The 2011 International Skating Union (ISU) Grand Prix of Figure Skating Series opens Oct. 21-23 with skaters heading to Ontario, Calif., for Skate America. The men’s short program and short dance are Oct. 21, the men’s free skate, free dance, pairs short and ladies short are Oct. 22 and the pairs free, ladies free and Skating Spectacular are Oct. 23.
Three-time and reigning World Champions and 2010 Olympic Winter Games bronze medalists Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany are favored in the pairs competition. Not only did they win each competition they entered last season, they won all but the European Championships by sizable margins. Savchenko and Szolkowy won 2010 Trophee Eric Bompard by 14.88 points, Skate America by 22.22, Grand Prix Final by 20.79, Europeans by 2.59 and Worlds by 7.12.
With plans to increase their technical difficulty with the inclusion of a throw triple Axel in the short program, Savchenko and Szolkowy are poised for another season of success. Should the pair botch their new moves, their previous margins of victory make it probable that they could still win their events, especially early in the season.
Russia’s Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov and China’s Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang are other international competitors who could factor into the medal hunt.
Bazarova and Larionov started the season with the 2011 Nebelhorn Trophy silver medal. In the 2010-11 season, the young Russians won five medals in seven events, their only non-podium performances coming at the Grand Prix Final and Worlds, where they were fifth. The pair won silver medals at Trophee Eric Bompard and Nebelhorn Trophy and bronze medals at the Russian nationals and European Championships.
Zhang and Zhang missed last season because of his broken finger. Now healthy, the Chinese duo looks to recapture the form that helped them capture the 2006 Olympic silver medal, three World silver medals and two Four Continents Championship gold medals.
Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch, the Canadian Champions, were successful on the Grand Prix last season, even winning the silver medal at 2010 Skate America. They placed fifth at Four Continents and eighth at Four Continents.
Three American pairs are also looking to make the podium.
Caydee Denney (Ocala, Fla.) and John Coughlin (Kansas City, Mo.) made their competitive debut with a bronze medal performance at Nebelhorn Trophy. Both have had success with previous partners, Denney winning the 2010 U.S. Championship with Jeremy Barrett and Coughlin winning the national title the following year with Caitlin Yankowskas.
With one season under the belt, which included a fourth place showing at the 2011 U.S. Championships and an eighth place performance at Four Continents, Mary Beth Marley (Downers Grove, Ill.) and Rockne Brubaker (Algonquin, Ill.). They withdrew from Nebelhorn Trophy due to injury but are poised to make a strong Grand Prix debut.
Tiffany Vise (Peoria, Ariz.) and Don Baldwin (Peoria, Ariz.), who formed their partnership in May 2009, have competed twice internationally before, placing second at 2010 Ice Challenge and seventh at 2011 Nebelhorn Trophy, where they replaced Marley and Brubaker. Vise and Baldwin placed eighth at the 2010 U.S. Championships and improved to sixth this year.
Savchenko and Szolkowy should start the season where they left off in 2010-11. Podium predictions: 1) Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, Germany. 2) Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov, Russia. 3) Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang, China.
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