It's pretty easy to figure out who the favorite is this week in the ladies' event at 2017 Rostelecom Cup. Evgenia Medvedeva has won everything in sight over the past couple of seasons, and she's not about to stop here. But with this very talented field, there are a few interesting storylines, one of which is Mirai Nagasu and her chase to become part of the triple axel history books.
Rostelecom Cup predictions
GOLD Evgenia Medvedeva RUS - Will anyone beat Medvedeva? Doubtful. Incidentally, though, she has only been beaten once in her senior international career, and that was at this very competition two years ago (Radionova bested her). After scrapping her first free skate, she debuted a new free skate at Japan Open and it was received well by judges there. Barring a fully on disaster, it's tough to see her anywhere but at the top of the podium once again.
SILVER Wakaba Higuchi JPN - After a disappointing 11th in her Worlds debut, Higuchi took no prisoners at World Team Trophy just a few weeks after that and then again at Lombardia in her season debut. Her commitment to her music and her attention to choreography have improved noticeably since last season, and you gotta believe she has one of those Olympic spots in sight. But first, medaling here to set herself up for the Grand Prix Final. She's got a good shot based on what we've seen so far this season. Nagasu isn't the only one with a triple axel - Higuchi has hit them in practice too, though I'm guessing it's probably still not ready for competition yet.
BRONZE Mirai Nagasu USA - There have been two storylines for Nagasu this season - her fight for her second Olympic berth and her triple axel. We have seen some beautiful axels in practice from her, but she has not yet landed a fully clean one in competition. She was just a toepick away at U.S. Classic, where she two-footed her landing. It seems like only a matter of time, and if she does it here, she will become only the eighth woman to ever land it cleanly in international competition. But perhaps more importantly is how she fares here. Another showing like the one she had at Japan Open will do wonders for her confidence, and for her chances at PyeongChang.
4. Carolina Kostner ITA - At this point in Kostner's career, she has nothing to prove to anyone, and she's delivering programs with the type of elegance that continues to mature, even amid mistakes. And it's her ethereal skating that has kept her in the mix even though she hasn't brought back her full arsenal of jumps since her comeback last season. She's likely playing the long game with an eye toward the Olympics, but she won't be able to simply rely on her components when the competition gets more talented with every competition.
5. Elena Radionova RUS - Bronze at Nepela Trophy behind Medvedeva and Rika Hongo was probably not the way the former World bronze medalist wanted to start the season. Her consistency is once again shaky to start her season, but you can always count on her to grit her way through programs when she needs to. Factoid: she has never finished off the podium at a non-Final Grand Prix. But with a field like this one, she will absolutely need to be on her game to get another medal.
6. Mariah Bell USA - Every competition becomes more and more crucial from now on for the likes of Mariah Bell, who was third at the U.S. Championships last season ahead of Nagasu. But after a defeat by Nagasu at U.S. Classic, she's looking to rebound here with stronger performances. She can't earn an Olympic spot here, but she can certainly do herself some good if she can bring back some of that magic that took her to silver at last year's Skate America.
7. Kaori Sakamoto JPN - The World junior bronze medalist makes her Grand Prix debut this week, albeit with less fanfare than her podium-mates, Alina Zagitova and Marin Honda, will later in the Grand Prix. Nonetheless, Sakamoto is a solid skater with great jumps, though with an iffy edge on her lutz. She was fourth at U.S. Classic in September and has a shot finishing in the top half here.
8. Elizabet Tursynbaeva KAZ - Third at Autumn Classic a few weeks ago, Tursynbaeva once again enters the Grand Prix with a shot at making a name for herself. And after a couple of middling finishes early last season, she ended up a career-high ninth at Worlds. Her lutz and flip are always the X factor (and you also wonder if she will whip out the quad salchow that we saw her attempt earlier in a Canadian domestic event).
9. Valeria Mikhailova RUS - 11th at Russian Nationals last season, Mikhailova was assigned to Rostelecom on the basis of a strong pre-season domestic competition. She won't blow you away with technical content like her teammates, but she is a steady skater who will deliver.
10. Nicole Schott GER - A career-high 19th at Worlds last season, Schott started this season off with a fourth place at Cup of Nice last week. Rostelecom will be her debut on the senior Grand Prix, and will likely be a chance for her to solidify the sole spot (a spot she earned for Germany) at the Olympics.
11. Mae Berenice Meite FRA - The three-time French champion looked to have been the one to represent France at the Olympics again after finishing 10th at Sochi in 2014. But teammate Laurine Lecavelier emerged last year as the top female French skater, and so Meite's chances at getting that spot will start here at Rostelecom Cup. A solid showing will boost her case that much more.
12. Anastasia Galustyan ARM - It has been a disappointing season so far for Galustyan, who finished eighth at Nebelhorn a few weeks ago, just outside of qualifying Armenia a spot in the ladies' event at the Olympics. It won't be an easy field for her to go up against this week in Moscow.