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A Not So Grand Prix

by George S Rossano

(6 Oct 2020)  Details are finally emerging for the organization of the 2020/21 ISU Grand Prix Competitions.  About all that can be said of this year's series is, It's better than nothing, but not much better.

After the cancelation of the 2020 World Championships in Montreal, and most other competitions world-wide, including the ISU Junior Grand Prix series, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the ISU announced on 4 August it would go forward with the six senior Grand Prix competitions, in a limited way.  These competitions, it was decided, will be regionally organized competitions, and skaters will compete in only one of the six competitions.

Per the ISU, participation in each individual Grand Prix competition is limited to

 i) Competitors and Officials of the host country and
ii) Competitors regularly training in the respective host country and
iii) Competitors from other ISU Members who will be assigned to a Grand Prix of Figure Skating event in the respective geographical area, always subject to the applicable travel, entry and sanitary restrictions of the concerned countries.

The organization of this year's series is driven primarily by the difficulty of travelling between countries in the midst of the pandemic.  Many of the host countries require a 14 day quarantine period upon arrival, making attending two competitions in a series of six competitions in a row, nearly impossible, and even attending just one competition outside the country were you live difficult.

Currently, persons cannot travel between any of the Grand Pix countries (Canada, China, France (EU), Japan, Russia and the United States) without quarantining for 14 days upon arrival, or in many cases cannot travel between the countries at all.  For example, persons from the United states are not allowed at all into any of the other five Grand Prix countries.

Travel restrictions mean that each Grand Prix will primarily be limited to skaters from the Grand Prix host country, or foreign skaters who train within the Grand Prix country.  Some host countries have sufficient foreign skaters training in that country to make a semblance of an international competition.  Others will be nothing more than national competitions under the banner of the ISU.

In order to reduce the risk of spread of Covid-19 the Grand Prix competitions will not be business as usual.  Each competition will be subject to the health regulations of the country and region in which they are held.  A hint for how these competition are likely to be organized can be seen in the organization of the recent Nebelhorn Trophy (see the side article on Covid-19 from our coverage of the Nebelhorn competition.)  The "bubble" approach announced for Skate America, with no spectators, is another example.

The Gran Prix Final presented another challenge, and on 30 September the ISU announced the cancellation/postponement of the final.  With the cancellation of the Junior Grand Prix competitions there would have been no Junior Final, regardless.  With skaters being allowed to compete in only one competition, qualification to a final would be problematic.  There was, however, no guarantee that a Final could even be held, as extreme travel restrictions will likely be in place in early December.  Currently all foreigners are prohibited from entering China.  The fate of the Final is further complicated by the fact that the Final is supposed to be the test competition for the 2022 Beijing Olympic Winter Games.  How this requirement might be met is TBD.  One possibility is that the Four Continents Championships in Australia could be moved to Beijing.  Another is moving the World Junior Championships from Harbin, China to Beijing.  A purpose organized competition might also be held.

Here's what we know about the Grand Prix competitions two weeks out

Skate America - Las Vegas, NV, USA

Persons from the following countries may not enter the United States: China, Iran, EU, UK, Republic of Ireland, Brazil.  Nevada currently does not have a quarantine requirement when entering the state.

Spectators will not be allowed, per requirements of the Nevada Gaming Control Board.  A contact "bubble" will be created to reduce contact between participants and the public.

Skate America will have a high quality field of competitors among the U.S. skaters, and some international variety in the Men's event.

Tentative Schedule:Thursday, October 22, 2020

  • All day Official practice

 Friday, October 23, 2020

  •  Morning Official Practice
  • LADIES Short Program  16:10
  • MEN Short Program 18:00
  • PAIRS Short Program  19:50
  • ICE DANCE Rhythm Dance  21:30

Saturday, October 24, 2020

  • Morning Official Practice
  • LADIES Free Skating  11:00
  • MEN Free Skating  13:05
  • PAIRS Free Skating  18:50
  • ICE DANCE Free Dance  20:25
  • Victory Ceremonies (Pairs, Ice Dance, Ladies, Men)

There will be no made for broadcast exhibition.

Skate Canada - Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Entry to Canada for foreigners is severely restricted, with entry prohibited entirely or limited to essential travel only.  A 14 day quarantine period is required for those allowed to enter.

Skate Canada will have a middling quality field of competitors, but with more international variety than most of the Grand Prixs.  Jason Brown will be at Skate Canada as will Satoko Miyahara, while Keegan Messing and Stephen Gogolev will be at Skate America.

Cup of China - Chongqing, China

Currently all foreigners are prohibited from entering China.  Consequently all entries will be from China and a total of only 21 entries for the competition are announced, with many still TBD.

Other than Boyang Jin and Wenjing Sui & Cong Han, who are assigned to this competition, in general this will be one of the weaker competitions.

Skate France - Grenoble, France

Entry to the EU for foreigners is severely restricted, with entry prohibited entirely or limited to essential travel only.  Entry from the Japan, Russia and the United States is forbidden.  There are few travel restrictions within the EU and between the EU and the UK.

Due to the permitted mobility within the EU and a small number of other countries, Skate France will have a fairly high quality field of competitors and the most international variety of all the Grand Prix competitions.  In that respect, Skate France is the most interesting of the competitions. Skaters of note include Shoma Uno, Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron and Rika Kihira.

Rostelcom Cup - Moscow, Russia

Entry to Russia for foreigners is severely restricted, with entry prohibited entirely or limited to essential travel only. All foreign travelers must present a negative PCR COVID-19 test result upon arrival, dated no later than three days prior to arrival in Russia. The results can be in English and/or digital. Foreign travelers must also complete an arrival form and present it to customs upon arrival in Russia.  A 14 day quarantine period is not required upon entry.

Most of the best Russian skaters will be competing, giving this event a high level of competition. A handful of skaters from some eastern European countries, and one from Israel, are also assigned.  Watching the many Russian ladies cheat their triple Axels and quads and be effusively rewarded for it, is sure to be a prime attraction for this competition.

NHK - Osaka, Japan

Entry to Japan for foreigners is severely restricted, with entry prohibited entirely or limited to essential travel only.  A PCR test at the arrival airport and a subsequent 14 day quarantine period is required for those allowed to enter.

Due to entry restriction NHK will limited to Japanese skaters.  There will be no pairs event and three couples in the Ice Dance event.  The competition will have a total of only 26 entries.  The overall level is middling at best.

Final, Beijing, China

Cancelled or postponed.  Currently, entry into China for all foreigners is prohibited.

A side note

Prior to Europeans and the Four Continent Championships, skaters will be judged primarily from their own geographic region.  Few judges will end the year having seen the top skaters on the ice from around the world.  There are few top level head-to-head skater matchups in the Grand Prix.  This leads one to wonder, how will the judges work their behind the scenes politics if they haven't seen most of the skaters until the championships take place?  Is it possible the nature of the Grand Prix this season will force the judges at the 2021 Championships to judge what they see on the ice and not their pre-conceived notions?