Two-time World champions Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford are the heavy favorites at the 2016 NHK Trophy this week, and in a lot of ways, it’s everyone else fighting for the silver. As much as they are focused on winning this competition, though, they must be looking ahead and seeing how much distance they can put between them and the rest of the world heading into the second half of the season.
GOLD Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford CAN – Believe it or not, Duhamel/Radford enter NHK Trophy having won 12 of their last 13 international competitions (their only loss was to Stolbova/Klimov at last year's GP Final). Their remarkable streak is almost certain to continue this week in Sapporo, as they look to extend their advantage over the rest of the pairs this season. Watch for that throw triple axel in the short and the throw quad salchow in the free.
SILVER Cheng Peng/Yang Jin CHN – Second at Cup of China last week, Peng/Jin are the closest challengers to Duhamel/Radford for the title. But in only their second competition together as a pair, Peng/Jin will be underdogs and will need a lot of help to get to that title. Their realistic goal is to come out of Sapporo with the silver and a spot on the Grand Prix Final, which, if last week was any indication, they will absolutely be able to achieve.
BRONZE Tarah Kayne/Danny O'Shea USA - Skate America was a solid step up for Kayne/O'Shea, who looked just out of sorts at Finlandia earlier this season. With a month since that competition, there's been plenty of time for the US champs to rediscover the form they had last season. For me, their bronze medal chances here will depend on the reliability of their side-by-side sals and the condition of that throw lutz. A strong short program is absolutely necessary if they want to grab their first career GP medal.
4. Xuehan Wang/Lei Wang CHN – It was a tough call between Kayne/O'Shea and Wang/Wang, and in a lot of ways, it'll be a question of which of them will be more consistent at NHK this week. Wang/Wang are coming off a fourth-place finish at Cup of China last week, and they have all the goods to challenge for the podium.
5. Mari Vartmann/Ruben Blommaert GER – Seventh last week at Cup of China, Vartmann/Blommaert have struggled with putting together clean skates this season. They've got an outside shot at the podium if they can deliver.
6. Miriam Ziegler/Severin Kiefer AUT - Sixth at Trophee de France, Ziegler/Kiefer were nowhere near their best there, as even their more reliable side-by-sides were abandoning them there.
7. Sumire Suto/Francis Boudreau Audet JPN – The Japanese champs are making their Grand Prix debut this week. They were fourth at US Classic earlier this season.