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Olympic and World Medalists Kick Off At Grand Prix Series Opener — NHK Trophy

Nagoya, Japan will set the back drop for the first stop of the 2010 Grand Prix Series – The 32nd NHK Trophy. Nagoya sits on the Pacific coast of Japan and is the fourth largest city in the Country. It is one of Japan’s largest ports and more than 2.17 million people reside here. Nagoya is the sister city to Los Angeles, California and comes equipped with hand prints of American stars. The auto industry is its main industry with the headquarters of Toyota and Mitsubishi Motors being stationed here in Nagoya.

Approximately, sixty skaters from seventeen countries from around the world are on hand to make a bid for one of the six spots up for grabs in the final. Besides points that qualify towards the final 180,000 USD is up for grabs here at NHK.

All the reigning World Champions are here in Nagoya, except for Ice Dance Champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir who are out due to injury. All are clearly favored to win gold here in Nagoya, but they will need to be on top of their skates in order to hold off challenges by former World, European, and Grand Prix medalists. In ice dance Olympic and World silver medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White will compete and should be a shoe-in for the title.

The men’s field is particularly packed with talent. Reigning World Champion and Olympic bronze medalist Daisuke Takahashi will head a field which includes 2008 Grand Prix Champion Jeremy Abbott, 2010 Junior World Champion Yuzuru Hanyu, 2008 Junior Grand Prix Champion Florent Amodio, 2009 Skate America bronze medalist Shawn Sawyer, and 2009 European bronze medalist Kevin Van Der Perren. Also in the hunt for medals are Kazakhstan’s Dennis Ten and Sweden’s Adrian Schultheiss.

Two-time World Champions and Olympic silver medalists Qing Pang and Jian Tong are clearly the front runner for the gold in the pair’s event. Their silky smooth presentation and explosive throws should easily keep them in the top spot at NHK. The real question here is can powerful US Champions Caydee Denny and Jeremy Barrett hold off the elegant Nebelhorn Champions Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larinov of Russia for silver or could Junior World medalists Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran steal their thunder? 2010 Junior World silver medalists Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran will have the home crowd on its side but lack the experience of the other two teams.

In the dance event Olympic and World silver medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White are clearly in a league of their own here in Japan. Their speed, passion and precision on the ice clearly separate them from the rest of the field. Once again, the battle will be for silver and bronze. It should come down to Nebelhorn silver medalists Anna Cappelini and Luca Lanotte of Italy or reigning Four Continents Champions Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Canada. Cappelini and Lanotte delivered a charming short dance at Nebelhorn last month, but the Italians struggled in the free dance. Weaver and Poje have yet to compete this season but are here to deliver after narrowly missing a berth on Canada’s Olympic Team last season. The duo has made great strides since teaming up in 2007 when they won the bronze medal in their first Junior World event. If either should falter I am sure Junior World Champions Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov or Junior Grand Prix bronze medalists Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani will step up to the plate. The American brother and sister duo put out a dazzling free dance in their senior debut event – The Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany last month. Ilinykh and Katsalapov delivered an emotional driven free skate to Shindler’s List to capture the Junior World title last February. Olympians Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates were slated to be in Japan but had to withdraw from the competition due to injury.

Hometown queen Mao Asada should reign supreme here in Nagoya but the two-time World Champion and Olympic silver medalist often struggles in the series and can be eclipsed by former World silver medalist Carolina Kostner. Kostner has had troubles of her own with a less than stellar season’s Olympics where she placed sixteenth but rebounded slightly to finish seventh at the World Championships. The 23-year-old has returned to her roots and is training back in Oberstdorf, Germany for now with former coach Michael Huth. Asada on the other hand, has a new coach in Mr. Sato (father of World Champion Yuka Sato) and this could cause a change in her Grand Prix performances. Challenges could come from World Junior Champion Kenako Murakami of Japan, Nebelhorn Champion Kira Korpi and a trio of American girls Rachael Flatt, Ashley Wagner, and Caroline Zhang. Flatt placed a respectable seventh place at the Olympic Games in Vancouver and fifth place at the World Championships in Torino last season, but both Wagner and Zhang have something to prove after failing to qualify for the American Olympic and World team in 2010.

The festivities get underway on Friday afternoon with the competition at 3 PM local time with the short dance. It will be followed by the pairs short program at 5 PM and the ladies short program at 7 PM. The men’s short program will start at 12:20 PM on Saturday.

At the conclusion of this event, the Grand Prix Series will continue its tour across continents making stops in Kingston, Ontario, Beijing, Portland, Moscow, and Paris, France before returning to Beijing for the final match up where the best in the World will join in a battle for a global purse of 272,000 USD and the prestigious title of Grand Prix Champion. It will be held from December – 2010 at the Capital Gymnasium. Once again, this year’s series will host both junior and senior finals.

— Photos by Robin Ritoss

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