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Wellman's fantasy skating tips: Four Continents

Tough choice between world's top two ice dance teams; Which Japanese man comes out on top?

Max Aaron is flying high after his win at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
Max Aaron is flying high after his win at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. (icenetwork.com)

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By Tara Wellman, special to icenetwork.com
(02/05/2013) - With only a few stops left on figure skating's world stage this year, each moment is magnified. As skaters gather in Osaka, Japan, for the 2013 Four Continents Championships, skaters of all ranges of international experience take to the ice, hoping their preparation has them peaking at just the right time ... and so are plenty of fantasy players!

Let's see who we're up against this week.

LADIES

Group A

Though newcomers Gracie Gold and Kaetlyn Osmond have proven their firepower, they haven't proven their "elite-ness." Sure, they're uber-talented and could steal the whole show, but I'm not yet convinced they can take down the top two Japanese ladies.

So, it's again Mao Asada versus Akiko Suzuki. While Suzuki's programs have more potential, it's Asada who has come out on top this year.

Asada needs to continue her upward trend, and she's my pick here.

Group B

Now, this could be quite the competition!

Christina Gao, Agnes Zawadzki and Kanako Murakami are all strong picks. They all medaled in Grand Prix events. They all have triple-triples. They all have mature, sophisticated choreography and presentation. But they all have inconsistencies, too.

Don't forget about little Zijun Li, though. She was stunning at the NHK Trophy late in the season, where she finished fourth.

When the dust settles, though, I think Murakami has a strong shot at leading this group.

Group C

While skaters like Melissa Bulanhagui (now skating for the Philippines) and Melinda Wang have senior experience and beautiful presentation, they sometimes struggle with technical consistency.

Several girls in this group are making the jump to the senior level after competing at junior internationals all season. One junior skater who could make a big splash here is Brooklee Han. She looked great in her Junior Grand Prix events, pulling in the highest personal-best scores of the group.

Four Continents is the perfect place for a "newbie" to make a splash, so I'm giving that nod to Han.

MEN

Group A

The three Japanese men in this competition -- Yuzuru Hanyu, Daisuke Takahashi and Takahito Mura -- have battled all season. Each is so strong in his own way; each could throw down the gauntlet at any moment.

We've seen each man individually at his best, but they haven't been the best against one another, per se.

With the home crowd behind them, we can expect great energy from these three. At the end of the day, I think Takahashi wears the crown ... this time.

Group B

And look at that -- we get another rematch. This time, the U.S. version.

This will be the first big test for newly-crowned champ Max Aaron. Can he repeat the skates he had at the 2013 U.S. Championships? If so, he's easily a top-five finisher. But so is Ross Miner. If his quad is under control, he could leapfrog Aaron.

There are others in the pool who are still waiting for their breakout moment this season, but the momentum is all in the hands of Mr. Aaron. He's my "B" pick.

Group C

This group will be all about who puts out the two cleanest programs ... sounds overly simplistic, doesn't it? But, really, these are guys who have shown flashes but don't yet have the consistency. So, whomever skates cleanest probably wins this group.

If the Junior Grand Prix results are any indication, it could come down to the Korean men, Jin Seo Kim and June Hyoung Lee. While Lee won the national title, it was Kim who took third and fourth at his JGP assignments.

It's anyone's game, but I'm taking Jin Seo Kim.

PAIRS

Group A

After the stellar show the top two pairs put on at the Canadian championships, we can only hope for a repeat in Osaka.

While Cheng Peng and Hao Zhang are impressive considering their "newness" as a team, they still have room to grow.

Meanwhile, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford continue their upward climb. They'll feel some pressure -- most likely from Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch -- but if they skate as they can, they have a real shot at winning this title.

They're my "A" pick.

Group B

Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir have had their best season yet: their first Grand Prix medal, gold at the Ice Challenge and, of course, their first U.S. title.

But Canadians Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers have been right on the verge: fourth at Skate Canada, fourth at the Rostelecom Cup.

Castelli and Shnapir have hinted at a return of their throw quadruple salchow ... which could either seal the deal or cost them. Still, these two appear to have the momentum, and they'll want to prove themselves as national champs. They earn my Group B spot.

Group C

I am anxious to see how the young American teams in Osaka fare on the big stage. Will they hold up the technical end of the performance, even under the pressure? While Felicia Zhang and Nate Bartholomay narrowly missed the silver at the U.S. championships, Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim thrilled the crowd with a sensational skate.

The only thing Scimeca and Knierim have over Zhang and Bartholomay? A fourth-place finish in the Grand Prix series -- one they earned in their international debut, no less.

For that reason, Alexa and Chris get my vote.

ICE DANCE

Group A

The debate continues: the Canadians or the Americans?

There's no denying the mindboggling skill of both Meryl Davis and Charlie White, and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. However, this season it certainly appears the judges favor Davis and White's programs (especially the free dance). Plus, the Canadians have strangely struggled this year to consistently get the highest technical levels, making changes after every competition.

Davis and White seem settled into their programs and more confident than ever. They continue to be my pick for ice dance this season.

Group B

Bronze at the U.S. championships may have acted as the perfect motivation for Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, whose season has been anything but uneventful! This competition will be far from easy, though.

Both Madison Chock and Evan Bates, and Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier are a bit untested internationally. They each have brilliant strengths and potential through the roof, but if history shows us anything, it's that the Shibutanis earn better international scores. I expect great things from them this week, including a shot at the medal stand. They're my "B" pick.

Group C

Aussies Danielle O'Brien and Greogry Merriman are always such a joy to watch. They light up the arena and make you will them to succeed. However, they don't always have the technical difficulty to keep up with the rest of the crowd.

After only competing in one Grand Prix event, Cathy Reed and Chris Reed went on to skate in a few senior "B" events to polish up their programs for the end of the season. They posted a 130+ at Golden Spin, easily putting them at the top of Group C. They're my final ice dance pick.