It’s not easy. Skaters are performing in ways that are not typical and then there are the unforeseen things like accidents that can really shake things up.
One thing is for sure: after seeing Russian pair Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov’s gold-medal performance last week at the Cup of Russia, I'm confident they will take the title this week at the Trophée Eric Bompard in France.
As for the rest of the events, it's a bit of a toss up with some strong talent vying for podium finishes.
Canadian ice dancers looking sharp
In ice dance, I like what both Canadian teams have to offer. Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam exemplify perseverance and dedication. They're a beautiful match and make the most of their outstanding chemistry. Fellow Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier are able to push themselves and get noticed artistically.
Wagner challenges Russians
In the ladies' event, the question on my mind is whether American Ashley Wagner can knock the competition and the naysayers off their feet. Wagner’s poise and speed gets me every time. It won’t be easy, though, to get ahead of two Russian women in particular: Skate America champion Elena Radionova and Cup of China silver medallist Julia Lipnitskaia. Let’s face it, the Russian women are on a roll, having won three of the first four Grand Prix events.
Don't count out Ten
It’s a coin toss for who will prevail in the men’s event. On paper, both Tatsuki Machida and Maxim Kovtun could sneak ahead of the pack, claim a second Grand Prix victory and earn a spot at the Grand Prix Final next month in Barcelona. Something tells me, though, that Olympic bronze medallist Denis Ten has something to prove after finishing fourth at Skate America. That alone will make this competition worth watching.
Pj's watch list
Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro (Canada): This is a pairs team with lots of potential. They got together just before the summer and when I last saw them in Barrie, Ont., in October, Kirsten was recovering from a foot injury. So in addition to working out the kinks of a new partnership, they've missed crucial training time. I'm adopting an optimistic wait-and-see attitude.
Han Yan (China): After a pretty spectacular crash with Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu during warm-ups in China a couple of weeks ago, I'm hoping to see a completely recovered Han. For better or worse, both skaters elected to compete in China despite each suffering a blow to the head and needing medical attention after the event.
Gabrielle Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron (France): This is a dance team that has been slowly improving under the radar. I like what I saw in Barrie in October and they followed it up with a win against world champions Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte at their first Grand Prix. I wouldn’t have thought necessarily they would qualify for the Grand Prix Final if you had asked me in September. This weekend will tell the tale.
Pj’s gold-medal picks
Dance: Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier (Canada)
Men: Tatsuki Machida (Japan)
Pairs: Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov (Russia)
Ladies: Elena Radionova (Russia)
Tweet me your picks and anything else @skatingpj and with the hashtag #cbcskate.
Just for fun
With the Grand Prix Final heading to Barcelona for the first time, why not hear from Spanish ice dance champions Sara Hurtado and Adri Diaz, who are competing this week in France:
Here’s another question and answer. Piper Gilles wants to know how a former American pairs skater-turned-coach gets his trademark hair to behave:
Did John Zimmerman say he was looking for fans? Here’s his hair-raising answer to Piper's question: