This week's Cup of China will be the fifth event in the Grand Prix Series, so that means that we are closing in on six qualifiers in each discipline for the Grand Prix Final. And of the last two events left before the Final, Cup of China will be the more competitive one on the ladies' side. We have five medalists from earlier Grand Prix events, plus two others who finished fourth. And all told, eight skaters have a realistic chance of finishing on the podium. Prepare yourselves for a wild ride in Beijing.
Cup of China Predictions
Unofficial hashtag: #CoC16
GOLD Ashley Wagner USA - The World silver medalist won Skate America to lead off the Grand Prix Series, but I'd be surprised if she felt entirely satisfied with the win. Her free skate was just a tad messier than she would've liked, and neither triple-triple in her two programs were called clean. But what was more revealing was what we saw in practice - that she was more than capable of landing everything cleanly, but she was just not quite ready to put it all together in the programs. Before this season, that win at Skate America would have been more than satisfying, but the expectations on Wagner and her standards for herself have skyrocketed, and you better believe she comes to Beijing ready to skate clean.
SILVER Elena Radionova RUS - Second at Rostelecom Cup two weeks ago, Radionova gave us a sense of where her new normal is. Clean programs are no longer a given for her, and her jumps aren't as effortless as they were when she first debuted on the Grand Prix. But her fight is undeniable, and that's what gets her through her programs now. Is it sustainable? We will have to see. But I see her persevering onto the podium and the Grand Prix Final again this week.
BRONZE Kaetlyn Osmond CAN - Osmond has "potential upset" written all over her skating this week. In some ways, it wouldn't be an upset - after all, she's got the highest total score this season out of all of the women in the field, and she's no stranger to winning Grand Prix events. The upset factor comes in because she is just not known for consistency. Her Skate Canada performances were superb, and if she repeats that this week, it will not only get her up there and into the Grand Prix Final, but also put her back in the conversation of medal contenders at Worlds later this season.
4. Mai Mihara JPN - Mihara made a stunning Grand Prix debut a few weeks ago, where she took bronze behind Wagner and Mariah Bell. It was her consistency that got her on that podium, and it will be her consistency again this week that will make her a contender. She lags in components among the other top women here, and that's perhaps what will prevent her from getting that second GP medal this week.
5. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva RUS - Fourth at Skate Canada, Tuktamysheva noted there that she may re-introduce her triple axel in Beijing this week. That, of course, was the element that propelled her to her World title two seasons ago. But since then, many of her chief competitors have leapfrogged her in components, particularly after her very inconsistent follow-up season last year after her Worlds win. The triple axel, though, could serve as a game changer here.
6. Zijun Li CHN - Li's fourth-place finish at Rostelecom Cup was her highest placement in a Grand Prix since 2012, and it came as a result of stronger skating overall and consistency in her jumps. But in this field, she is at a technical disadvantage in the free skate, where she will likely not have a triple lutz (she's reworked her technique and now does a true lutz out of an outside edge). But consistency can go a long way here.
7. Courtney Hicks USA - Hicks skated very well in the free skate at Rostelecom Cup to earn her second career Grand Prix medal. She's known for being a big jumper, and her success in the technical department is always the key to her success at any competition. Skating fans will remember that she almost became the spoiler at NHK Trophy, when she beat both Wagner and Mao Asada and almost knocked both of them out of the Final. Could she possibly surprise once again to make a run at the Grand Prix Final?
8. Rika Hongo JPN - Top ten at Worlds for the last two seasons, Hongo seems to have stagnated a bit recently, both in her jumps and her overall skating. And that hasn't helped her assert herself as one of the very top skaters in the world. Her finishes this season have been middling (fourth at Challenger and sixth at Skate Canada). It will be interesting to see where she figures among the Japanese women this season, and her placement and performance this week could say a lot about it.
9. Karen Chen USA - U.S. bronze medalist two years ago, Chen has had a tough time living up to those early expectations since. There've been boot issues, which were accompanied by a slew of inconsistent performances that kept her from capitalizing on that success. She was third at U.S. Classic earlier this season on the heels of one of the best free skates we've seen from her since that Nationals podium finish. Two clean programs could vault her up into dark horse territory.
10. Joshi Helgesson SWE - Helgesson was tenth a few weeks back at Skate Canada to start her Grand Prix series. She skated solidly, but will need to clean up a lot of underrotations to figure in the conversation in Beijing.
11. Ziquan Zhao CHN - 11th at Cup of China last year, the reigning Chinese champion will need all of her jumps to be competitive enough to land in the top ten.
12. Xiangning Li CHN - Li makes her senior Grand Prix debut at home this week. In this field, she will definitely be taking it as a learning experience, as it's tough to see her finishing in the top ten here.