Both Kavaguti and Smirnov and Savchenko and Szolkowy have qualified for the Grand Prix Final and are competing in their third event of the season and their second head to head competition. Kavaguti/Smirnov have two gold medals and their Claire de Lune program was magical at their first event but lost some of its sparkle in the second event. Kavaguti is also suffering from a shoulder injury and competed with muscle tape covering her back and arms at their last event. Savchenko and Szolkowy opened their season with a gold medal finish at Skate America with a come behind victory after she fell on the triple axel attempt in the short program. They have yet to land the jump but are getting credit for full rotation. They dropped to 3rd at NHK Trophy after they aborted a lift at the end of their free skate.
Berton and Hotarek caught the attention of many at Europeans last season and finished 4th at NHK Trophy earlier this season. If they can win gold or silver they'll qualify for the Final. With both top teams already qualified, they may be taking this opportunity to try out some new elements which could lead to errors and give Berton and Hotarek the opening they need to qualify.
Three teams are making their debut on the Grand Prix circuit for the season. Jones and Gaskell of Canada and Cain and Reagan of the United States are both coming up from the junior ranks. The real spoiler will be Gerboldt and Enbert of Russia who have an incredibly elegant and classically Russian style on the ice and finished in the top 4 at Europeans last season but missed a chance at Worlds due to the depth of the Russian pairs discipline.
Volosozhar/Trankov, Kavaguti/Smirnov, Savchenko/Szolkowy, Zhang/Zhang and Takahashi/Tran have already qualified for the Final. If Berton/Hotarek finish 3rd or lower than Duhamel/Radford will claim the last spot in the Final.
My podium predictions:
Bios of the competitors:
Jones/Gaskell, CAN: They finished 6th at Junior Worlds. They placed 6th at JGP Austria and 4th at JGP Germany last season to qualify for the JGP Final where they finished 6th. Their personal best is 133.41. She is 15 and he is 21.
Savchenko/Szolkowy, GER: They are the reigning World Champions and European Champions. They won gold at Skate America and bronze at NHK Trophy to qualify for the Grand Prix Final. They qualified for the Grand Prix Final last season and won gold. They are the 2010 Olympic bronze medalists; the 2009 and 2008 World Champions; 2010 World silver medalists; 2007 World bronze medalists; 2009, 2008 and 2007 European Champions; and the 2010 and 2006 European silver medalists. Their personal best is 217.85. She is 27 and he is 32.
Berton/Hotarek, ITA: They finished 10th at Worlds and 5th at Europeans. They placed 4th at NHK Trophy. Their personal best is 164.83. She is 21 and he is 27.
Gerboldt/Enbert, RUS: They placed 4th at Europeans. They placed 4th at Cup of Russia last season. Their personal best is 169.95. She is 22 and he is 22.
Kavaguti/Smirnov, RUS: They finished 4th at Worlds and are the reigning European silver medalists. They won gold at Cup of China and NHK Trophy to qualify for the Grand Prix Final. They are the 2009 and 2010 World bronze medalists, 2010 European Champions, 2009 European silver medalists and 2008 European bronze medalists. Their personal best is 213.15. She is 29 and he is 27.
Stolbova/Klimov, RUS: They are the reigning World Junior Silver Medalists. They placed 7th at Trophee Eric Bompard. They qualified for the Junior Grand Prix Final last season and won silver. They are the 2010 World Junior bronze medalists. Their personal best is 159.79. She is 19 and he is 21.
Cain/Reagan, USA: They finished 4th at Junior Worlds. They won silver at JGP Czech Republic and placed 6th at JGP Great Britain last season to qualify for the JGPF where they finished 5th. Their personal best is 135.40. She is 16 and he is 22.