Fantasy skating preview: Four Continents
Tara Wellman dishes on who you should choose -- and who you should avoid -- for this week's event
|Does Tara Wellman think recently crowned U.S. champion Ashley Wagner can knock off Olympic silver medalist Mao Asada at the Four Continents Championships? (Tom Briglia)|
For some of skating's best, this is a tune-up on the way to Nice, France. For others, though, this is the final event of their season. Either way, it's another chance to put your fantasy skills to the test! Here's how I see it.
Ladies on the rise
After a stellar U.S. championships performance, Ashley Wagner is officially a "contender." However, she has a ways to go to catch Mao Asada. Of course, there are circumstances outside skating that could impact how Asada competes (namely, the recent passing of her mother), but I'm not yet convinced Wagner will bring in the international scores to keep up with Asada. Asada, however, is still not consistent. If she falters, Wagner will be ready. Still, I'm sticking with Asada here.
Phaneuf will be determined as ever, since the Canadian worlds spot is still up for grabs. She's more than capable of winning this group, but she's shown nothing of that potential yet this season.
The same could be said of Lacoste, who is also looking to claim that spot. She has the strongest Grand Prix scores of the group.
Zawadzki, too, could make a statement here. We saw how capable she is in the short program at the U.S. championships. But, she's untested. She struggled mightily in the free skate in San Jose as well as in her Grand Prix events.
However, based on her latest performances, I have to give the nod to Zawadzki.
Ah, the pool of the inexperienced!
It's certainly as hard as ever to pick from this group, simply because there isn't much to base a choice on.
Canada's Alexandrea Najarro just nudges out the competition in her Junior Grand Prix scores, and if you throw her scores from the Canadian championships into the mix, she seems quite likely to fare well in Pool C.
Men chasing Chan
Takahashi has marvelous programs this season. However, he has yet to skate them cleanly. He'll have to do so to match up to Chan.
Chan, on the other hand, simply has to keep up the good work. No, he won't likely see 300+ scores here, as he did at Canadians, but those scores gave him confidence. As long as he doesn't hit Colorado Springs in a post-nationals fog, he will likely be champion again.
Based on scores alone, Song has the edge. His Grand Prix scores of 226.75 and 224.10 give him a significant advantage over Rippon's 217.97 and 217.89. However, Rippon was not at his best in either event.
It's been a battle all season long for the U.S. silver medalist, but he may be peaking at just the right time. Rippon has a real chance to medal here. He is my "B" pick.
Inexperience requires you to choose based on what few scores and events you have available. In this case, Uzbekistan's Misha Ge may just have the most to offer. He competed at last year's 4Cs event and scored 182+ points. Early this season, he posted a 199.12 at the Ice Challenge in Graz. Then, he broke 200 at the Istanbul Cup. Those scores give him the lead -- and the experience -- to take this group.
Ice dancers take on rivals
This season, Meryl Davis and Charlie White have been on a steady climb while Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir have done a little yo-yoing. The Canadians are chasing, while the Americans are trying to remain undefeated.
There's no doubt Virtue and Moir want this title, and if there's a time Davis and White might slip up, it's here, just a week and a half removed from the U.S. championships. However, my feeling is that they will be on their game and ready to defend the title.
It will be tight as can be, but I'm picking Davis and White.
Moving on to the other fascinating ice dance battle, we have Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje vs. Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani. Both have improved dramatically. The Canadians are brilliantly polished and confident. The Americans have a new short dance that will undoubtedly boost their scores.
The Shibutanis defeated Weaver and Poje at the NHK Trophy by 0.09 points.
Will their new short dance be enough to upstage Weaver and Poje again?
I say no, by just a hair. Weaver and Poje take pool B.
This group comes down to who puts together two clean programs back to back. According to the scores, that might well be Anna Nagornyuk and Viktor Kovalenko. They finished eighth and sixth at their two Junior Grand Prix events, and added a fourth-place finish at the Istanbul Cup with a score of 112.16. Considering how common sub-100 scores are in this group, that should bode well for them.
Pairs continue to climb
Chinese stars Wenjing Sui and Cong Han have the top score (a 180+ at Skate Canada) but have faded since their early competitions. Competing both junior and senior events may simply have them worn out.
Caydee Denney and John Coughlin are the new kids on the block, only they're not really new. They proved that with a breathtaking skate in San Jose that earned them 189.70 points. Likewise, Canada's Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford had a stunning skate -- one that earned them a score of 190.10. -- en route to their first national title.
Duhamel and Radford, however, have been on this climb all season. They have a goal at Four Continents: They want to win. There isn't much room for error here, but, based on their confidence and determination, they're my pick.
This one is also tough to call.
It should be Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig. However, their confidence is shaken. They didn't make the world team, and they haven't had great success internationally this year. Jessica Dubé and Sebastien Wolfe looked like a brand new team at the Canadian championships, but they still have work to do. Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker did much of the same at their nationals.
Even in a down year for Evora and Ladwig, their Grand Prix scores still give them an edge. Perhaps missing the world team will motivate them. For their strengths and group-leading scores, they're my "B" pick.
It's a head-to-head matchup between country mates in Pool C, and not one we haven't seen before. In the last year, China's Yue Zhang and Lei Wang and Huibo Dong and Yiming Wu have finished 9-10 at Four Continents, 13-14 at worlds and, finally, 4-5 at Chinese nationals. Every time, Zhang and Wang came out on top. For that reason, they're my pick to win this group.