Qing Pang and Jian Tong are favoured to win ice dance gold on home ice at the Cup of China. (Koji Watanabe/Getty Images)
The third stop on the six-city tour known as the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating takes place this weekend in Beijing.
In addition to playing host to the Cup of China event, the city will also be the location of the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final in early December, where the top six finishers in each of the four disciplines will have qualified to compete.
What to watch this weekend above all else are the head-to-head battles taking place in each of the events. It starts with the pairs competition, where the two front-runners are each in their second Grand Prix outing this season.
The two-time and defending world champions and Olympic silver medallists from China, Qing Pang and Jian Tong, were very solid at the NHK Trophy event
in Japan, where they took the title. The only skaters who could possibly stand in their way in China are the 2009 world junior champions from Russia, Lubov Iliushechkina and Nodari Maisuradze, whose impressive Grand Prix season opener landed them in the top spot last weekend at the Skate Canada International
event. The American team of Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig broke through last season to take their national silver medal and finish ninth at the world championships, making them the ones who could round out the podium.
The women's event features the 2007 world champion, Miki Ando of Japan. Her biggest competition should come from American Mirai Nagasu. Both are capable of great skating and each has her own challenges. For Ando, last season's material did not seem to capitalize on her strengths, leaving her off the world podium in fourth place and in fifth at the Olympics.
For Nagasu, being able to contain her nerves is key. She doesn't want a repeat of the 2010 worlds, in which she was first after the short program, only to place 11th in the free and fall to seventh overall. The other contender in this event is the 2009 world junior champion from Russia, Alena Leonova, whose Olympic season was not as strong as the one she had the year before, dropping from seventh in the world in 2009 to 13th in 2010.
In ice dance, Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali were finally able in 2010 to claim their first world medal - a bronze - and they're the reigning and two-time European silver medallists. They have already said that they are looking to become European champions and will be facing one of their strongest European challengers in Beijing. Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat of France are currently ranked fourth in the world and are just as determined to make the European crown their own.
The Cup of China will also feature some young talent like Canada's Kharis Ralph and Asher Hill and the Russian team of Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev, both of whom have the capacity to delight the crowd and satisfy the judges.
The stakes are highest in the men's event, where both Tomas Verner from the Czech Republic and Brian Joubert of France are looking for redemption in their first of two Grand Prix events. Verner, the 2008 European champion, contracted the H1N1 virus on his way to Skate America in 2009 and was never able to totally regain his health, ultimately being forced to skip worlds.
Brian Joubert, the 2007 world and European champion, collapsed like a house of cards at the Olympic Games, finishing in 16th place. His ability to re-focus and capture his second consecutive world bronze medal only weeks later shows the kind of determination that will put him in good standing if his goal is to reclaim his world title.
Other names in consideration for the podium in China are Samuel Contesti of Italy and Japan's Takahiko Kozuka.Pj's gold-medal picks:
Men: Tomas Verner (Czech Republic)
Ladies: Mirai Nagasu (United States)
Pairs: Qing Pang and Jian Tong (China)
Ice Dance: Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali (Italy)Have a question for Pj? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org
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