Wellman's fantasy skating preview: Cup of China
Asada's experience should edge Lipnitskaia's young talent; Pang, Tong look good in pairs
|Japan's Mao Asada has been around long enough to edge Russian newcomer Julia Lipnitskaia. (Getty Images)|
It's safe to say Frenchman Joubert is more than a little bit unpredictable these days. The 2007 world champ has struggled to find his place in the Code of Points system. His quads, however, fit quite nicely, when they're landed.
Takahashi, on the other hand, is just what the system was made for. He struggled with consistency at times last season, conceding the world title to Patrick Chan, but was in fine form at the Japan Open last month. His free skate score of 172.06 is well above Joubert's personal best of 161.11 from the 2012 World Championships.
Quads in toe, Takahashi has a clear path to gold, and thus, Group A.
Any given day, one of these four could top the bunch. Song -- skating at home in China -- could repeat last year's Grand Prix debut performance and land on the podium. Reynolds is a jumping machine. If he hits, he could score big. And Rippon, now under the tutelage of Rafael Arutunian, would like to show a consistent quad by season's end.
But it was Machida who stole the attention with his memorable "Firebird" free skate at Skate America. The only man in the field to have made his Grand Prix debut, he has an advantage -- and momentum. His 229+ total score there makes him a solid favorite for Group B.
The Chinese men, although skating at home, will have a tough road ahead here. Guan finished eighth at this event last year and 16th at the Four Continents Championships. Teammate Wang is making his senior Grand Prix debut.
They'll be facing off against Voronov, whose 195+ scores from last year, and his senior experience, make him the likeliest choice here.
This choice, at first glance, is easy. But it's no secret Asada is still working her way back to world champion form. Nor is it a secret that little Lipnitskaia is a dynamo.
Asada started her season at the Japan Open, finishing second to Ashley Wagner. However, she looked far more solid technically than we've seen in the past few years. We know what she's capable of when she's 100 percent.
So, as I often do, I'm taking the veteran over the protégée.
Korpi and Nagasu present an interesting predicament. Nagasu, if she skates up to her potential, should take this group with ease. But she's done everything except skate to her potential the last few seasons. Plus, Korpi -- coming off of an injury-shortened 2011-12 campaign -- opened her season quite successfully at Finlandia Trophy, where she finished second to Nagasu's third ... by roughly 18 points.
Korpi struggled mightily in the free skate. Nagasu looked strong. But Korpi's programs are better constructed. Nagasu's are, by the Code of Points standard, empty.
The inconsistencies of both skaters make it tough to pick one. But here's hoping the high risk pays off in high reward: Nagasu it is.
Here's where I'll take a chance on youth. China's Li (fourth at junior worlds last year) posted a strong 153.87 at the Triglav Trophy back in April. So, we know she's got the goods! Russian Biryukova could show up big, too, but the home crowd may just give Li a boost.
She's my Group C pick.
Last season, Russians Kavaguti and Smirnov found themselves uprooted by Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov for the Russian crown. A season that started full of promise ended with a disappointing seventh place at worlds.
Pang and Tong held on for silver at Skate America to start this season, but admitted their aging bodies make competition quite difficult.
That said, I sense a competitive fire in them this season. And, skating in front of their home crowd, they could very well top the Russians. They're my Group A pick.
Zhang is competing with a new partner this year, after Dan Zhang retired after last season. New partnerships take time to develop.
Moore-Towers and Moscovitch have tasted success -- second at 2010 Skate America -- but last year missed out on the Grand Prix Final. All that did was motivate them. They won the U.S. International Classic to start their season with a respectable score of 179.25. That should be enough to take Group B ... and maybe land them a spot on the podium, to boot!
Group C - Wenting Wang and Yan Zhang, Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov
Wang and Zhang are making their senior Grand Prix debut. Not only are Stolbova and Klimov not making their debut, but they are fresh off a silver-medal performance at the Cup of Nice just last week. They are well-equipped to repeat that performance here in China.
Canadians Weaver and Poje were baffled by the low level calls on several elements at Skate America. If they can correct those problems, they will certainly be in the hunt here. But they'll have to top Péchalat and Bourzat first.
The French team has been a step above the Canadians to this point and has given no reason to believe they've lost ground. They're still behind Meryl Davis and Charlie White, and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, but they certainly enter as the favorites in their season debut.
Sinitsina and Zhiganshin may have gone undefeated on the junior circuit last fall, but they have their work cut out for them as they jump to the senior ranks.
Chock and Bates are an interesting duo that has captivated the attention of many U.S. ice dance fans. They've competed twice already this season, improving dramatically from the U.S. International Classic to the Nebelhorn Trophy. However, standing in their way is the much-improved Russian team of Bobrova and Soloviev, fresh off a silver medal at Skate America.
The youngsters hold much promise, but I can't see them getting past the Russians just yet.
China isn't exactly known for its ice dance prowess. Italy, on the other hand, has produced some brilliant dancers. We saw last week the team of Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte. This week, we get Guignard and Fabbri in their Grand Prix debut.
Finalndia Trophy was the start to their season. They placed fourth with a 141.06-point final score. The Chinese teams are skating at home, but it's the Italians who earn my vote.
The only guarantee is that nothing is a sure thing. With Grand Prix Final berths on the line, we're sure to see some fireworks.
As always, choose wisely, and good luck!