World Champs headline first event of the 2010 GP

By Sue Anderson
Special to Figure Skaters Online

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Olympians Jeremy Abbott, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett and Rachael Flatt are among the members of Team USA making their season debut at NHK Trophy, Oct. 22-24, in Nagoya, Japan. Joining them are Americans Ross Miner, Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, Ashley Wagner, Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin and Caroline Zhang.

While most members of the American contingent have medaled at previous Grand Prix events, including 2008 Grand Prix Final Champion Abbott and 2010 Grand Prix Final Champions Davis and White, NHK Trophy marks the Grand Prix debuts for Miner and the Shibutanis, all who competed internationally as juniors last season.

Three 2010 World  Champions will also compete: Mao Asada of Japan in the ladies competition; Daisuke Takahashi of Japan in the men’s competition; and Qing Pang and Jian Tong of China in the pairs competition. Olympic and  World Champion ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir  were not scheduled to compete in Nagoya but withdrew from their first event of the season, next week’s Skate Canada, due to injury.

In the ladies competition, reigning Olympic Silver Medalist and two-time World Champion Asada of Japan is arguably the one to beat. Asada has competed on the Grand Prix circuit since 2005, claiming seven gold medals including the 2005 and 2008 Grand Prix Finals, but is coming off a dismal performance in 2009, where she failed to make the Final for the first time in her career. She took second at 2009 Trophee Eric Bompard and placed fifth at Rostelecom Cup.

Current U.S. Champion Flatt is competing at NHK Trophy for the first time. In Nagoya, she will internationally debut a new short program to “Summertime” by George Gershwin and “Happy Feet Blues” by Wynston Marsalis. Flatt will also debut a program to “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” by Richard Rodgers and Earl Wild for her free skate.

Last season, Flatt finished fourth at Cup of China and second at Skate  America, where she won the free skate over eventual Olympic Champion Yu-Na Kim of Korea. She also claimed  her first U.S. Championship, placed seventh at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games and ninth at the World Championships.

Flatt is joined by fellow Americans Wagner, who was the highest finishing U.S. woman on the  2009 Grand Prix circuit with silver at Rostelecom Cup, bronze at NHK Trophy and a fourth place standing at the Final, and 2010 Four  Continents Championships bronze medalist Zhang. Wagner is making her first competitive appearance since finishing third at the 2010 U.S.  Championships, earning her first alternate status for the 2010 U.S. Olympic Team and World Championship Team.

Wagner, who will debut a new free skate to “Malaguena” in Nagoya. Zhang, who recently announced a coaching change to train with Tammy Gambill, is skating to Piazzolla’s “Libertango” in her short program and “Cello concerto in B Minor” by Dvorak in her free skate.

Former World Junior Champion and 2009 U.S. bronze medalist Zhang is competing at NHK Trophy for the first time. In  2007, she made her Grand Prix debut with a third  place showing at Skate America, a silver medal at Cup of China and a fourth place showing at the Grand Prix Final. In 2009, she placed fourth at Trophee Eric Bompard, a year after a bronze medal finish, and placed eighth at Skate Canada. Zhang was 11th at the 2010 U.S. Championships.

After finishing 16th at the Olympics and sixth at Worlds, Carolina Kostner is looking for her first international win since she capturing gold at the 2010 European Championships. Kostner, a two-time World  medalist who  finished sixth at both of her Grand Prix events last season, is skating to Prelude to “The Afternoon of a Faun” by Debussy in her free skate, with choreography by Lori Nichol.

Front-runner in the men’s event is the Olympic bronze medalist Takahashi of Japan, who comes to Nagoya with the esteem of two World Championship titles. Takahashi, who is the highest finishing man from the 2010 Olympics competing on the Grand Prix this season, has selected Latin music for both his programs this season. He may be rivaled by two-time U.S. Champion Abbott, who is tangoing for his short and skating to the soundtrack from “Life Is Beautiful” for his free skate.

Abbott, who comes to Nagoya while struggling with boot problems, placed fifth at the 2009 NHK Trophy and followed that by winning Skate Canada and placing fourth at the Grand Prix Final. After last year’s Grand Prix season, he claimed  his second national title but placed ninth at the Olympic Games and fifth at Worlds.

The second spot for the US is filled by 2009 U.S. Junior National Champion Ross Miner, who was slated to compete as a senior at the 2010 U.S. Championships but withdrew due to injury. NHK Trophy is his first international senior competition. In 2009, he placed 10th at the World Junior Championships, first at Junior Grand Prix United States, third at Junior Grand Prix Croatia and third at the Junior Grand Prix Final, which marks the last time he competed.

Denis Ten of Kazakhstan is the third highest Olympic finisher competing at NHK Trophy, although he is followed closely by Florent Amodio of France. Ten placed 11th while Amodio was 12th. Neither man has medaled at a senior Grand Prix but both have a shot at the podium in Nagoya.

In the pairs event, reigning Olympic Silver Medalists and World Champions Qing Pang and Jian Tong of China are the favored to win a third consecutive gold medal at the NHK Trophy. Pang and Tong, who formed a partnership in 1999, have won 11 major international championships including two World titles and the 2008 Grand Prix Final.

Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett are also returning to NHK Trophy for a second consecutive year. The 2010 U.S. Champions are hopeful their choreography by David Wilson and recent coaching change to John Zimmerman and Silvia Fontana will help them better their fourth place finish in 2009. The pair also finished fifth at 2009 Skate Canada, only their second career event on the circuit.

Since announcing their partnership in 2008, Denney and Barrett have also captured the silver medal at the 2009 U.S. Championships and placed ninth at the 2009 World Championships. The pair was 13th at the Olympics and ninth at 2010 Worlds.

Replacements for 2010 U.S.  Championship bronze medalists Rena Inoue and John Baldwin who withdrew, Americans Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin are also in the hunt for their first Grand Prix medal in Nagoya. In 2008, Yankowskas and Coughlin made their Grand Prix debut with a sixth place finish at Skate America. The pair also placed seventh at 2009 Skate Canada and ended last season with a fourth place showing at the Four Continents Championship.

Yankowskas and Coughlin are skating to “Oblivion” by Astor Piazzolla for their short program and “Ave Maria” by Franz Schubert in their free skate. Both programs are new for the pair.

Russians Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov could also medal at the NHK Trophy. Last season, Bazarova and Larionov were fifth at the European Championships, 11th at the Olympics and eighth at Worlds. They were third at 2007 Skate America but were then suspended from competition until July 2009 because of a doping violation.

International Skating Union (ISU) changes effective for the 2010-11 season eliminate compulsory dance, allowing competitors to focus on their short (or pattern dance) and free dance programs. The short dance will make its  Grand  Prix debut in Nagoya.

Reigning Olympic and World Silver Medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White, the two-time U.S. Champions, are the clear favorites to win the gold. They are using selections from the “Amelie Poulain” soundtrack by Yann Tiersen for their short and three pieces of music by Luis Bacalov and Lisandro Adrover in the free dance tango.

Davis and White were undefeated on the Grand Prix in 2009, claiming gold medals at Rostelecom Cup, NHK Trophy and the Final before claiming a second consecutive U.S. Championship. The pair also won the 2009 Four Continents Championship and 2008 Skate Canada.

Italians Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte started the season with a silver medal at Nebelhorn Trophy and are looking to add to their medal collection in Nagoya. They placed second at Rostelecom Cup and Skate America last year, qualifying them for the Grand Prix Final, where they were fifth. The team also placed sixth at the European Championships, 12th at the Olympics and  11th at Worlds.

Reigning Four Continents Champions Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Canada are also contenders for a spot on the podium. Last year, Weaver and Poje claimed their first career Grand Prix medal, a bronze at Skate Canada. They were also sixth at Cup of China.  In 2008, they were sixth at Cup of China and seventh at the NHK Trophy and they were sixth at 2007 Skate Canada and seventh at Trophee Eric Bompard.

Russia’s Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov, who teamed up together in 2008 for the second time  in their careers, are making their senior debuts at NHK Trophy following a strong junior showing last season. They are the 2010 World Junior Champions and claimed two gold medals on the 2009 Junior Grand Prix as well as a silver at the Final.

For 2010 U.S. Junior Dance Champions Shibutani and  Shibutani, NHK Trophy marks their first senior ISU competition. The Shibutanis, fourth at the 2010 World Junior Championships, made their senior international debut earlier this season with a fifth place showing at the Nebelhorn Trophy.

In their first full senior season, the brother and sister team is skating to “The Carousel Waltz” by Richard Rodgers and “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” by Irving Berlin. Their programs are choreographed by Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva, their primary coaches, who also work with Virtue and Moir, Davis and White and Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates.

U.S. Championship bronze medalists Samuelson and Bates were slated to return to the NHK Trophy for the second time but withdrew from the Grand Prix series because of an injury. While performing a lift in  practice, Samuelson’s blade sliced Bates’ Achilles tendon, and he went underwent surgery at the end of  September. Expected recovery time is six months.

NHK Trophy is the first event of the 2010 International Skating Union (ISU) Grand Prix of Figure Skating circuit. The series, now in its 16th season, consists of six international events in a cumulative, point-scoring format. The top six scoring athletes in each discipline move onto the Grand Prix Final, Dec. 9-12, in Beijing,  China, which will be combined with the ISU Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final for the third consecutive season.

The six Grand Prix events are NHK Trophy, Oct. 22-24, in Nagoya, Japan; Skate Canada, Oct. 29-31, in Kingston, Ontario; Cup of  China, Nov. 5-7, in Beijing, China; Skate Canada, Nov. 11-14, in Portland, Ore.; Rostelecom Cup, Nov. 19-21, in Moscow, Russia; and Trophee Eric Bompard, Nov. 26-28, in Paris, France.

The points toward the Grand Prix Final that are awarded for each place are 15 points for first; 13 points for second; 11 points for third; nine points for fourth; seven points for fifth; five points for sixth place; four points for seventh place; and three points for eighth. In pair skating, only the top six receive points.

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Photo courtesy of Leah Adams

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