First Patrick Chan, then Mao Asada, now Tatiana Volosozhar/Maxim Trankov. One by one, the big names keep coming back to the Grand Prix for more ... not unlike the skating fans, it seems. Volosozhar/Trankov comes back to a completely changed atmosphere of pairs skating, one that is jam-packed with quad elements, some of which we will see this week.
Rocker Predictions: 2015 Trophee Eric Bompard
GOLD Tatiana Volosozhar/Maxim Trankov RUS - TEB won't be their first competition back since the Olympics. In fact, we've already familiarized ourselves with Volosozhar/Trankov's new programs, one of which is a Bollywood piece, quite a pleasantly-surprising departure from their generally classical style. And while they are still growing into that program, it's nice to see that they are pushing their stylistic envelope. What they are banking on is their components prowess, because they aren't planning (nor have they even hinted at working on) quad elements. But they have gotten a throw triple flip and finally upgraded their combo in the free skate to a three-jumper, indicating that that they are well-aware of what their challengers are doing. It also means that they need to avoid mistakes to take gold.
SILVER Evgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov RUS - Silver at Skate Canada, Tarasova/Morozov are looking to make it two Russian pairs on the podium this week in Bordeaux. They have incredible quality in all their elements, and like their teammates, there won't be a quad this week from them. But their quality and consistency is what will put medals around their necks in this competition.
BRONZE Cheng Peng/Hao Zhang CHN - Already with one quad in hand (quad twist), Peng/Zhang are experimenting with a throw quad salchow this season. Zhang has done that element successfully with previous partner Dan Zhang, but this is a new addition for Peng. And in practice this week, we've seen an almost concussion-inducing fall on one of their attempts (as if we haven't heard enough about concussions this week), so it may not be ready for primetime. Fans will remember that Zhang/Zhang had one of the most spectacular falls (and subsequent comebacks) in Olympic history in Torino, on that exact element. Keep your fingers crossed if they launch that element this week. I do get the feeling, though, that they will skate a strong short that will keep them on the podium with a messier free skate.
4. Julianne Seguin/Charlie Bilodeau CAN - Could the Canadian bronze medalists pull off another Russian upset this week? Seguin/Bilodeau edged out Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov at the start of the GP at Skate America for bronze. They showed some early shakiness at the beginning of the season but dialed it way up at Skate America. They've upgraded some of their elements but don't have the technical to compete with Peng/Zhang nor the international respect to compete with Tarasova/Morozov ... at least not yet. That said, they have the best shot at podium if they can put two clean skates together and see some mistakes from the top.
5. Marissa Castelli/Mervin Tran USA - This is a fantastic pair, and they have so much potential to hob-nob with the best in the world. Now to get that technical mark up ... they are showing improvements on the side-by-sides, which have so far been their biggest achilles. But it's important to note that they still haven't mastered a second big throw in their free skate, which keeps them from being podium-competitive. Still, a 170+ overall score (their score at Skate Canada) for iffy side-by-sides and a weak second throw makes a big statement about where their trajectory is if they can get those elements right.
6. Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres FRA - Bronze at Nebelhorn a few weeks ago, the three-time French champions are hoping to salvage some home crowd lovin' with teammates Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron and Florent Amodio out of the competition with injuries. They too have been toying with the quad salchow in practice.
7. Nicole Della Monica/Matteo Guarise ITA - The three-time Italian silver medalists were sixth here last year. They are coming off a career-high sixth at Europeans last season.
8. Miriam Ziegler/Severin Kiefer AUT - Sixth at Skate Canada, Ziegler/Kiefer have very strong solo elements, including a side-by-side triple lutz, which they showed off in Lethbridge two weeks ago.