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Russian teen star Zagitova one to watch at Grand Prix of France

This weekend's Grand Prix of France will showcase Russia's Alina Zagitova and the French ice-dance duo of Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron.

The rivalries and matchups in Grenoble will be interesting to track

Russia's Alina Zagitova is already an Olympic and world champion at the age of 17. (AFP/Getty Images)

The third of the six ISU events heads to Grenoble this weekend for the Grand Prix of France. What is most notable in my view is the superstars who will be competing. There is enough to the rivalries and matchups in this event to keep it interesting.

The dance competition belongs to French ice dance superstars Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron. If you haven't heard of this team, they are the best thing to have hit French ice dancing in a long time and have already achieved pinnacle status with four world and five European titles as well as an Olympic silver medal from Pyeongchang in 2018. 

In my mind, the first part of their career climb was defined by a certain, albeit winning, sameness to their skating and their look, which earned them lots of titles and other accolades. What I love about this team now is their daring sense of abandon that completely avails itself of their outstanding speed, technique and form.

Papadakis and Cizeron have established and broken so many world records that it makes me sometimes wonder just how high is up where the scores are concerned. Look to Papadakis and Cizeron to dominate this event.

Who else will challenge for the podium is the question. There are two teams who jump to mind: the dynamic American duo of Madison Chock and Evan Bates who have been on the world podium twice; and Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri, European bronze medallists from Italy.

Another superstar jumps off the pages of the women's entry list and that is none other than Olympic champion Alina Zagitova. It was only two years ago that we first saw Zagitova as she exploded on the scene, taking all titles in her wake up to and including the Olympic Games.

World junior champion in 2017, Olympic champion in 2018 and world champion in 2019 are all titles that would be impressive enough in their own right; for Zagitova they are just another opportunity to demonstrate her prowess on the ice.

In Grenoble though, there are another couple of young women who will be looking to take their chances against the Olympic champion. Fellow Russian Alena Kostornaia, who won the junior Grand Prix final last season, and national Japanese champion Kaori Sakamoto, who is looking to improve on her fourth-place finish at Skate America two weeks ago.

Apart from a fifth-place finish at the 2018 Olympics, American Nathan Chen, the three-time national and two-time world champion, has been undefeated since the U.S. national championships in January 2017. It would be surprising to see that streak end now, but Japan's Shoma Uno will be doing his best to make sure that is exactly what happens. Uno is a star in his own right and challenged Chen for the Grand Prix final prize last season, taking the silver medal for his efforts.

In the pairs event, we are looking at a rematch between two-thirds of the podium from Skate America. The Russian team of Daria Pavliuchenko and Denys Khodykin came away from Las Vegas with a silver medal while Americans Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier took the bronze. American champions Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy Leduc will be in France looking to right themselves. Cain-Gribble and Leduc have faltered since winning the early season Figure Skating Classic, finishing fifth at Skate America.

Pavliuchenko and Khodykin have the edge with their consistency and get-it-done attitude. It was this approach that earned them two bronze medals in last season's Grand Prix series and a trip to the Grand Prix final. With a silver already from the series, all they need is another one or better to make their Grand Prix final trip happen.

Pj's Podium Picks:

  • Men: Nathan Chen USA
  • Ice Dance: Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron FRA
  • Ladies: Alina Zagitova RUS
  • Pairs: Daria Pavliuchenko and Denys Khodykin RUS

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Pj Kwong currently does freelance work for Skate Ontario as the Business Development manager and has consulted for Alpine Canada in media relations. She’s been a veteran stadium announcer for eight Olympic Games, two Paralympic Games, one European Games, and the Arab Games. Most recently she’s done stadium announcing for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, and the 2019 Pan American Games and Parapan American Games. Pj has worked as a freelance writer for CBC Sports since 2006 covering figure skating. Outside of the CBC, Pj has worked in Press Operations for the Toronto 2015 Pan Am and Parapan Am Games, Media Relations for the Toronto 2017 Invictus Games.

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