by Alexandra Stevenson
2013 Grand Prix Final Set to Begin in Fukuoka, Japan
The Grand Prix Senior and Junior Finals are being held in this busy, modern city of one and a half million. It sits on an island split by river in the south-west of Japan and is known for its splendid seafood and ancient ruins from the 15th century. It has very frequent air service to Tokyo, a two hour flight away. Although it has never hosted a major Figure Skating international before, popular ice shows have played here.
Entry for the Grand Prix Final is earned though participation in two Grand Prix events. The world champions in three of the four disciplines. will be were the top qualifiers. The current world and Olympic Ladies champion, Yu-na Kim, from South Korea, did not enter the Series and is currently in Zagreb, Croatia, intending to compete in the Golden Spin.
The last time the South Korean competed internationally was at the World Championships in London, earlier this year. That also was a comeback since she had not skated in an event of that level since Worlds in 2011. She won both titles.
The 23-year-old, who became a star of incredible magnitude in her country when she won Olympic gold in Vancouver, had planned to compete in two Grand Prix events, but, at the end of September, a metatarsal injury in her right foot grounded her for six weeks.
On Tuesday, in a press conference at the airport, she said she was “80 to 90% healed” and also declared she had “absolutely no pressure” to win in Sochi. “I’ve been slowly working myself back to competitive shape. Honestly, I need to improve my conditioning for the Olympics, which is the most important competition there is. But there is still some time to do that.”
Even without Kim, twice US champion Ashley Wagner faces tough opposition from former twice world champion and Olympic silver medalist, Mao Asada, and four young whipper-snaper Russians.
The most competitive event may be the Dance with the world’s top two couples, 2010 Olympic silver medalists and 2011 and current world champions, Meryl Davis & Charlie White face the only other couple of their level, the Olympic gold medalists and 2010 & 2012 world champions, Canada’s Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir, who come into this event with less points from the series than their American rink mates in Canton.
In the other disciplines, Mens and Pairs, the top contenders are coming into this event, having recently improved on their own world’s best scores. Canadians are now clenching teeth and wondering if their three-time world champion Patrick Chan has peaked too early. He faces three Japanese top competitors, Nobunari Oda, Yusuru Hanyu and Tatsuki Machida, who should be buoyed up by the home country advantage, along with the Russian, Maxim Kovtun, and the young 17-year-old, twice Chinese champion, Han Yan, who finished second to Chan three weeks ago in the Eric Bompard Trophy.
In pairs, Russia’s Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov are facing the Germans Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, the four-time world champions whom they dethroned earlier this year. The Germans had planned to retire from competition after the Vancouver Games. They went into that event as the reigning twice world champions and favorites but made mistakes and ended up with bronze. She then determined they should compete until the following Olympics and get gold there.
Volosozhar and Trankov were skating with different partners for different countries (she Ukraine, he Russia) in the 2010 Olympics. He finished 7th and she 8th. After sitting out a year, they started competing together.
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