Tuesday, November 8, 2011

NHK Trophy Ladies Preview

Akiko Suzuki is back for her second event after capturing the silver medal at Skate Canada and winning the free skate ahead of Russian phenom Elizaveta Tuktamisheva.  Tuktamisheva had a near perfect performance and tons of technical prowess, but Akiko Suzuki's ease and presentation on the ice along with her infectious personality gave her the edge.  Suzuki's free skate wasn't perfect, singling two jumps, but she showed just how competitive she can be even with errors.  If she can get her free skate clean, she should have an easy win here.

Ashley Wagner took home the bronze medal from Skate Canada.  She changed coaches during the off season and the new training method seems to be working.  She struggled with her lutz in her free skate, but every other element was clean with positive GOEs.  She's always been a very expressive skater and a fighter in the free skate.  If she can keep herself in contention after the short and clean up the lutz, she has a good shot at another medal here and her larger goal: making the U.S. World team.

Alena Leonova didn't look like the skater who nearly medaled at Worlds last season.  She has a triple+triple combination in her free skate but her program fell apart after that point, full of under-rotations, edge calls and singled jumps.  She has changed to a new coach and is showing off a more understated side to her skating.  I think she still needs time to develop and settle into these programs and get used to the new jump technique but I don't think that will have happened in time for her to really challenge for the podium here.

A trio of ladies are making their season debuts with eyes on the podium.  Mao Asada had a disappointing season last year, failing to medal in either of her Grand Prix events and finishing 6th at Worlds.  She didn't perform at the Japanese test skates due to illness and was off the ice to recover.  She has a wonderful free skate choreographed by Lori Nichol that she is using again this season.  It never quite reached it's full potential last season and if skated right, it could be brilliant.  She is capable of triple axels, but stepped away from them last year to really focus on her other jumps.  If she lands the triple axels, she has sometimes struggled with the other jumps in the program.  If she's back to 100% with the confidence to land her elements she'll be a big threat for the top of the podium.

Kiira Korpi is reviving my favorite ladies short program of last season, her elegant, refined Somewhere Over the Rainbow.  The program has all the technical elements, including a triple+triple combination but is choreographed brilliantly and suits Kiira perfectly.  She has shown that she can be extremely competitive when she hits everything, winning the gold at Trophee Eric Bompard last season.  But if everyone else is skating clean, her scores are not usually high enough to keep her in the mix.

Agnes Zawadzki finished 3rd at World Juniors last season, right behind Adelina Sotnikova and Elizaveta Tuktamisheva, who have both won medals on the Grand Prix this season.  Zawadzki is in her second season on the Grand Prix and had impressive short programs to put her in medal contention in both of her events.  She let the nerves get to her in her free skates and missed a chance to win a Grand Prix medal in her debut season.  She has a triple + triple combination and recently changed coaches and Christy Krall is on her coaching team (she also coaches Patrick Chan).  She has a lot of spunk and personality on the ice and huge jumps and if she can land them here, she has a shot at her first Grand Prix medal.

My podium predictions:
Gold: Akiko Suzuki
Silver: Mao Asada
Bronze: Ashley Wagner

Bios of the competitors:
Cynthia Phaneuf, CAN: She finished 13th at Worlds and 6th at Four Continents.  She finished 7th at Skate Canada.  Her personal best is 177.54.  She is 23 years old.

Kiira Korpi, FIN: She finished 9th at Worlds and is the reigning European bronze medalist. She finished 4th at NHK Trophy and won gold at Trophee Eric Bompard.  She is the 2007 European bronze medalist.  Her personal best is 169.74.  She is 23 years old.

Mae Berenice Meite, FRA: She finished 14th at Worlds and 9th at Europeans.  She placed 8th at Skate America and 9th at Trophee Eric Bompard last season.  Her personal best is 150.44.  She is 17 years old.

Elene Gedevanishvili, GEO: She finished 10th at Worlds and 9th at Europeans.  She placed 7th at Skate America.  She is the 2010 European Bronze medalist.  Her personal best is 164.54.  She is 21 years old.

Mao Asada, JPN: She finished 6th at Worlds and is the reigning Four Continents silver medalist.  She placed 8th at NHK Trophy and 5th at Trophee Eric Bompard last season.  She is the 2010 Olympic silver medalist; the 2008 and 2010 World Champion; 2007 World silver medalist; 2008 and 2010 Four Continents Champion; 2009 Four Continents bronze medalist; 2005 World Junior Champion and 2006 World Junior silver medalist.  Her personal best is 205.50.  She is 21 years old.

Shoko Ishikawa, JPN: Her personal best is 119.63.  She is 21 years old.

Akiko Suzuki, JPN: She finished 7th at Four Continents last season.  She won silver at Skate Canada.  She qualified for the Grand Prix Final last season and finished 4th.  She is the 2010 Four Continents silver medalist.  Her personal best is 181.44.  She is 26 years old.

Alena Leonova, RUS: She finished 4th at Worlds and 5th at Europeans.  She finished 4th at Skate Canada.  She is the 2009 World Junior Champion.  Her personal best is 183.92.  She is 20 years old.

Ashley Wagner, USA: She won bronze at Skate Canada.  She is the 2007 and 2009 World Junior bronze medalist.  Her personal best is 167.02.  She is 20 years old.

Agnes Zawadzki, USA: She is the reigning World Junior bronze medalist.  She placed 6th at Skate Canada and 4th at Cup of Russia last season.  She is the 2010 World Junior silver medalist.  Her personal best is 161.07.  She is 17 years old.

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