"Did they ever leave?" you ask. The answer is yes, for a few months. Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov took the rest of the season off after a subpar Europeans (and by "subpar," we are talking about a silver medal), with the goal of upping their technical difficulty en route to Pyeongchang. But they aren't the only story in the pairs event this week at the 2015 Skate America. This, like the ladies and the men, will be an exciting field.
2015 Skate America: Rocker predictions
GOLD Wenjing Sui/Cong Han CHN - The new World silver medalists experienced a surge in skating maturity last season, and it paid off tremendously, as they combined new-found artistry with their big tricks. I see them as the slight favorites this week, especially because I trust their consistency a bit more than I trust Stolbova/Klimov's, at least from how Stolbova/Klimov have been looking early this season. That quad twist could be the difference.
SILVER Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov RUS - They started their return with gold at Ondrej Nepela, showing off a new element, the side-by-side triple salchow. They have their throw triple salchow planned in the first half of their free skate, a clear sign that it could be upgraded to a quad salchow if it happens to be ready at some point this season. It will be interesting to see where they land this week. Their PCS were actually surprisingly low at Nepela (averaging low 8s, whereas we are used to seeing them at least the high 8s). Of course, that's one competition and it's tough to compare. But keep an eye on those PCS this week, they will tell you a lot about their potential trajectory this season.
BRONZE Alexa Scimeca/Chris Knierim USA - It's a great opportunity for the U.S. champs to get on the Grand Prix podium for the first time in their careers - and at home, no less. They grabbed silver at Nebelhorn Trophy with solid skating, including that quad twist they added last season. But they will need to be just a bit cleaner this week to stand on the podium. Shake that side-by-side rust off.
4. Kristina Astakhova/Alexei Rogonov RUS - Second behind Stolbova/Klimov at Ondrej Nepela, Astakhova/Rogonov actually won the free skate there, which certain bodes well for them. They took advantage of their teammates' break from last season and gained some valuable experience with berth to Worlds, where they finished tenth. I can't say they are the most exciting pair around right now, but they certainly tend to be reliable.
5. Tarah Kayne/Daniel O'Shea USA - Will we get a throw quad from the U.S. bronze medalists this week? Could happen. Kayne/O'Shea already debuted a new throw triple lutz, which is so good it looks like they have been doing it for years. Their increased technical difficulty could propel them and give them that dark horse status.
6. Julianne Seguin/Charlie Bilodeau CAN - The Canadian bronze medalists really turned a lot of heads last season, as they had a strong junior season and ended their year with an eighth-place debut at senior Worlds. But at Nebelhorn a few weeks ago, we saw a much more mistake-prone Seguin/Bilodeau, which we didn't see last year at all. It'll be interesting to see if that was a fluke or if it's some growing pains.
7. Xuehan Wang/Lei Wang CHN - I may have Wang/Wang seventh here right now, but they have potential to be top 4 or 5, for sure. They've got the Chinese pair tricks with artistry that you never used to see with Chinese teams that young. They are definitely more understated than other pair teams, which could work to their disadvantage this week in this field.
8. Jessica Pfund/Joshua Santillan USA - The new American pair has a lot of potential, recently taking bronze at Autumn Classic. It will be major international experience for them.