For some figure skating fans, the Olympic season started a few months ago. But for many, the Grand Prix series marks the beginning of the road to PyeongChang. And after the skaters had a few domestic events and ISU Challenger competitions under their belts, it's time for them to step up their game. And it all starts right here in Moscow this week at 2017 Rostelecom Cup.
For the men, all eyes will be on Yuzuru Hanyu and Nathan Chen, who are going up against each other for the first time since the World Championships, where Hanyu skated lights out in the free skate to win and Chen had boot troubles and wound up off the podium. Here's a look at the men's field at Rostelecom this week.
Rostelecom Cup predictions
GOLD Yuzuru Hanyu JPN - Skating observers know that early season success is not something that Hanyu is necessarily familiar with (or perhaps even care about). His eyes are on the Olympics, and everything else is just practice for him at this point. That said, he has to know that there are skaters making improvements and breathing down his neck, so there's a bit more at stake than usual at this first Grand Prix event. At Autumn Classic, Hanyu skated yet another magical short program, only to be undone by a messy free skate to finish behind Javier Fernandez. He's got Chen to battle here, and will need to take a step up to stay ahead.
SILVER Nathan Chen USA - He's already faced off against Fernandez and Shoma Uno this season - finishing sandwiched between the two at Japan Open two weeks ago. Chen's trajectory so far has been to slowly build up his technical content while he gets more comfortable with his programs. Three planned quads in the free at US Classic and five planned at Japan Open, you know he's not ramping up to full power yet. He's got a good shot at gold here, and a win over Hanyu this week will make a statement. But he will need to be cleaner than he's been this season so far, and he will need Hanyu to make a few mistakes.
BRONZE Mikhail Kolyada RUS - Might this be Kolyada's first Grand Prix podium finish? He comes into this season as the Russian champion and European bronze medalist, and after landing the quad lutz for the first time in competition just a few weeks ago. We know he can fall apart in a heartbeat - his short program at Nepela Trophy showed that. And we also know he can deliver great performances - his free skate at Nepela Trophy that vaulted him from 10th to 1st showed that. It'll be tough for him to challenge for the top two, but he's a solid bet for third here.
4. Misha Ge UZB - A lot of skating fans rejoiced when they saw Ge back on the ice at Autumn Classic after Worlds, where he had two career skates and alluded to retirement with nagging injuries and other potential roadblocks. But after a full summer as choreographer for a number of skaters, Ge laced his skates up again and made the decision to give this season a shot. He had a strong Autumn Classic, finishing fourth behind Fernandez, Hanyu, and Keegan Messing. He's one of the quadless skaters with consistent triples and incredible basics, and it will be that combination that will take him to the top half of this field.
5. Nam Nguyen CAN - Like many in the powerhouse skating countries, Nguyen is trying to make a case for a spot at the Olympics. In his instance, he's vying for presumably the second Canadian spot (with Patrick Chan all but guaranteed the other), and his performance at Autumn Classic was promising. He will need to put down a stronger free skate here, but he's got an outside shot at the podium.
6. Dmitri Aliev RUS - One of my highly anticipated senior debuts of the season, Aliev is the reigning World junior silver medalist and Junior Grand Prix Final champion. He's an all-around skater with musicality and basics beyond his years (and beyond most of his Russian teammates). He's also got a quad lutz to boot, but it's all about consistency for him, and if he puts it down this week, he's got a shot at the podium. Like Nguyen, Aliev is in a competitive fight for an Olympic spot, so Rostelecom will be a key event for him.
7. Grant Hochstein USA - We've seen brilliance on the Grand Prix from Hochstein before - two fourth-place finishes in 2015. But his season last year didn't really get hot until the U.S. Championships. Hochstein started off with a fourth-place at Nepela Trophy, though with this field, he will need to be a lot stronger to be a medal contender here. Key for him? Not doubling his quad toe.
8. Moris Kvitelashvili GEO - Kvitelashvili returns to Rostelecom Cup representing Georgia after representing Russia in 2014 when he made his Grand Prix debut. He's a different - and better - skater now, and we saw that at Worlds last season, where he was 13th. But he is as yet untested this season without any pre-Grand Prix competitions, so it remains to be seen whether he can continue the momentum that he had late last season.
9. Denis Ten KAZ - After injuring his ankle over the summer in practice for an ice show, Ten was determined to make a return to competition as soon as he could. And he did that last week at Cup of Nice, where he was fifth. But it's less about his results now as he is recovering from the injury and regaining training time, and more about him getting and staying healthy for the Olympics.
10. Deniss Vasiljevs LAT - Fourth at Lombardia a few weeks ago, Vasiljevs is back at Rostelecom for a second year in a row and looking to finish higher than his 11th place last season. Potentially without a quad and still somewhat inconsistent in his triples, Vasiljevs will need to be clean to even consider vying for the top half in this field.
11. Andrei Lazukin RUS - Two Challengers under his belt, and he was eighth at both, though he skated a good bit better at Finlandia, his second Challenger. Lazukin will be making his Grand Prix debut this week - he was fourth at Russian Nationals last year.
12. Daniel Samohin ISR - You never know what to expect from Samohin. He had a rough start to his season at US Classic, but that doesn't necessarily mean he won't have a completely different kind of competition here this week.