It's looking to be a battle for pairs supremacy among the top two Russian pairs this week on home ice at Rostelecom Cup. The two Russian pairs who are most likely to vie for an Olympic medal this season are going head-to-head for the first time since Worlds last season. And though no Olympic medals are at stake here, this is a chance for one of them to set themselves up for momentum as the Russian pair to watch this season.
Rostelecom Cup predictions
GOLD Evgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov RUS - Tarasova/Morozov have quietly and steadily moved their way up to being one of the best pairs in the world. Their bronze at Worlds on the heels of a painful practice injury that Tarasova suffered showed their grit and perseverance. They started their season off with an easy win at Nebelhorn, and they are really looking to set themselves apart from everyone else here.
SILVER Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov RUS - Olympic silver medalists in pairs at Sochi, Stolbova/Klimov are trying to reestablish themselves as ones to watch. And they skated well in their season debut at Finlandia Trophy - up until Klimov had a skate issue halfway through their free skate, which spelled disaster for their final two minutes. But they can still take a lot of good out of that competition, with their side-by-sides and throws looking solid. Even without a good triple twist, they remain one of the strongest and most engaging pairs in the world. I don't see them overtaking Tarasova/Morozov here, but two strong programs will do a lot of good for them.
BRONZE Valentina Marchei/Ondrej Hotarek ITA - Top 10 for the first time at Worlds, Marchei/Hotarek look to build on the momentum that they had late last season. They have grown so much as a pair over the past year, with the ability to project to the audience like few other pairs can. They haven't gotten onto the podium at a Grand Prix yet, but their most recently showing at Rostelecom Cup last season - 4th - was their best placement ever.
4. Julianne Seguin/Charlie Bilodeau CAN - Bronze at Autumn Classic a few weeks back, Seguin/Bilodeau are pushing forward in their bid for an Olympic spot. They haven't shown the solidity in their jumps that we've seen in past seasons, but they definitely have the goods to get on the podium. Don't forget that they've medaled three times on the Grand Prix before and made the Grand Prix Final for the past two seasons.
5. Marissa Castelli/Mervin Tran USA - With a fourth-place start to their season, Castelli/Tran have their sights firmly set on the World team this season. They are without a path to the Olympics because Tran will not get his American citizenship quickly enough. But it's always the bigger picture for them, as they try to maintain their position as one of the top American pairs. As I've written in the past, they have incredibly strong basics, and if they can put those jumps to their feet, they will do themselves wonders in the standings.
6. Kristina Astakhova/Alexei Rogonov RUS - Behind the top two Russian pairs are two other pairs who are most likely to earn that third spot for the Olympics. Astakhova/Rogonov are one of them. They are a solid pair but have shown inconsistencies that have kept them from returning to Worlds the past two seasons. A strong showing here will be important for their trajectory this season.
7. Miriam Ziegler/Severin Kiefer AUT - A full set of personal best scores at one of the biggest competitions of your career? That's exactly what happened to Ziegler/Kiefer at Nebelhorn Trophy last month when they did that to grab an Olympic spot for them (and Austria). They are in their best form ever, and another strong set of programs could give them their best Grand Prix finish ever. Their previous best was sixth.
8. Sumire Suto/Francis Boudreau-Audet JPN - The Japanese champions haven't quite looked the way that they did late last season. They most recently had a tough Nebelhorn Trophy, where they were unable to qualify Japan a pairs spot at the Olympics. But they have become stronger skaters in the past season and will be looking for greater consistency here.