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Fantasy skating preview: Rostelecom Cup

Tough choices abound, particularly in the ladies event

Japan's Mao Asada is a popular fantasy skating pick at this week's Rostelecom Cup.
Japan's Mao Asada is a popular fantasy skating pick at this week's Rostelecom Cup. (Getty Images)

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By Tara Wellman, special to icenetwork.com
(11/23/2011) - Last week's competition, Trophée Eric Bompard, was interesting. In many cases, instead of polish, we saw problems. Instead of season's bests, we saw below-average performances. The good thing? This is a new week! With American skating fans set to celebrate Thanksgiving, fantasy players can be thankful for another week -- the last before the Grand Prix Final.

Dancers chasing Davis and White

Pool A (Bobrova/Soloviev, Davis/White, Weaver/Poje)

Certainly, both the Russians and the Canadians have had strong seasons thus far, but ultimately it comes down to which couple puts the most points on the board, and that, without a doubt, has been Meryl Davis and Charlie White. We haven't seen them since Skate America, where they scored a 178.07 -- that's 14.55 higher than Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev's first-place score at Cup of China. Barring a massive shakeup, Davis and White are a safe bet.

Pool B (Carron/Jones, Riazanova/Tkachhenko, Tobias/Stagniunas)

This could be a tight race. All three teams scored in the low 130s in their first events. The Lithuanians, Isabella Tobias and Deividas Stagniunas, have the top score but only by .22 points. Ekaterina Riazanova and Ilia Tkachenko of Russia, however, have the higher personal best. Chances are, this one goes down to the wire. Riazanova and Tkachenko have a bit more polish, and they're skating at home in Russia. They're my "B" pick.

Pool C (Pushkash/Guerreiro)

Tough choice here, eh? With only one possibility in Pool C, it's pretty obvious who to choose. But, for reference, this team finished sixth at Skate Canada with a 126.63 overall score.

Pairs pursuing perfection

Pool A (Kavaguti/Smirnov, Savchenko/Szolkowy)

These two haven't made fantasy easy, have they? The last time they faced off, I picked the Germans. But in that event, the NHK Trophy, the Russians out-paced the reigning world champs. And, Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov have out-scored Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy through two events. For that reason, this time around, I'm picking Kavaguti and Smirnov.

Pool B (Berton/Hotarek, Gerboldt/Enbert, Stolbova/Klimov)

Italians Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek easily top Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov's first event score (by nearly 27 points!). Katarina Gerboldt and Alexander Enbert, though, haven't competed on the Grand Prix circuit yet this year. They scored a 167.84 at the Cup of Nice to start their season. That's higher than Berton and Hotarek's NHK score, but the Grand Prix Series is a whole other level. I give the nod to the Italians in this group.

Pool C (Cain/Reagan, Jones/Gaskell)

Brittany Jones and Kurtis Gaskell are making their Grand Prix debut for Canada, as are Americans Ashley Cain and Joshua Reagan. Thus, there isn't much experience to call on. However, Cain and Reagan had a slightly better junior season last year, and placed fourth in Nice earlier this year. It could go either way, but I'm going with Cain and Reagan in Moscow.

Ladies stepping up

Pool A (Asada, Leonova, Sotnikova)

Alena Leonova is coming off a bronze medal at the NHK Trophy. Adelina Sotnikova has had a few weeks to recover from her somewhat disappointing bronze at the Cup of China. Still, Mao Asada holds the season's second-highest ladies score and seems to have returned nearly to form. If she keeps pace with her NHK Trophy performance, she'll top this group.

Pool B (Flatt, Gao, Imai, Korpi)

Here stands a group filled with skaters who would love a do-over in their first competition. Rachael Flatt was third after the short at Skate Canada; she finished 10th. Christina Gao was fourth after a strong short in China, but an eighth-place showing in the free skate dropped her to fifth. Haruka Imai faced a similar downfall at Skate America: fourth in the short, ninth in the free. Kiira Korpi, too, struggled, but more in the short, pulling up two spots in the free at NHK. Korpi ended up with the best overall score, followed closely by Gao. The Fin has strong programs and, if skated more cleanly than in Japan, she has what it takes to win this group.

Pool C (Biryukova, Lacoste, Zawadzki)

This group is a challenge, too. Russian Sofia Biryukova has not competed in the Grand Prix yet this season. She did post a 159+ at the Finlandia Trophy earlier in the year. Amelie Lacoste showed improvement in her season debut at Skate Canada but only managed sixth with a 146.60. Then there's Agnes Zawadzki, the young American capable of throwing down some serious jump content but who struggled at NHK. Zawadski's higher personal bests in each competition stage proves she should have what it takes. It's a risk, but I'm picking her.

Men seeking consistency

Pool A (Abbott, Brezina, Gachinski)

Michal Brezina has two medals already this season. Artur Gachinski started strong in the short at Cup of China. Jeremy Abbott has a gold to his name despite finishing third in both portions of the event in China. Still, he has strong programs once again and is my "A" pick.

Pool B (Fernandez, Hanyu, Mroz)

As strong as Yuzuru Hanyu looked in the short program in China, he has yet to develop consistency in back-to-back programs. The same can be said for Brandon Mroz. Javier Fernandez, on the other hand, showed a whole new confidence and poise as he finished second to Patrick Chan at Skate Canada (with a score of 250.33, no less, the highest of any of the competitors in Moscow this week). In Pool B, he's my pick.

Pool C (Menshov, Rogozine, Voronov)

Less than two points separate Andrei Rogozine and Konstantin Menshov's total scores in their respective season debuts. Sergei Voronov hasn't competed in the Grand Prix since last year's Cup of China, where he finished 12th. I give the edge to Menshov this week.