The Shibutanis had a record setting debut season, becoming the first ice dance team to medal at both their Grand Prix events in their first senior season and winning the bronze medal in the first North American sweep of the ice dance podium at Worlds. They have a charming style on the ice and an infectious joy in their skating that is hard not to love. In addition, they have amazing technical prowess, easily earning Level 4s on their elements with some of the fastest and cleanest twizzles in ice dance. They're not quite at the level to catch their training mates Davis and White and Virtue and Moir but they're poised to take home their first Grand Prix gold.
Bobrova and Soloviev had a breakout season last year, earning their first Grand Prix medals, including one gold, and qualifying for the Grand Prix Final. They also won the silver medal at Europeans and finished in the top 6 at Worlds. They struggled to find the right packaging last season and while their free dance was nice it was also forgettable. With so many top Russian junior dance teams making the climb into the senior ranks, they'll have to take some risks if they want to maintain their spot at the top.
Lichtman and Copely are making their Grand Prix debut at this event. They were the lone American team in the Junior Grand Prix Final last season and won the bronze medal at Junior Worlds. They have the same coaches as the Shibutanis but I don't expect them to have the same breakout season the Shibutanis had. Lichtman has very long limbs and can create great lines but she doesn't always use all that length to her advantage by really stretching through her legs. They scrapped their original free dance and have switched to Austin Powers which suits them perfectly and should be a real crowd pleaser.
This is a weaker field than some of the dance events and gives Carron and Jones of France a chance to win their first Grand Prix medal. They changed their free dance at Worlds to a Gershwin medley which was the perfect program for them. If they can find this momentum early in the season they could have a breakout year.
I don't think the Chinese teams will contend for the podium here, but they have been taking notes from the North American teams and I was impressed at their improvements at Four Continents. They're really pushing this discipline and I can see them catching up to the rest of the world by Sochi.
My podium predictions:
Bios of the competitors:
Huang/Zheng, CHN: They finished 17th at Worlds and 6th at Four Continents. They placed 5th at Cup of China and Trophee Eric Bompard last season. Their personal best is 130.29. She is 24 and he is 24.
Yu/Wang, CHN: They finished 7th at Four Continents. They placed 9th at NHK Trophy and 8th at Cup of China last season. Their personal best is 125.75. She is 25 and he is 25.
Carron/Jones, FRA: They finished 12th at Worlds and 9th at Four Continents. They placed 5th at Skate Canada and 4th at Trophee Eric Bompard last season. Their personal best is 140.86. She is 25 and he is 23.
Coomes/Buckland, GBR: They finished 16th at Worlds and 14th at Europeans. They placed 8th at NHK Trophy and Skate America last season. Their personal best is 126.29. She is 22 and he is 22.
Bobrova/Soloviev, RUS: They finished 6th at Worlds and are the reigning European silver medalists. They won silver at Cup of China and gold at Cup of Russia last season to qualify for the Grand Prix Final where they finished 4th. They are the 2007 World Junior Champions. Their personal best is 161.14. She is 21 and he is 22.
Lichtman/Copely, USA: They are the reigning World Junior bronze medalists. They won gold at JGP Austria and bronze at JGP Germany last season to qualify for the JGPF where they finished 5th. Their personal best is 133.36. She is 18 and he is 22.
Samuelson/Gilles, USA: This is their Grand Prix debut.
Shibutani/Shibutani, USA: They are the reigning World bronze medalists and Four Continents silver medalists. They won bronze at NHK Trophy and Skate America last season. They are the 2009 World Junior silver medalists. Their personal best is 163.79. She is 17 and he is 20.