Russian teenagers in women's event headline final competition of Grand Prix of Figure Skating
NHK Trophy last chance for skaters to qualify for next month's final
The NHK Trophy is the sixth and final event of the Grand Prix of Figure Skating and the last chance for skaters to qualify for next month's Grand Prix Final.
The women's events have been nothing if not unexpected, with the same three Russian teenagers taking the first five titles in the series as senior Grand Prix event debutantes. I expect that the trend will continue and the Grand Prix of France champion, Alena Kostornaia, will take her second title and qualify for the final.
What makes this event so interesting is that another couple of favourites could also qualify for the final. In fact, all Kostornaia, 2018 OIympic champion Alina Zagitova or Rika Kihira need to do is to finish on any step of the podium to make the cut.
It doesn't happen all that often that half of the six top finishers who qualify for the Grand Prix Final are eligible to come out of the final event in the series. The same thing could happen with the men, where two Toronto training mates are pitted against one another as the headliners. Although it would be very surprising to not see two-time Olympic champion Yuzury Hanyu take his second title of the series, it doesn't mean that there won't be other skaters to watch.
Hanyu training mate Jason Brown was dazzling in his season-opener, finishing with a silver medal at Skate America. All Brown needs is a podium finish for his ticket to the final. France's Kevin Aymoz and Russia's Makar Ignatov both have bronze medals from their Grand Prix events and if one of them can take at least the bronze in Japan, that will be good enough for a ticket to Torino.
It will be great to see Wenjing Sui and Cong Han in action again after taking their first gold of the season in China. The two-time world pair champions and 2018 Olympic silver medallists are in a league of their own when they are able to compete unencumbered by injuries.
Canadian pair 'evolving'
In Japan, another couple of teams only need to make it to the podium to qualify for the Grand Prix final. Canadian pair champions Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro continue to evolve artistically and technically with a Grand Prix silver medal so far this season to prove it. The 2018 junior world champions Anastasia Mishina and Alksandr Gallianov from Russia have already demonstrated that they are up to the challenge of senior competition after winning gold at their Grand Prix debut in France.
If there is a record to be broken, leave it to four- time world ice dance champions and 2018 Olympic silver medallists Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron to do it. They not only own the top scores in all three segments of competition this season, but the record scores of all time. They are formidable and I believe untouchable.
Skate America silver medallists Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin are the closest rivals to Papadakis and Cizeron and will be looking to finish no lower than third place to earn their spot for the final.
Pj's Podium Picks:
- Men: Yuzuru Hanyu, Japan
- Women's: Alena Kostornaia, Russia
- Ice Dance: Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, France
- Pairs: Wenjing Sui and Cong Han, China