Golden Skate

2009 NHK Trophy Preview

The ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating continues this week in Nagano, Japan, for the fourth installment of competition known as the NHK Trophy.  Sixty skaters representing 13 countries will compete in the competition, attempting to earn points towards qualification to the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final to be held in December in Tokyo.

American ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White are hoping to win for a second time, as is the Chinese pairs team of Qing Pang and Jian Tong.  Japan’s Miki Ando will face a tough field as she tries to win her second title of the season, while her teammate Daisuke Takahashi returns to the Grand Prix in search of his first win after a season away due to injury.

LADIES

The ladies competition is a flashback to the podium at the Rostelecom Cup of Russia just two weeks ago, with all three medal winners competing against each other in Nagano.  A repeat trip to the podium will be a challenge for each of those ladies as there are a few other contenders who might have something to say about that.

Leading the pack is Miki Ando, the Worlds bronze medalist from Japan who won the Rostelecom Cup just two weeks ago.  Ando is experiencing a renaissance of sorts after a few seasons of relative obscurity, and seems to be gaining momentum as the Olympic Games inch closer.  The former World Champion is starting to look more like her youthful form, but has also developed maturity to her skating that has been lacking in the past.

While Ando was far from perfect in Moscow, it was her first win in any competition since her triumph at the 2007 World Championships.  Ando has improved most facets of her skating, showing more speed, security, and consistency than she has in several years.

A medal is well within reach for Ando in Nagano, and it will be interesting to see how she is received in her home country after defeating national hero Mao Asada in Moscow.  Ando would qualify for the Grand Prix Final with any medal, but anything less than gold would be a disappointment.

Finishing just behind Ando in Moscow was American pewter medalist Ashley Wagner, who skated to a personal best in the competition.  Wagner was in fifth place after the short program, but used a stellar freeskate to catapult herself to a silver medal.

“I have to say that it very satisfying to see that all of my hard work has paid off this year,” Wagner confessed.  “I have grown up a lot, and a lot of changes have been made in my skating. (Coach) Priscilla Hill and I have been working on not only my skating skills but my jump quality as well. I was even more please to see that I received a personal best with a program that wasn’t perfect, so I still have room for improvement!”

Wagner will tweak her programs for this competition, and thinks that these changes will make her a more competitive skater.

“I am actually going to go back to my original long program that I had going into Russia,” the Wagner explained.  “I switched my triple loop combo in the second half for a double Axel combo because I had been having a little trouble with it that week. Hopefully it will pay off for me.”

Look for two solid skates from Wagner, which is becoming a hallmark of sorts for the Junior Worlds bronze medalist.  However, the triple flip has proven to be an Achilles heel for the 18 year-old, and she will have to nail it in Nagano to have any shot at out-skating Ando.

“In Japan I am going to aim for getting all of my levels, getting a higher second mark, and having a clean triple flip!”

In Moscow, Russian Alena Leonova finished in third place behind Ando and Wagner, capturing her first Grand Prix medal.  Since winning the Junior World Championship last season, Leonova has taken the skating world by storm.  In her first World Championships, Leonova finished in an impressive seventh place, and she also took the title at Finlandia Trophy just last month.

Leonova skates in the style of her idol Irina Slutskaya, and she is beginning to build a similar resume as the World Champion did early in her career.  A meltdown is unlikely for Leonova, but she will have to skate as well as she did in Russia if she hopes to clinch a berth to the Grand Prix Final.

After a challenging season of dealing with a herniated disk, Switzerland’s Sarah Meier is ready to come back and fight for medals again this season.  The two-time European Champion finished a surprising ninth place at the World Championships in March after a long period of therapy and rest for her back, and was surprised at what she accomplished given her limited training time.

“Actually looking back I don’t know how I managed to skate that well,” Meier confessed.  “It’s almost a miracle to me. I think I got rewarded that I didn’t give up and fought through the difficult times.”

The seven-time Swiss Champion traveled a difficult road to recovery, but she never gave up. Meier wanted to make the best decisions about her health care, not only so she could continue to skate, but so that she is healthy after her skating career is over.

“At the end of the season I took time to decide how to continue and how to treat my injury,” said Meier. “My doctors recommended back and hip surgery which would have taken a long time to recover.  Also, there would have been no guarantee that I would feel better. So I decided to work with my therapist even more intensively and take the time do a lot of off ice training to get my strength back. Now I am almost pain free. I’m not allowed to do certain things such as any abdominal exercises or cycling. I will probably never feel like before but it doesn’t bother me anymore.”

Meier has been dealing with another injury this season that has kept her out of early competitions, but she is ready to get back on competition ice in Japan and reestablish herself as a contender.

“Because of another injury on my heel this turns out to be my first competition,” explained Meier.  “I want to show my new programs and get feedback, but of course I hope to place well too in order to qualify for the Grand Prix Final.”

Meier has kept her short program from last season, and has a freeskate that she has been contemplating for several years.

“I kept my samba short program from last year, because I like it and I haven’t skated it many times,” the 25 year-old pointed out.  “We changed the step sequences and added a few transitions to the program.  My long program is to Romeo and Juliet (ballet and movie).  I’ve always loved the music but didn’t want to skate to something that’s been used by everyone already, but I realized it might be my last chance to do it, and I really like it.”

Meier can never be counted in competition, but this competition will be more of an assessment to see where she is physically and mentally.  If Meier can combat  all of her injuries, then she could definitely be in the hunt for a medal.

Yukari Nakano is looking to cap off her Grand Prix career with a fourth trip to the Final, and after a bronze medal in Paris, she is in great position to do so.  She has not missed the podium in a Grand Prix event other than the Final since 2004, so it is a pretty safe bet that she will be in the hunt in Nagano.

Nakano’s programs this season accentuate her quiet power on the ice, and are great vehicles for her push towards the Japanese Olympic Team.  The 24 year-old will need every technical trick that has in her arsenal in Nagano, but her experience should allow her to fare well against this field.

Finland’s Laura Lepistö is coming off her most successful season ever, winning the European title and finishing a career-high sixth at the World Championships.  This is Lepistö’s first international competition since finishing behind Leonova at the Finlandia Trophy earlier this season.

Lepistö  does not have the difficult jump content that many   in this competition boast, but everything else is first rate. When she skates clean, the 21 year-old can be in the hunt for medals, however she has no margin for error against this field.

Making their Grand Prix debuts are American Becky Bereswill and Japan’s Shoko Ishikawa.  Bereswill is the 2009 Junior Grand Prix Final Champion, but she struggled to a 12th place finish at the Finlandia Trophy last month.  Ishikawa is fresh off the Junior Grand Prix circuit, and will try to become the next big thing among the Japanese ladies.  Neither skater has a shot at a medal in Nagano, but both skaters have the potential to create beautiful moments on the ice.

Completing the roster is Canada’s Cynthia Phaneuf (15th, 2009 World Championships), Yan Liu (9th, 2009 Cup of China) from China, Germany’s Annette Dytrt (11th, 2009 Rostelecom Cup), and Oksana Gozeva (9th, 2009 Rostelecom Cup) from Russia.

MEN

The men’s field is an embarrassment of riches that boasts three Worlds medalists, two Junior World champions, and last year’s Grand Prix Final gold medalist.  It will be a pressure-packed competition with any number of men having the ability to win the title, and it is likely that one or more great performances might not even reach the podium.  Without a clear frontrunner, this competition could mark the changing of the guard should one of the younger men step up and make a name for himself in Nagano.

Perhaps the most likely of the next generation to take advantage of this opportunity is USA’s Adam Rippon, the two-time Junior World Champion, who has made great strides in his skating so far this season.  Rippon shocked many by winning the bronze medal in Paris with solid performances in an equally impressive field.

“Getting my first medal on the Grand Prix feels great,” Rippon admitted. “To get third in such a deep field has really motivated me to work even harder. I was pleased with my scores, but I looked at them with my coaches and saw a lot of places where I could improve. I am excited to compete again, and know that I can skate even better regardless of placement.”

Rippon skated with his usual passion, but was also on the verge of technical brilliance.  A small error on his triple Axel combination in the freeskate marred an otherwise clean competition for the American.

“In France I was a little nervous and I think that it showed in a few of my jumping passes,” said Rippon matter-of-factly.  “I have been working to improve the flow out of the jumps as well as the time it takes to get into them. I have also gone back to improve the levels of my step sequences and spins.”

Rippon needs a medal to earn his first trip to the Grand Prix Final, but he isn’t focusing on achieving that landmark yet.

“The thought of going to the final has definitely crossed my mind, especially with one competition out of the way,” the 19 year-old explained.  “I am working very hard to do my best every time I go out to compete. The only thing I can control is my own skating. When I start to think about medals, I always start focusing on the wrong things. My main goal for the season is to improve every competition, continue to improve my scores, and trust in my training.”

Of the veterans, Daisuke Takahashi from Japan seems to be the most likely candidate to challenge for the top spot on the podium.  Though this is the 2007 World silver medalist’s first Grand Prix event in two years, Takahashi proved earlier in the season that he was ready to compete.  At last month’s Finlandia Trophy, Takahashi scored well over 200 points in the competition and won the title with solid performances.

In his home country, Takahashi will be inspired by the crowd to perform even better, and could establish himself as an Olympic medal contender.  The 23 year-old has not finished lower than second in any Grand Prix event since the 2006 Final, and he has medaled in each of his assignments on the circuit since 2005.

The three-time Japanese champion has two beautiful programs this season that highlight his technical ability and innate sense of musical interpretation.  For the short program, Takahashi will skate to COBA’s Eye, and will tackle  Nino Rota’s La Strada for the freeskate.

The test for Takahashi will be whether or not he can withstand the gravity of the moment of returning to the Grand Prix in his home country in an Olympic season.  If Takahashi is able to hold his nerves together, he should harvest gold for the third time at the NHK Trophy.

World bronze medalist Brian Joubert from France has carried his late season troubles from last season into this season.  After a disappointing end to his 2009 campaign, Joubert hoped to return to the top of the podium in Paris.  In the short program, the 2007 World Champion made mistakes on all of his jumping passes, and found himself in a dismal sixth place.  Though he was able to recover in the freeskate to finish fourth overall, Joubert looked nothing like the man who used to dominate his competition.

In Japan, Joubert will have to try to find the rhythm that used to propel him to the podium in nearly every event in which he competed.  Should his trademark jumps escape him once again, the 25 year-old can no longer afford to re-choreograph his program as he has in the past.  However, the six-time French champion has started to show signs of maturity as a competitor, and that could mean a tough time for the rest of the field.

Another Japanese skater, Takahiko Kozuka will also be in the hunt for a medal in Nagano.  After winning Skate America last season, Kozuka earned his first trip to the Grand Prix Final where he won the silver medal.  This season, the Japanese silver medalist won the silver medal in Moscow behind Olympic Champion Evgeni Plushenko.

Kozuka is a consistent performer who recovers well when he makes a rare mistake, and his natural flow and speed sets him apart from other skaters.  The Four Continents bronze medalist needs another medal to qualify for his second Grand Prix Final, and he is the most likely of this field to perform solidly.

Kozuka’s teammate Daisuke Murakami is making his Grand Prix debut in Nagano, and is looking forward to skating with the some of the best skaters in the world.

“Since I have started skating I have always looked up to many skaters competing at this level,” Murakami admitted.  “It is an honor to start competing at the same level as the people I have looked up to for so long. It will be a learning experience for me, and I aim to present the best performances I can.”

Though Murakami may get lost in the shuffle in this field, he has the potential to be very entertaining.  Equipped with a triple Axel, the 18 year-old skates to a modern arrangement of West Side Story for the short program, and to music from the soundtrack of The Rock for the freeskate.

“I have two different programs this year,” Murakami explained. After my season ended earlier this year, my coach and I talked about how to grow into a different skater this season. We both felt we needed to take a new direction to grow into a better skater. We made a new show program to pop music for my exhibition program and got good feedback out of it, so used that concept and turned it into my new short program.”

Rippon’s more experienced teammates Jeremy Abbott and Johnny Weir are wildcards in this event.  Abbott, last year’s Grand Prix Final champion is a nervous skater who is just as likely to finish in last place as he is to win the event.

Abbott has beautiful bodyline, deep edges that are smooth and crisp, and beautiful jumps when he lands them.  However, the U.S. Champion has trouble maintaining focus in competition that often leads to disappointing results.  An off-season coaching change for Abbott might be exactly what he needed to trust his skating, and all of that will be tested in Japan.

Abbott skates to The Beatles’ A Day in the Life for the short program, and to Symphony No. 3 in C minor by Saint-Saens for the freeskate.

Weir’s inability to land a triple Axel in competition has carried over from the U.S. Championships last season to his first event in Moscow this season.  Weir salvaged a fourth place finish at the Rostelecom Cup in Russia, but the former World bronze medalist seems shaken by his recent inconsistency.

Weir skates as if his life is dependent on his success, and that makes him appear heavy and nervous.  Unlike in previous seasons when he regularly won Grand Prix medals, the 25 year-old doesn’t seem to have his usual flair or panache.  This competition will be a huge mental test for the three-time U.S. champion, and if he is able to overcome this hurdle, he might start to show signs of the diva that used to grace the ice.

This season, Weir’s programs are some of his most challenging to date, and they are choc full of difficulty.  If Weir wants to return to the international spotlight, now is the time.  A win would not only increase his chance of returning to the Grand Prix Final, but it could also be the mental breakthrough that he desperately needs.

Canada’s Jeremy Ten burst onto the international scene last year after winning a bronze medal at his national championships.  The medal earned the 20 year-old a trip to the Four Continents and World Championships where he finished seventh and 17th respectively.

This season, Ten returns to the Grand Prix after a respectable debut last year in which the 2007 Canadian Junior Champion placed seventh and 10th in his events.  Ten feels more prepared this season to compete with the top skaters in the world, and is looking forward to performing his programs for the Japanese crowd.

“This year my programs have more of a performance quality to them,” Ten explained.   “The delivery in the transitions in regards to the connection with the music weaves the whole program together into one whole cohesive unit.  This year my programs look more polished and I feel more like a senior skater whereas last year I looked like a junior trying to become a senior competitor.”

In Japan, Ten hopes to gain an understanding as to where his own skating measures up against some of the world’s best.

“My goal in Japan would be to skate two strong performances like I have been in practice and to see where I stack up against some of the top skaters in the world.”

Russia’s Artem Borodulin, who won the bronze medal at the Rostelecom Cup two weeks ago in Moscow will also compete in Nagano.  Borodulin skated to his personal best in Russia, but this field might prove to be too tough for the former Junior World silver medalist.  A medal here could be a ticket to his first Grand Prix Final.

Completing the roster are Canada’s Vaughn Chipeur (12th, 2009 Trophée Eric Bompard), the Czech Republic’s Michal Březina (2nd, 2009 Junior World Championships) in his Grand Prix debut, and Sweden’s Kristoffer Berntsson (8th, 2009 European Championships).

PAIRS

The pairs competition in Nagano will be a rematch between the gold and silver medalists from Rostelecom Cup in Moscow just two weeks ago.  China’s Qing Pang and Jian Tong won round one against Russia’s Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov quite easily, and could do the same in Kavaguti’s native Japan.

Pang and Tong are looking to earn a spot to compete in the Grand Prix Final for the sixth time, and will do that with a medal of any color in Japan.  The Four Continents Champions are on a roll, winning their last three Grand Prix events, including last year’s Final with impressive performances.

In Moscow, however, Pang and Tong were not without issue as the duo failed to execute successful solo triple jumps in both of their programs.  But the former World Champions were solid on everything else, showcasing their romantic style highlighted in their The Impossible Dream program.

Kavaguti and Smirnov made a major mistake in their The Swan short program in Russia when Kavaguti opened the program with a fall on a planned triple toe loop.  In the free skate, the Worlds bronze medalists earned a score just a few points less than their personal best, but they could not compete with the Chinese team’s grade of execution score.

In Japan, Kavaguti and Smirnov will qualify for their third Grand Prix Final with a gold or silver medal.  It could be a difficult homecoming for Japanese-born Kavaguti, though, as she relinquished her Japanese citizenship in December 2008 so that she could have the opportunity to represent Russia in the Olympic Games.  Earlier this year at the World Team Trophy, however, Kavaguti skated well representing Russia, and seemed to come away from the event unscathed.

U.S. National silver medalists Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett are making their Grand Prix debut in Japan, and are looking forward to skating their first full season together.

“We are looking forward to going back to Japan after going last April for the World Team Trophy,” Barrett explained.   “Our main goal for this competition is to show off our new programs, and to show everyone our improvement in our transitions.  Last year since we were such a new team we did not have much time to work on our transitions.”

Denney and Barrett have proven themselves to be incredibly consistent in their short time together, and competing on the Grand Prix will be a great test for the young team.  The pair has planned two new programs for the season; a short program to Firebird and a free skate to Scheherazade that seemingly match their athletic style.

In their debut season, Denney and Barrett showed that they have strong competitive nerve and are solid technically, but also that they have considerable work to do on their skating.

“After the season ended we knew to compete with the top teams internationally we would need to work on the transitions,” Barrett admitted. “We are going into Japan in great shape and very well trained and look forward to competing.”

A medal for the team would not be a shock due to the fact that they are so consistent, but winning the competition would be exceeding everyone’s expectations.  Denney and Barrett simply need to skate the way they always do in practice, and good results will come just as they did last season.

Denney and Barrett’s much-senior teammates Rena Inoue and John Baldwin are on the opposite end of the spectrum.  After skating together for eight seasons, the former American champions know everything about each other’s skating.  Inoue and Baldwin have had success on the international scene, qualifying for the Grand Prix Final twice and finishing 4th at the World Championships in 2006.

However, Inoue and Baldwin have not committed themselves to competitive skating the past couple of seasons, and their results have deteriorated because of their lack of training.  This season Inoue and Baldwin seem to have renewed their dedication to skating, and showed up prepared and competitive for their first competition in Paris.

Though Inoue and Baldwin are still struggling on their solo jumping passes, their signature throw triple Axel is back and just as good as ever.  A fourth place finish in Paris was a good start for the former Four Continents Champions, and it was even more impressive because they defeated the World Champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy in the free skate.

A medal is a definite possibility for Inoue and Baldwin, but a return trip to the Grand Prix Final might be out of reach.  The bigger picture for the pair is how they stack up against Denney and Barrett, as it could be a confidence builder as the season heads towards the U.S. National Championships.

Canadians Mylène Brodeur and John Mattatall burst onto the international scene last season, finishing 10th in their first trip to the World Championships.  The Canadian bronze medalists struggled in the short program in Russia two weeks ago, but rebounded in the free skate to finish in 6th place overall.

“Apparently the way to go in these competitions is to skate clean,” said Mattatall with his usual humor.  “We were really pleased with the way that the long went in Moscow, however the short needs to be much better for the rest of the year. We set ourselves so far behind by not skating so well in the short.”

Brodeur and Mattatall could sneak in for a medal in if they skate up to their potential, and the duo is aware of what they need to do to make that happen.

“In the long we’re hoping to improve components,” Mattatall explained.  “In the short just completing the big elements would be the best place to start.”

Also making their Grand Prix debut is the Japanese team of Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran, who have already qualified to skate in the Junior Grand Prix Final in December.  Junior teams are eligible to compete in one Grand Prix event, and Takahashi and Tran are excited to be making their debut in great company.

“We are very excited to compete on the Grand Prix circuit,” said a gushing Takahashi.  “It is our first senior Grand Prix, so we think this is our chance to show our potential to people. I am personally very excited to compete with Rena Inoue and Yuko Kavaguti.”

Takahashi (17) and Tran (19) have already pulled together an impressive resume.  In addition to competing at the  Junior Grand Prix Final last season, the young duo was selected to skate at the World Team Trophy in April.  This fall, Takahashi and Tran won a gold medal in Poland and a bronze medal in the United States to qualify for their second Junior Final.

In Nagano, Takahashi and Tran have modest goals.

“We want to land two throw triples and get level four lifts,” Takahashi said.  “We want to also perform our best and get a higher second mark.”

2008 Junior World Champions Ksenia Krasilnikova and Konstantin Bezmaternikh from Russia return to the Grand Prix after two seasons away.  Like Takahashi and Tran, Krasilnikova and Bezmaternikh competed on the Grand Prix while still skating on the junior level.  After three straight years of qualifying for and medaling at the Junior Grand Prix Final, Krasilnikova and Bezmaternikh are now competing only as senior skaters.

Finishing out the roster is the Canadian team of Paige Lawrence and Rudi Sweigers who were fourth both at their national championships and the Junior World Championships last season.  This is the duo’s debut on the Grand Prix.

DANCE

Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White head to Nagano with two wins under their belts in this young season, and will look to become the first dance team to earn a spot in the Final.  Their performance two weeks ago in Russia not only earned them a personal best score, but Davis and White have the highest total score of any team to have competed thus far this season.

“We were really excited that a lot of the judges and fans liked our programs because we were really excited about them,” Davis said with her usual grace.   “We worked really hard during the off-season, so to be able to debut (the programs) with a positive reaction was really very rewarding for us.”

The U.S. Champions steam-rolled their competition in Moscow, winning the title by more than 30 points, and even showed room for improvement by earning level three on several of their elements in both the original and free dances.

“We have a lot we plan on improving before we leave for Japan on Tuesday,” Davis admitted.  “We’ll work on everything from elements to transitions and on the tango since it’s the (compulsory) dance again at NHK. Our goals are to skate three solid and confident performances and continue to take steps towards building our programs to the top level of performance, both technically and artistically.”

Davis and White’s free dance to  The Phantom of the Opera is being hailed as a masterpiece by many fans, and could be the vehicle that the Four Continents Champions need in order to break through on the World and Olympic level.  Improvements in just about every facet of their skating can be seen, but they have shown most improvement in their speed, attack, and performance level.

Barring an injury, illness, or act of God, Davis and White should walk away with another win in Nagano, and should easily earn a second trip to the Grand Prix Final.

Sinead Kerr and John Kerr from Great Britain are returning to competition after winning the bronze medal in Paris a few weeks ago.  The Kerrs finished the compulsory dance in Paris in second place, but were unable to hold on to that position as the competition progressed.

“Our performances in Paris were pretty good,” said John, “but obviously we would have liked to finish ahead of Nathalie (Pechalat) and Fabian (Bourzat).  They are an excellent team though, so hopefully we can do it next time we come up against them.”

Fortunately for the Kerrs, they are aware of what improvements need to be made in each of their programs in order to climb up the standings, and they have been working on making those adjustments since Paris.

“We have been working on all the step sequences from our original and free dances as we only received level 2’s on all of them,” John explained.

The competition was so close in Paris that earning higher levels on those step sequences could have been enough to move them ahead of Pechalat and Bourzat.  In Japan, the Kerrs look to improve their standing, hoping to earn a gold or silver medal for the first time in a Grand Prix event.

“Our goal is to finish top two in Japan,” John said matter-of-factly.

And a top two finish should be well within their grasp.  With a gold medal, the Kerrs will earn their first trip to the Grand Prix Final, but with a silver medal, they will have to wait and see as other teams compete later in the series.

After a disappointing debut in Russia, Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier need to be at their best in Nagano to reestablish themselves as a team on the rise. The Canadian silver medalists were not able to perform at their best in Moscow, but are prepared to go full out in Nagano.

“Paul had the flu or food poisoning,” Crone remembered.  “It affected our free dance practice and the actual competition. We weren’t able to practice before the competition, and he was up the night before throwing up and in pain. But he got through it and was a trooper.”

Crone and Poirier were far off of their personal best scores, but the young Canadians showed promise in earning competent element levels in their free dance.

“We need to just keep our health in shape, work on expression, and improve our levels in footwork,” Crone declared.  “In Japan, we are hoping to have three clean skates with all the levels that we want and also hopefully medal.”

Russia’s Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev are making their international debut in Japan, and could be a threat to make the podium.  Last season the duo finished in fourth place at the NHK Trophy, and look to improve upon that placement in Nagano.

The 2007 Junior World Champions, like most of their teammates, come armed with a Russian folk original dance, and they have selected Tomaso Albinoni’s Adagio for their free dance.

The original dance is typical of Russian folk dances in terms of choreography, and the only element that sets the duo apart is the fact that they are both dressed like sailors.  The free dance conversely, takes advantage of Bobrova and Soloviev’s long lines and shows improved connection to the music and each other.  However, when they skated the program last month in a national competition in Perm, there was much room for improvement in terms of speed, attack, and precision.

The Ukrainian team of Anna Zadorozhniuk and Sergei Verbillo are coming off a fourth place finish at the Cup of China last week, and could challenge for the bronze medal in Nagano.  A third place finish would equal the duo’s highest finish in a Grand Prix event

Americans Jane Summersett and Todd Gilles return to the Grand Prix after a seventh place finish at last year’s Skate America.  Earlier in the season, Summersett and Gilles finished in a disappointing fifth place at the Finlandia Trophy, and will try to show that their recent coaching change was a sound decision.

Canadians Allie Hann-McCurdy and Michael Coreno (19th, 2008 World Championships) return to the Grand Prix after a disappointing season last year, while Japan’s Cathy and Chris Reed (16th, 2009 World Championships) will try to improve on their consecutive eighth place finishes at this event.

Rounding out the roster is Lucie Mysliveckova and Matej Novak of the Czech Republic (7th, 2009 Rostelecom Cup) and China’s Xintong Huang and Xun Zheng (7th place, 2009 Cup of China) who replace the injured World Champions Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin.

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