This is shaping up to be one of the most exciting Japan Opens ever - and that's quite a statement considering the incredible lineups we always get at this event. As Challenger series events are becoming more popular for the top skaters, we are seeing more skaters starting their season earlier than Japan Open. In fact, we have already seen all but one of the Olympic-eligible skaters competing in Saitama this week (Alexei Bychenko) in September competitions, so we have some idea of what to expect.
Note too, that unlike World Team Trophy or the Team Event at the Olympics, the team component of this competition is scored based on the scores rather than placements, so the margin of victory plays more into the overall results than just the individual placements.
Here's a preview (and my first preview of the Olympic season!) of the 2017 Japan Open.
2017 Japan Open preview
- Saturday, October 7, 2017: 8:30 p.m. (10/6) PT / 11:30 p.m. (10/6) ET / 12:30 p.m. Saitama - likely won't be streamed live
1. Team Japan
2. Team Europe
3. Team North America
The home team brings some firepower on both sides. So far this season, Shoma Uno had the biggest debut of any of the men, hitting two super programs at Lombardia Trophy. He is certainly favored to win the men's event here, and that will do a lot to keeping Japan ahead. The Japanese women are solid and consistent and should put up very good numbers, particularly being in front of a home crowd. Mai Mihara and Marin Honda have both hit very strong programs already this season, and I expect them to do the same here.
But the silver bullet might be Nobunari Oda, who looks just as solid (if not more so) as a pro than he did when he was Olympic-eligible. Don't forget that he surprised everyone last year at this event with one of the best free skates of his career. It's amazing what the lack of pressure can do to a person's skating. Team Japan should be the odds-on favorite to win this one.
The Europeans will excel in the ladies' event - with Evgenia Medvedeva and Alina Zagitova being the favorites there. Both of them have 140s potential written all over their programs, and they have already hit those huge numbers this season. It's also not lost on skating fans that this will be their first head-to-head in international competition.
A couple weeks after handing training mate Yuzuru Hanyu a defeat at Autumn Classic, Javier Fernandez is back to face off against more rivals. He will be looking to put down a better free skate than he did in Montreal. His consistency will say a lot about whether or not Europe can challenge for the top spot. But in a lot of ways, Team Europe's chances will be determined by the rookie, Alexei Bychenko, who will make his Japan Open debut this week. Of the men here, Bychenko is the biggest unknown, partly because he hasn't competed yet this season.
Team North America
I mean, they might as well have just called it Team USA, because it will be an all-American Team North America this week. It's looking to be a potentially close call between Europe and North America. Scoring will very likely be led by Nathan Chen and his arsenal of quads, but his ceiling may be lower than usual. If US Classic was any indication, he may not be bringing the kind of firepower that he will bring later on in the season. The wildcard here will be Jeremy Abbott, who has shown some great skating in the past two Japan Opens. He's serious about this competition, and while we'll probably not see a quad from him, don't be surprised to see a clean 8-triple program.
On the ladies' side, it'll be Karen Chen and Mirai Nagasu, and in some ways, this matchup goes beyond Japan Open and provides a glimpse into the arc of the season for the U.S. women. Nagasu beat Chen a few weeks back at US Classic. Another Nagasu win here will no doubt bolster her case for the Olympics. But as far as Japan Open is concerned, Chen and Nagasu have solid scoring potentials. Their consistency relative to the Russians and the Japanese will be very crucial to Team North America's chances at challenging Europe.