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Grand Prix Final: Canadians in hunt for gold

12/10/2014 01:31 EST | Updated 02/09/2015 05:59 EST
I’m headed to Barcelona, Spain for the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final, and I couldn’t be more excited. 

The best thing about this competition is seeing competitors go head to head who, in many cases, won’t be facing each other again until the world championships in March 2015.

The pairs’ event is the first case that comes to mind, where Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford will be facing off against Russian dynamos Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov. While the Russians may have the edge in style, the Canadians are more than their equals in technical prowess and sheer gumption. This should be a great event that might tell us a little of what each team will need when they meet again to decide the world title.

The men’s event is interesting for a different reason: Javier Fernandez is Spain’s great hope to take the world title this season. He has been knocking at the door but his occasional struggles with nerves while trying to perform some of the very best technical elements has occasionally gotten the best of him. From a sentimental standpoint, I’m hoping that a breakthrough performance and win in Barcelona could be the nudge that Spain needs to get bitten with the skating bug.

I know the scores say that Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates are the ice dance favourites, but I don’t believe it. Canada’s Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, perennial bridesmaids with some of the most heartbreaking losses on record, are leaving nothing to chance. They continue to evolve and improve season after season and are not going to let a 0.01-point margin for a silver medal at the 2014 worlds happen again. They are sharp, clean, entertaining and powerful. Side by side in competition against their American rivals, I think we’re going to see who’s on top of the dance world.

I’m waiting for American Ashley Wagner to dazzle and I’m hoping that the Barcelona ladies’ event will be the place. The truth is her toughest competitors, the Russians, are up to their Axel in talent. I think that two-time junior world champion Elena Radionova has such momentum after this season’s two Grand Prix wins that this is her title to lose.

Pj’s must-watch list

Yuzuru Hanyu (Japan): In retrospect, it may have been risky for the Olympic and world champion to compete at the recent NHK event while still battling pain in his lower extremities from his spectacular crash in warm-up earlier in the season. It’s not just the Grand Prix title at stake — it’s also his own readiness for the Japanese nationals in two weeks’ time. The truth is, anything can happen and often does, and at this point Yuzuru may or may not be able to qualify for worlds.

Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford (Canada): It’s do-or-die time for the Canadian pair. If they want the world title, it starts here. Expect them to skate the lights out in both the short and free programs if they want to stay ahead of Stolbova and Klimov.

Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje (Canada): The best kind of skating to watch is when the skaters are more interested in the performance than the results. This is how I see ice dancers Weaver and Poje this year and I'm keen to see how that joie de vivre translates into a great live fan experience.

Riko Hongo (Japan): I’m sorry that American Gracie Gold had to pull out of the Grand Prix Final with a stress fracture to her foot. I’m not sorry, however, to get a second look at Hongo, a charming 18-year-old who took her first Grand Prix medal, a gold, at the Rostelecom Cup a couple of weeks ago after a fifth-place finish at Skate Canada.

Pj’s gold-medal picks

Dance: Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje (Canada)

Men: Javier Fernandez (Spain)

Pairs: Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford (Canada)

Ladies: Elena Radionova (Russia)

Tweet me your picks and anything else @skatingpj and with the hashtag #cbcskate.

Just for fun

Julianne Seguin and her partner Charlie Bilodeau are the favourites in the junior Grand Prix Final pairs event. I caught up with Julianne in the fall and she gave me some packing tips:

What’s it like to work with a legend like Christopher Dean? Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier fill us in:

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