Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Showdown Highlights of the 2011 ISU Grand Prix (Part 2)

I’m returning to the analysis of the 2011-12 Grand Prix that I started 10 days ago, for if everyone shows to these as scheduled, there are enough interesting showdowns to fill a classic spaghetti western…

NHK TROPHY (or, simply, NHK)
Last year, NHK led off the entire series; this year it’s in the middle of the pack. But for both pairs and dance, the excitement level should create a certain “new-season smell.” Pairs boasts a sort of musical chairs situation, with Pang/Tong, Savchenko/Szolkowy, Kavaguti/Smirnov, and Iliushechkina/Maisuradze all seemingly serious contenders for the 3 podium places. Meanwhile there’s no clear front-runner on the ice dance docket… but with the Shibutanis, Weaver/Poje, and Ilinykh/Katsalapov all in the mix, it looks like a great time for at least one of these three to make a very positive move.

If Evan Lysacek is, indeed, returning to competitive skating this fall—and his recent “tweets” sure seem to indicate he’s training as such—TEB will be his second event, and will pit him against Patrick Chan for the first time since Vancouver (where Chan finished a somewhat disappointing 5th). But if Chan is able to skate anything like he did in the past 6 months—heck, even if he has a human Zamboni moment or two, as he did at Skate Canada last season—ah, how interesting this may be. As for the ladies, the potential showdown material is rich: two veterans who are coming off of stellar comeback seasons (Carolina Kostner and Alissa Czisny), a veteran trying to rebound from an injury-plagued season (Laura Lepisto), a breakout star from last year (Kanako Murakami), and a potential breakout star for the new year (Liza Tuktamisheva). This will be the second event of the season; All four competitors will be making their second visit to the series by this point.

ROSTELECOM CUP (Cup of Russia, or CoR)
I suppose much of the skating world will feverishly await this, the final qualifying GP event, to see if Evgeny Plushenko will indeed leap into Russia’s “TBD” spot and once again use the wind created by all that thunderous applause to further inflate his parade balloon of an ego. As for me… yeah, I’m kind of hoping he gets (temporarily) trapped under something heavy long enough to stay away. Particularly when that creates an opportunity for either Michal Brezina, Jeremy Abbott, or Artur Gachinski—who I’d never have slipped into that list, save for the fact that he managed to claim bronze, at Worlds, in Moscow, just a few months ago. Should that opportunity pass them by, get ready for an interesting Ladies event… with Asada appearing to be an unreliable choice for a front-runner these days, the door to victory could be open to Russia’s own Alena Leonova, Finland’s Kiira Korpi, USA’s Rachael Flatt… or even relative newcomer Agnes Zawadzki (USA) or true newcomer Sofia Biryukova (RUS).

Just in case you’re wondering who that last lady is, here’s her most recent Russian Nats SP as the
Clip of the Day.

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