Patrick Chan in tough at Grand Prix Final | Figure Skating | CBC Sports

Figure SkatingPatrick Chan in tough at Grand Prix Final

Posted: Wednesday, December 5, 2012 | 10:13 AM

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Reigning two-time world champion Patrick Chan of Toronto is Pj Kwong's pick to prevail in the Grand Prix Final at Sochi, Russia. (Yuri Kadobnov/Getty Images) Reigning two-time world champion Patrick Chan of Toronto is Pj Kwong's pick to prevail in the Grand Prix Final at Sochi, Russia. (Yuri Kadobnov/Getty Images)

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Reigning two-time world champion Patrick Chan of Toronto remains the men's skater to beat in the Grand Prix Final at Sochi, Russia, even with all the big guns expected to compete.

At the end of the day, can the ISU Grand Prix Final be considered a foreshadowing of what may come at the upcoming world figure skating championships in March?

As far as the men's competition is concerned, I would have to say yes. With the exception of Evgeni Plushenko and Evan Lysacek, who won gold at the 2006 and 2010 Olympics, respectively, all the big guns will be at the worlds in Sochi, Russia.

At the beginning of the season, Plushenko and Lysacek said they would be back competing in order to be on hand for the Sochi Olympics in 2014. Both men have undergone surgery over the past few weeks, so would be considered unknown quantities in my book, even if they make it to the worlds.

I am really looking forward to seeing how Patrick Chan will stack up against the competition. Not only is he two-time reigning world champion, he also won the Grand Prix Final in each of the last two seasons.

In no way do I think that this will be a walk in the park for Chan. He won only one of his Grand Prix events this season and is still adapting to changes across the board, from coaching to choreographers.

Chan will be joined in Sochi by five other men, all of whom are contenders.
Japan's 1-2 punch of Daisuke Takahashi and Yuzuru Hanyu, who finished second and third, respectively, at last year's worlds, are just two of Japan's four-man team. When you consider that there are only six berths in each discipline at the Grand Prix Final, that is pretty impressive.

The other man to watch out for is Spain's Javier Fernandez, the first and only man to defeat Chan since 2010 (Fernandez won Skate Canada).

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In the women's field, with reigning world champion Carolina Kostner on a Grand Prix break and silver medallist Alena Leonova failing to qualify, not all of the contenders are headed to Sochi. That doesn't mean there won't be some excitement, what with Japan's Mao Asada and Akiko Suzuki squaring off against American Ashley Wagner.

Both Japanese women have the potential to win, but I'm not sure that Suzuki has it in her to skate well in both the short and free programs. I'm equally unconvinced, much as I would like it to be different, that Asada is 100 per cent the skater she was before. I think she is on the track to recovering the former greatness that her two world titles and one Olympic silver medal would indicate, but she's not quite there yet.

My money is on Wagner, who has shown that she is made of tough enough stuff to take two Grand Prix titles this season. I like her poise. I like her style. I like the fact that she leaves nothing to chance and comes pretty close to great in both the short and free.

I'm not the first person to say that the ice dance offers two competitions in one. There is the battle for the top podium spot between arch rivals Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and Meryl Davis and Charlie White.

This is the only jewel missing in the figure skating crown that Virtue and Moir have left to claim after winning world, Olympic and Grand Prix titles. Once again, my money is on them. I feel that Virtue and Moir's free dance this season, to Carmen, is nothing short of brilliant.

Davis and White are playing it safe with a program inspired by the Notre Dame de Paris soundtrack and, in fact, have qualified with the strongest scores coming into the Grand Prix Final. The outcome is truly anybody's guess, if both teams skate their best.

In pairs, I believe in what host Scott Russell said last week on CBC Sports Weekend: He wanted to see the Russian team of Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov "bring it" at the Olympic venue on the Olympic ice. We all know that the Russians have been sub-par this season and that their win at the Rostelecom Cup was a bit of a miracle. I really like this team and would love to see them take the title decisively.

I'm also a bit of a Canadian pairs fan. Canadian champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford have made no bones about hitting the top step of the podium at worlds. This would be an amazing leap forward for them if they could take the title here. I'm also looking forward to seeing fellow Canadians Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch really push for a podium finish. It may be considered a long shot, but that is part of the joy of figure skating competition for me.

Pj's Podium Picks

Men:  Patrick Chan, Canada

Ladies: Ashley Wagner, United States

Dance: Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir, Canada

Pairs: Tatiana Volosozhar & Maxim Trankov, Russia

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