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Fantasy skating preview: Grand Prix Final

Americans have slight edge in ice dancing; stick with the Russian prodigy in ladies

Russia's Liza Tuktamisheva is Tara Wellman's pick to win the gold at the Grand Prix Final.
Russia's Liza Tuktamisheva is Tara Wellman's pick to win the gold at the Grand Prix Final. (AFP)

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By Tara Wellman, special to icenetwork.com
(12/05/2011) - The lineups are set for the Grand Prix Final, and they are fabulous. The competition is sure to be a nail-biter, which is great for skating fans, but tough on fantasy teams! Let's break it down, and hopefully shed some light on the best picks for the event.

The ultimate dance-off

Pool A (Meryl Davis/Charlie White, Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir, Nathalie Péchalat/Fabian Bourzat)

This is the matchup we've all been waiting for (and, dare I say, a potential worlds podium trio?). Specifically, it's the duel between the rink mates. The Americans versus the Canadians. World champs against Olympic champs.

If the trend holds, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir will take the advantage in the short dance. However, Meryl Davis and Charlie White have a superior -- and higher-scoring -- free dance.

So far this season, Davis and White have the overall advantage. They are my "A" pick.

Pool B (Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje, Ekaterina Bobrova/Dmitri Soloviev, Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani)

This group could get interesting.

The Shibutanis beat Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje at the NHK Trophy, but the Canadians came back strong to finish second at the Rostelecom Cup with significantly improved scores.

Still, Russians Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev have the highest scores of the three: 163.52 at the Cup of China.

However, Weaver and Poje seem to be surging as the season goes on. It should be tight, but I'm picking Weaver and Poje to come out on top.

No room for error

Pool A (Yuko Kavaguti/Alexander Smirnov, Tatiana Volosozhar/Maxim Trankov, Aliona Savchenko/Robin Szolkowy)

Boy, have these three been back and forth all season long! Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov and Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy have competed head to head twice already, each coming out on top once.

Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov easily won their two events, but they had their share of mistakes and mishaps, causing concerns about consistency.

The Germans started the season determined to include the throw triple Axel. When that didn't happen, they went back to their comfort zone and fared better, setting the season-high total score thus far.

Kavaguti and Smirnov have two of the best programs in the competition. But, again, they struggle with consistency.

I have yet to choose correctly between Kavaguti and Smirnov, and Savchenko and Szolkowy ... but I'm going back to the world champs and taking the Germans to win the final.

Pool B (Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford, Narumi Takahashi/Mervin Tran, Dan Zhang/Hao Zhang)

Give Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran another year or two, and they will be a force to be reckoned with. For now, though, they don't quite have all the pieces put together.

Speaking of putting pieces together, how about Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford this season? You can see their determination in every move, every look. They know their goals, down to the tenths of a point, and they're hitting them.

Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang haven't had that same spark. There's no denying their technical genius, but there seems to be a little fire missing. Their scores have reflected something lacking, and yet, they hold this group's highest scores, albeit by only two points.

Will the Canadians put together back-to-back clean skates to make up those points? Or have the Chinese champs regained their "swagger?"

For now, I'm sticking with the Zhangs.

Comebacks and clean performances

Pool A (Mao Asada, Elizaveta Tuktamisheva, Carolina Kostner)

Carolina Kostner is having a stellar season. Great programs and great confidence have given her three Grand Prix medals.

Not far behind, though, is Mao Asada. She still battles some jump issues, but her elegance is better than ever, and her programs are as strong as those of any other skater.

The best part about the revival of both careers? They're smiling again.

But don't get too carried away. There's a little Russian girl standing firmly in their way.

Elizaveta "Liza" Tuktamisheva stated her case: triple-triple combinations, attitude, charm, and -- particularly in her second event in Paris -- maturity beyond her years. Who knows what the future holds, but Quebec City is about to get a taste of Russia's return to form in ladies skating. This will be her greatest test yet, but she's my "A" pick this week.

Pool B (Alissa Czisny, Alena Leonova, Akiko Suzuki)

If it was hard to predict what these ladies would do before the season started, it may be even harder now. All three have shown flashes of brilliance.

Alena Leonova is a ball of energy. Her short program suits her brilliantly, but her downfall is mistakes in the free skate. She's not ready to let little Liza take all the Russian glory, but she needs to find some consistency.

Japan's Akiko Suzuki is a delight. If there is ever any doubt about her love for the sport, simply watch her skate. Her joy amplifies her choreography when she hits the jumps. She's had a strong season that makes a solid argument for her here.

Alissa Czisny has one of the best short programs in the world this season, one that highlights her greatest qualities, not the least of which is her charm. However, she has to hit the jumps in the short to give herself a chance in the free. If she does that, she should take this group. Nothing is certain, but I'm going with Czisny in Canada.

Pick a skater, any skater

Pool A (Patrick Chan, Daisuke Takahashi, Jeremy Abbott)

It was suggested to me that for the toughest choices, I flip a coin. Honestly, it's not a bad idea!

Jeremy Abbott has two fantastic programs this year. However, his scores don't match up to the other two men in this pool.

Daisuke Takahashi of Japan and the host country's Patrick Chan, however, give me no real reason to pick one over the other.

Takahashi scored 237 and 259 in his two events. Chan scored 253 and 240.

Takahashi's programs are more complex -- so complex, it's hard to skate them cleanly. But, if he manages to do so, he'll see astronomical scores.

Chan is skating in Canada. He is beyond comfortable with his short program. His choreography is larger than life, but he tends to get too wrapped up in it and stumble. If he goes clean, he'll see astronomical scores.

Anyone have a coin handy?

Chan tends to peak later in the season. It may be risky, but I'm going with Takahashi over Chan.

Pool B (Yuzuru Hanyu, Javier Fernandez, Michal Brezina)

This may be the easiest pick of the event. Not clear cut, per se, but easy, simply because I haven't been as impressed with anyone more than I have with Javier Fernandez. The kid is for real. His quads are effortless, his charisma addictive. Oh, and his 240-to-250-point scores are mighty fine.

Choose carefully, and then sit back and enjoy. This is sure to be a spectacular event!