At the Grand Prix of China, change is in the air
Plenty of young faces looking to make their mark on the Grand Prix circuit
As the skaters head to Chongqing, China, for the fourth event in the six-event ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating series, it is clear that change is in the air. Even for some of the veteran skaters, there is no guarantee that a clean skate will get you to the top of the podium.
The men's event at the Cup of China (Friday, 2 a.m. ET on CBCSports.ca) has so many contenders and no true frontrunner, making it really interesting to dissect.
It was barely two years ago that senior international newcomer Camden Pulkinen won the American junior national title. Fast forward to the Skate Canada International where Pulkinen finished fourth overall with a second after the short program in his Grand Prix debut. Far from a household name, Pulkinen took the opportunity to place himself firmly on the figure skating landscape.
Korea's Junhwan Cha's career is filled with promise and some good results including the bronze from the Grand Prix Final last season. China's Boyang Jin's inconsistent performances have hindered him to be sure, but two World bronze medals prove he has the goods.
Canada's Messing in the hunt for gold
In the final analysis, the title for the men should come down to two experienced competitors. The first is Canadian Keegan Messing, who has been ranked as high as eighth in the world and is a crowd favourite. The second veteran is Japan's Keiji Tanaka who won the pre-season Figure Skating Classic and took home a bronze from Skate Canada, just ahead of Messing.
The women's event can go any number of ways; much in the same way as the men's. The outstanding talent I see in Korea's 15-year-old sensation Young You is impressive. Seemingly out of nowhere, her effortless grace and strong technique were enough for a bronze medal at Skate Canada and makes her a podium threat in China.
Another newcomer whose name you will want to know is 15-year-old Russian skater Anna Shcherbakova. Among her accolades are the 2018 world junior silver medal and the gold from Skate America. Shcherbakova's senior national title in 2019 while simultaneously taking bronze in the Russian national junior ranks indicates just how much young talent there is in Russia currently. As proof, the first three Grand Prix women's events this season have all been won by Russian teenagers making their respective Grand Prix debuts.
I have a soft spot for the 2015 world champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva from Russia whose own Grand Prix season has started with a bronze medal at Skate Canada.
Tuktamysheva's work ethic and talent are extraordinary and cannot be underestimated. The same goes for two-time world medallist Satoko Miyahara from Japan whose style and perseverance are second to none.
Chinese pairs expected to find success on home ice
China's legendary strength in their pairs' program is well documented. On home ice it is going to come down to two Chinese teams battling it out for the top spot. Cheng Peng and Yang Jin are a force to be reckoned with. This team has shown steady progress since getting together in 2016 which includes being fourth in the world, a silver at last season's Grand Prix Final and a win at this season's Skate America event.
Wenjing Sui and Cong Han are in a league of their own. The two-time world champion team who took Olympic silver in 2018 have been plagued by injuries, including last season when they sat out the Grand Prix series while Sui recovered from a stress fracture in her foot. Cup of China will be their first of the series, and these two always come prepared to win.
The ice dance title will be a battle between rivals. Russia's Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov are appearing for the first time this Grand Prix season and as the reigning world silver medallists may have a slight advantage on paper.
On the other hand, American three-time world silver medallists Madison Chock and Evan Bates have been very strong with gold medals in a couple of pre-season competitions and a silver medal from the Grand Prix of France one week ago.
More than any other, ice dance will come down to style preference and who can deliver the best and most technically challenging program on the day.
Pj's Podium Picks:
- Men: Keiji Tanaka, Japan
- Ice Dance: Madison Chock and Evan Bates, U.S.
- Ladies: Anna Shcherbakova, Russia
- Pairs: Wenjing Sui and Cong Han, China