worthy podium skaters.Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada
- You know that I'm a skater, but when I watch them I'm simply a fan. They have me at hello. These two won the Olympics and just kept going and the sport thanks them for that. The long program of Carmen
on paper did not ring as such a good idea, but I love being wrong about something that turns out so right. I think that this program is unbeatable if skated well.Meryl Davis and Charlie White from the U.S.
- They're working hard both on and off the ice. With interviews designed to help us notice their new connection and lots of on-ice hugging it is obvious they felt they could improve on their togetherness. Their long program misses the mark for me though, and the distance between the pack and these two gets smaller.
Admittedly, these are my words alone and the judges don't seem to agree. Dance is almost as much emotion as it is steps, speed and skill for me and I'm a fan of this team, but still think their long program is vulnerable. But, I won't be a judge in Sochi at the Grand Prix so tune in and see.Ekaterina Bobrova and Dimitri Soloviev of Russia
- I could not really take them seriously before this season! I saw two skaters with tonnes of gestures and speed but they were so... what's the word I am looking for here... busy! They were so busy out there trying to be good that you could not see that they actually were good. They're wonderful and their new material from choreographer Alexander Zhulin, is brilliant. Take away all the unnecessary noise and you can see this team skate. Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov of Russia
- A team for the future, but just how far into the future I'm not sure. Both are beautiful and talented, but I still see that they haven't found their groove. The best is yet to come.Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte of Italy
- These two skaters are a true team and seem to help each other along the way during their performances. They have a wonderful ease together and are enjoyable to watch.
The team that surprised me with their absence in the Grand Prix Final was Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Canada
. The hardest thing after a home run is to hit another one when next up to bat. This may have been part of the problem with their results this year as fans and judges alike felt their long program did not compete with their own program from the year before.
There are many theories and this is just one of them. They're busy learning from their competitions and from many sources and I expect them to come back refreshed and hungry. That statue WILL come to life for everybody next time!Pairs
When it comes to pairs there is good news and bad news. Good news if you're a fan of Canadian skaters and bad news if you were expecting to see reigning World Pairs Champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy compete in the Grand Prix Final. In the same way the top dancers stayed away from each other, either by design or fluke, the top two pair teams in the world were waiting for this showdown. OK, the Russians were to be sure. We all wish Aliona a speedy recovery from her illness.Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov of Russia
- Years and years in the sport have given these two skaters the base they needed to come together and in a short amount of time rise to the top of the field. Not world champions yet, it only seems a matter of time until they will own that title as well. Another 'around the water cooler' fun-factor with this team is that he seems to be the diva, not her.Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov of Russia
- Even though Russia has three teams in the top six in the world, I do not feel the dominance of days gone by. This team is mismatched and save their on-ice connection for the hug and bow. Too bad they can't seem to include it in their performance. Many beautiful skating moments, just missing the big picture for me.Qing Pang and Jian Tong of China
- While on the topic of connecting with each other during a program I think this team has really improved in this area. I love their throws and always think that they have a chance with their abilities to challenge the best. They didn't win silver at the Olympics in Vancouver without a fight.Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov of Russia
- Veterans through and through, this team has overcome many difficult situations and still enter the ring for more. In the past we have seen Yuko skate through injuries that would keep the tough guys on the bench, but then again it must be impossible to throw a right with a dislocated shoulder. She seems to have the ability to, literally, put her arm back in the socket during the program and still keep going. I've jumped on and off their bandwagon so many times that I've lost count. Each time I watch them compete, I need to clear my head of anything from the past and keep an open mind. Any success they have coming their way has been fought hard for.Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada
- Something has changed with this team. In their short time together I found their programs were a step ahead of the team as if they were pretending to be good and not comfortable with that situation. This year they are so comfortable with each other that their programs have a real truth to them. Now I watch and simply enjoy as the choreography seems to play out naturally. They have done a great amount of work in a short time and now attempt the most difficult side by side jumps in the world of pairs.Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch of Canada
- This event is huge for this team. They've lost momentum in their competitive career and do not want to let other pair teams, especially anyone from their home country, get the best of them. They have a risky technical long program that can pay dividends, but it needs to be skated clean. With a new image that is not as easy to sell as the peppy, perky themes of the past, they have some work to do. I believe they'll come to this event ready to fight but that the next few months are even more important.LadiesAshley Wagner of the U.S.
- Known as the 'almost girl' for quite some time, she now has everybody talking about her potential. In fact, the phrase World Champion is being thrown around ... and for good reason. With a steady technical approach and eyes that can stare down an angry rhino, she has my attention and I expect big things. This is her year to grab a world title and of all the ladies competing this season I think she has the best chance.Mao Asada of Japan
- With an Olympic medal already in her trophy cabinet, her biggest competition has been the judges. She has had to re-tool her jumping technique to get rid of edge changes and under-rotations. This is a hard task but something she has tackled well. I have not seen or heard much about her triple axel lately. If that jump were to make a comeback, it sure would help her out. What she does have is exquisite skating and musical skills. She's wonderful to watch with or without that pesky triple axel.Kiira Korpi of Finland
- One of the best things in skating is watching a skater keep working until good things start to happen. Perseverance often pays off and this lady is a prime example. Her stiff knees have, in my opinion, been a big factor in her lack of consistency technically. These same knees have held back her skating skills as well.
An example of her dedication came when she went to visit Shae-Lynn Bourne. Shae did a good job at bringing out those skater's knees she needed. I see a smoother more consistent skater this time round and she is a wonderful addition to the Grand Prix FinalAkiko Suzuki of Japan
- Same message. Here is a skater who actually quit skating for a few years only to find that she needed it in her life and she now skates exactly like this sport saved her. She has made wonderful choices in music and costume and her maturity out on the ice makes you melt. Research her a little bit and you will find a feel-good story waiting for you.Julia Lipnitskaia of Russia
- I recommend getting to know her as she may be a player someday, but she has many hurdles to climb over before that moment can happen. Unfortunately she was hit by one of those hurdles in training this week so she will not be in the Grand Prix Final. She needs more time for her maturity to catch up to her talent. She has jumps, oh yes she can jump but is still a little girl in the ladies event. Confidence comes to this little one in truckloads, but it needs to be tempered.Elizaveta Tuktamysheva of Russia
- Another little Russian fireball who took the skating world by storm last season. She has grown and things are not quite as easy this season but she has made the Grand Prix Final. Honourable mentions
- Americans Christina Gao and Mirai Nagasu
. I think that the U.S. Nationals will be interesting to watch. And, if these two get an honourable mention, then a ticker-tape parade goes out to Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada
This young lady has impressed the world with her last few events. Not only did she win her only Grand Prix event but she won it with style. So much style that I think the rest of the world is afraid of her and when Skate Canada tried to get her into another Grand Prix event to give her a chance to qualify for the final they had no luck. She would have needed much luck to have a spot open up for her but I say that the fact she does not get to go this time round is just fine. Stay on your own schedule and timing, Kaetlyn, and keep having fun when you compete. Your smiling face and confidence and showmanship is so refreshing. Keep it up.
Did I miss anybody or anything? Of course I did. Skating is so full of different equations from two footing, to potential, to new costume versus old. Anyway, keep chatting, keep watching and keep supporting the skaters that inspire you and enjoy the Grand Prix final. These skaters have all worked hard to get to this event and I am looking forward to it playing out.
Jump up high, spin down low, go Grand Prix Final skaters. Go, go, go!
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