It’ll be a mad dash to the podium for the skaters at the NHK Trophy in Osaka, Japan who are looking to snag one of the final qualifying spots for the upcoming Grand Prix Final in Barcelona.
Canada’s Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje are my early-season pick to become world ice dance champions in 2015. There, I’ve said it. They have evolved into a beautiful team with a killer combination of skill and style. They continue to push themselves artistically. I like them a lot. I can’t imagine them not taking the title here on their way to more gold medals.
It’s pretty much the same story for Canadian pairs skaters Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford. They're also my early-season pick for a world title on the strength of their technical prowess, which is as strong in their single skating as it is in their pair elements. I'm not saying they won’t be challenged at NHK, but I am saying they're more than ready to face all comers this season.
Japanese skaters will dominate the ladies’ and men’s events. Kanako Murakami, the 2014 Four Continents champion, and Skate Canada bronze medallist Satoko Miyahara will lead the charge for the women. I'm interested to see how Americans Gracie Gold and Polina Edmunds will stack up as both women have been holding their own so far this season. Canada’s Gabby Daleman could also be in the mix with a strong short and free skate.
Takahito Mura won the Skate Canada men's event and presumably would like to do the same in front of a hometown crowd. It won’t be easy. He needs to square off against Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, four-time American champion Jeremy Abbott and Grand Prix Russia silver medallist Sergei Voronov.
Pj's watch list
Elladj Balde (Canada): The trip to Osaka for him isn’t about earning a berth in the Grand Prix Final. It’s about the joy of performing. Elladj's performance style is charismatic, energetic and he's unapologetically fun to watch. If you get the chance, keep an eye out for Elladj’s short program to James Brown’s It’s a Man’s World.
Yuzuru Hanyu (Japan): Han Yan hit the ice last weekend and I wasn’t the only one wondering how he had recovered from a nasty collision with Hanyu almost 3 weeks ago. I feel the same way about Yuzuru’s prospects. He has said in the Japanese media this week that both his legs still hurt but that he has been working hard and will compete.
Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov (Russia): I would love to get the chance to speak to these two about their reasons for remaining in competition. They have two world bronze medals, one European title, a fourth-place Olympic finish in 2010 and have never been off the podium in their 14 Grand Prix events since 2006. Nevertheless, they have had to battle their way back from injuries and, at 33 years of age for Yuko and 30 for Alexander, that doesn’t get any easier.
Pj’s gold-medal picks
Dance: Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje (Canada)
Men: Yuzuru Hanyu (Japan)
Pairs: Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford (Canada)
Ladies: Kanako Murakami (Japan)
Tweet me your picks and anything else @skatingpj and with the hashtag #cbcskate.
Just for fun
Part of the fun of being an international figure skating competitor is the chance to see the world. For some of the Canadians competing at NHK, being prepared is the key.
Packing tips from Gabrielle Daleman:
More ideas from Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford: