The last event of the Grand Prix series is nigh and tension will be high this weekend in Grenoble. Normally, Grand Prix Final spots are all but settled by this point in the season, but there are several spots still up for grabs for skaters who can rise to the occasion.
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Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès are the odds-on favourite for gold in Grenoble, but they could finish as low as fifth place and still qualify for the Final. The question, then, is not if James and Ciprès will win but how they’ll do it. This is a pair that has struggled with consistency before finally performing back-to-back clean programs at Skate Canada in October. Those clean skates were proof a a modern, sexy, and cool pairs team can dominate their competition. James and Ciprès are changing the pairs game, one be-dazzled and mesh-decked program at a time.
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Assuming they skate, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron should score an easy win this weekend. They withdrew from NHK Trophy when Cizeron suffered a back injury. Although they can’t qualify for the Final with a single event, their performance will have an outsized influence on which teams may qualify in their place. Every team in this field would much prefer if Papadakis and Cizeron didn’t skate this weekend: if they compete, 15 crucial qualifying points will likely go with them.
This leaves Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov, and the Parsons fighting for second place down. Existing placements favour Hawayek & Baker and Sinitsina & Katsalapov for the Final, who arrive at this competition with 15 and 13 qualifying points, respectively. Gilles and Poirier are the best team at Internationaux de France after Papadakis and Cizeron, but unfortunate mistakes at Skate Canada lowered their overall placement and scores. Remember: tiebreaks are decided in favour of the skaters with the highest overall score. The Parsons have the same number of incoming points as Gilles and Poirier (11), but their odds of placing higher than third are low given that this event is far more competitive than what they faced at NHK.
TL;DR: it’ll be a fight to the sequins for every single point this weekend.
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Evgenia Medvedeva or Rika Kihira? Medvedeva is armed with experience, Kihira with three planned triple axels. I’m betting on Medvedeva’s competitive fire burning brighter than Kihira’s rising star. Medvedeva’s short program mistakes at Skate Canada were, to me, uncharacteristic, and signs of a bad day out at the rink rather than a meltdown. She also looks happy, relaxed, and delighted to compete in the practice sessions in Grenoble–always a good sign.
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The only dude sitting exactly where he wants to be heading into this event is Nathan Chen. 15 points up and favoured to win, if Chen skates clean he should score his second Grand Prix gold medal of the season. Boyang Jin, Dmitri Aliev, and Jason Brown are all skating for pride: their Final qualification chances are exceedingly low due to sub-par performances in their first events. Much like Papadakis and Cizeron, Jin and Aliev are skating to determine the fortune of other skaters who have already completed their events. Junhwan Cha is on the cusp of qualification: as long as neither Aliev nor Alexander Majorov win this weekend, his spot is secure. A win for Jin along with a top 5 finish for Chen would also throw a wrench in Cha’s qualification.
Qualification Math™ aside, expect all of the men to skate just a little bit harder this weekend. With Yuzuru Hanyu’s competition status up in the air due to injury, the fight for a first alternate position is just as heated as an outright qualification. Keegan Messing is holding that spot, but Jin or Aliev would bump him out of that alternate position if either skater finishes second. In the meantime, #CandlesforHanyu.
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