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Skate Today

On The Road Again

Welcome to SkateToday’s coverage of the 2009/2010 Grand Prix Series during this all important Olympic season. After taking a hiatus during the first two events, Skate Today is back and will provide coverage of the last four qualifying events; as well as, the Final which will be held in Tokyo, Japan December 3-6, 2009.

We are currently in Beijing, China for the third stop in the series. There are approximately sixty skaters on hand from eleven countries vying for spots in the Final.

Most notably at this event, is the anticipated return of World Champions and 2006 Olympic bronze medalists Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao. The Chinese pair team that brought pair figure skating to the forefront in China will begin their quest for another podium placement at the upcoming Olympic Games in Vancouver, come this February. The duo brings power, artistry and grace to the sport and should delight fans this week at the Capital Gymnasium here in Beijing. Despite all the hype, the way to Gold is not paved for them, and they will have to prove that they are truly worthy. Standing in their way to gold here in China could be their closest rivals 2006 Olympic silver medalists Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang. The two teams share the same coach – former pair skater Bin Yao. Zhang and Zhang are known for their power and technical prowess, but somehow lack the emotional connection with the audience that Shen and Zhao are known for.

China should clearly maintain control of the top two pair spots here at Cup of China, but if either couple falter, the Ukranian pair of Tatiana Volosozhar and Stanislav Morosov will surely be there to capitalize on their mistakes. The European medalists captured silver earlier this season at the Nebelhorn Trophy behind training mates and World Champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany. They too are powerful and have programs that are jam-packed with transitional moves and complicated entrances to their technical elements. The World Junior Champions from Russia Lubov Iliusheckhkina and Nodari Maisuradze also look sharp and could contend for a medal.

The long shots in this field consist of Canadians Megan Duhamel and Craig Buntin and Americans Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig. The two teams are polar opposites as Duhamel and Buntin are noted for speed and aggression and Evora and Ladwig for some of the most complicated and ambitious programs in competition. This is their first event in the series this season and both teams will meet again at Skate America in two weeks.

World Champion Evan Lysacek will have his work cut out for him in the men’s competition and will have to be right on his game to outskate Japan’s Nobunari Oda. Oda captured the gold with two stellar programs in Paris two weeks ago at Trophée Bompard. Lysacek, known for long lines, passion and drama will go against the humor and playfulness of Oda.

Italy’s Samuel Contesti took great strides last season when he place fifth at the World Championships in Los Angeles last March. Contesti is returning and has not competed in the series since 2005. The European silver medalist knows how to connect to the music and to the audience, and the fans here in China should not be disappointed.

Yannick Ponsero of France started off his season on a strong note winning the Masters competition over teammate 2007 World Champion Brian Joubert. However, in Paris at Trophée Bompard he placed only fifth on home ice. Ponsero has the technical know-how, but struggles with inconsistency.

Denis Ten of Kazachtstan skates with the speed and the flair of a Champion. He has power and flexibility, which will take him far in this sport.

Russian Champion Sergei Voronov also has the technical goods, but seems to lack a connection to the audience. Voronov placed sixth at Trophée Bompard and should be pleased if he can place higher in this field of men in China.

Quadmeister Kevin Reynolds has very solid jumps and could be a long shot. Reports say he has been working on his artistry feverishly over the summer. This being his first event of the series could be the writing on the wall for Reynolds.

2007 Junior World Champion Stephen Carriere came out roaring in his first season in the series, winning the bronze medal at NHK trophy in 2007 and a National bronze medal in 2008. Last season, Carriere faltered under the pressure placing only ninth at the US Championships in Cleveland. Since then Carriere has changed coaches to Priscilla Hill and Karl Kurtz . Carriere has a long road to travel to reach the podium here in China.

Olympic silver medalists Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto will surely be the team to catch here in Beijing. The only team with even a prayer to come close is European Champions Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski. Belbin and Agosto train alongside World Champions Oksana Domnina and Maxsim Shabalin who have pulled from the series due to injury. The duo has trained hard over the summer and plan to debut two new programs this Olympic season.

Khoklova and Novitski are known for their dramatic presentation and flamboyant lifts should have some surprises in store for the Chinese fans. This is the first event for both teams in the series, and they will meet again at Skate America in two weeks.

Also in the hunt for medals are European silver medalists, Frederica Faiella and Massimo Scali Faiella and Scali are pure entertainers and should be a crowd favorite here in China. Trying to make a move up to the podium, Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje have pulled out all the stops and spent part the summer in Spain training with famed Flamenco dancer and choreographer Antonio Najarro. Brother and sister team of Alexandria Zaretski and Roman Zaretski are coming off a silver medal placement at Nebelhorn Trophy in September. Their upbeat Hava Nagila and lyrical Schindler’s List earned strong support in Obersdorf.

Another honorable mention is World Junior Champions Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlien who won every event they entered on the Junior level last season. This season the Americans have something to prove and are hoping for a strong showing here in China.

It should be the battle of the World silver medalists here in China as 2009 World silver medalist Joannie Rochette faces off with 2008 World silver medalist Carolina Kostner. Kostner has struggled of late placing a dismal sixth at her first event in Paris – Trophée Bompard. On the other hand, Rochette is coming off the best season of her life and the 23- year-old seems as confident as ever. Both will have to keep their nerves in check here if they want to hold off tough as nails competitor Rachael Flatt. The 2008 Junior World Champion has been on the quick track to stardom ever since her victory in Sofia. Rochette has style, Kostner has high jumps and Flatt has consistency.

Former World silver medalist Fumie Suguri has been all over the map in her long competitive history. Placing fourth at the 2006 Olympic Games the Japanese is always a wild card. She has a gentle elegant style and displays great spring in her jumps.

Other possibilities for the podium are Mirai Nagasu of the United States; who came out of nowhere in 2008 to win the American title and Junior World silver medal. Packed with talent Nagasu was touted to be the next big one for the United States. The teen crumbled under the pressure and has struggled with injury and a growth spurt. This is her season debut and a podium placement her in Beijing could go a long way to restore her confidence.

Finland’s Kira Korpi also has a shot at a medal after missing most of the last season to illness. The long-limbed Scandinavian beauty placed second earlier this season at Nebelhorn Trophy behind American Champion, Alissa Czisny, and ahead of China’s best hope here Yan Liu.

Akiko Suzuki of Japan captured the silver medal at NHK last season and is hoping for a shot at the podium here in Beijing.

The event begins Friday with the compulsory dance which will be followed by the ladies, men, and the pair short program.

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Skate Today was created in November 2004 to showcase the people of the skating world, skaters and coaches and others, who make figure skating and ice dancing a pleasure to watch for fans from around the world. The goal was to create a site that would give viewers an insight into the personalities of the people involved in this sport and to give you a more personal connection when watching them live at an event or on the television. Our staff knows how much time and dedication is put into this sport and that's why Skate Today was created.

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