For a second week in row, Wenjing Sui/Cong Han will be competing on the Grand Prix as they look to solidify their position as one of the favorites for Olympic gold. And while they are favored for gold here, there are other storylines from the other pairs here that are intriguing, especially as the race for Olympic spots heats up over the next two months.
NHK Trophy predictions
#GPFigure (no official hashtag / unofficial: #NHK17)
GOLD Wenjing Sui/Cong Han CHN - From the looks of their free skate, Sui/Han have concluded that they don't need to take the unnecessary risk of the quad salchow to find their way to the gold medal in PyeongChang. And it's a smart move, because with quad twist in hand and components for days, they really are looking to clean up the one element that has plagued them most, the side-by-side triple salchow. As with Tarasova/Morozov in Moscow a few weeks ago, it's not a matter of if Sui/Han will win here, it's a matter of how large a margin they win by.
SILVER Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov RUS - They have been uncharacteristically mistake-prone this season, but that hasn't diminished the spark from Stolbova/Klimov. They know that they trail the top pairs in the world in the big elements, but they also know that they can still play with the best of them. How close they can get to Sui/Han this week will be important as they try to figure out a way to get back onto the Olympic podium next February.
BRONZE Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Chris Knierim USA - Back on the Grand Prix for the first time since 2015, Knierim/Knierim come in with a different outlook on skating and a return to both of the programs they had for two competitions last season. They had a decent start to their season with a silver at US Classic, but they've had two more months to train since, so we should expect to see more solid performances in Osaka from them this week.
4. Kristina Astakhova/Alexei Rogonov RUS - Their bronze at Rostelecom Cup certainly gave them a boost in fighting for the third Russian pair spot in PyeongChang this season. Their main rivals for that spot, Natalia Zabiiako/Alexander Enbert, took a strong fourth in a deeper Skate Canada field a week thereafter, so Astakova/Rogonov know they can't have a letdown here at NHK.
5. Julianne Seguin/Charlie Bilodeau CAN - Things haven't seemed to click at the right time for Seguin/Bilodeau over the past season. Ever since Seguin's injury two seasons ago, their consistency has not been where they expect it to be. It's especially crucial this season, with Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro hot on their heels after a bronze last week at Cup of China. Two strong skates are really key for them as they look toward Canadians in January.
6. Miriam Ziegler/Severin Kiefer AUT - Sixth at Rostelecom Cup, Ziegler/Kiefer are looking to break into the top five here. Another skate like they had at Nebelhorn, when they qualified Austria (and themselves) the Olympic spot, could help them do just that.
7. Sumire Suto/Francis Boudreau-Audet JPN - Eighth at Rostelecom Cup a few weeks ago, Suto/Boudreau-Audet have been soldiering on this season without the Olympic spot qualification at Nebelhorn and having been less consistent than they were late last season. Even though Boudreau-Audet doesn't have his citizenship, it would have been a win for them to just qualify Japan that spot.
8. Miu Suzaki/Ryuichi Kihara JPN - The Japanese silver medalists are the strongest bet for the pair spot in the Olympic team event for Japan. They make their Grand Prix debut this week in hopes of getting some needed international exposure.