It's like every time I look at the next discipline at this week's Skate America, I am completely at a loss for how the standings will pan out. That happened with the men and with the ladies, and now it's happening with the pairs. There looks to be a pretty clear fight between two pairs for gold, but each of the other six pairs have the potential to get on the podium. So if you do the math right, that means ALL EIGHT pairs have medal potential. And that doesn't bode well for my predictions. So there, I'm done.
Skate America predictions
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GOLD Julianne Seguin/Charlie Bilodeau CAN - Oh what a season last year could have been for them. Seguin/Bilodeau were on their way to their best season ever - fourth at Grand Prix Final, second at Canadians - when Seguin had an injury late in the season that took them out of Worlds. Not a problem, though, as they picked up right where they left off with a win at Autumn Classic earlier in the season. They are one of two pairs in this competition to have side-by-side triple loops, a relatively novel element for pairs. That upgrade, plus a vastly-improved twist and more mature skating, should serve them well to win their first Grand Prix title.
SILVER Evgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov RUS - Fifth at Worlds last year, Tarasova/Morozov come into Skate America having won their first competition of the season at Ondrej Nepela. With Volosozhar/Trankov taking the season off, Stolbova/Klimov withdrawing from both Grand Prix events, and Kavaguti/Smirnov still coming back from injury and not at 100%, this could be their breakout season. Skate America is their chance to establish themselves as the frontrunners among the Russian pairs.
BRONZE Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres FRA - It was definitely very nice for James/Cipres to start off their season with personal best free skate and total scores at Autumn Classic. And it was there where they stood up the throw quad salchow for the first time in competition. Perhaps this is finally their breakthrough season into the top group of pairs in the world. This week could set the tone for that.
4. Marissa Castelli/Mervin Tran USA - If only they could get their consistency up there .... Components-wise, Castelli/Tran have the whole package to be competitive with the top 10 pairs in the world. We saw that at Autumn Classic a few weeks back, when a clean short gave them the second best international pairs SP score from an American pair (behind Scimeca/Knierim). Two clean programs can most certainly make them competitive with the top two here, but that's a low-probability scenario. Tran's off-season concussion took them out of training for about a month, and so they are still playing catch-up. But if their trajectory continues upward since Autumn Classic, a top four finish is well within reach.
5. Valentina Marchei/Ondrej Hotarek ITA - After a fantastic debut season, Marchei/Hotarek took a bit of a step back last season with Hotarek's concussion early on. They started off this season with a solid second at Lombardia Trophy, but they were only doing double twists (the twist was the element that caused Hotarek's concussion in the first place). Luckily, their side-by-side lutzes make up for that base value loss, so they are still competitive with the other pairs. The difference this week could lie in where their PCS are relative to everyone else.
6. Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier USA - After missing an entire season with Denney's right knee injury and surgery, Denney/Frazier are back in competition and looking to regain their place among the top American pairs. They started off well at Ondrej Nepela, where they were fourth in a very competitive field that included Tarasova/Morozov. At this point, it's about getting the consistency back. They have fond memories of Skate America, of course, as had their breakthrough two years ago at this very competition with their first GP medal.
7. Kristina Astakhova/Alexei Rogonov RUS - Silver at Finlandia to start their season, Astakhova/Rogonov are the other pair in the field to have side-by-side triple loops in their repertoire. Their consistency has always been on or off, but it wouldn't be a surprise if they found themselves on the podium - they've been on the GP podium before.
8. Tarah Kayne/Danny O'Shea USA - The reigning US champs aren't known for their quick seasons starts - we saw that last year, when they started their season with a sixth place at Skate America and weren't skating at their best until Nationals. And that was exactly what we saw two weeks ago at Finlandia, where they were fifth in a field where they should've been on the podium. The side-by-sides are a bit of a liability right now, so if they rediscover their consistency, they will be right in the hunt for a top four finish.