The favorite this week for the women at 2017 NHK Trophy will no doubt be Evgenia Medvedeva, but the home crowd's eyes and interests will be on the return of three-time Japanese champion Satoko Miyahara. It will be a packed field in Osaka this week, as it seems to be every week for the ladies' event. But one thing's for sure, expect the unexpected.
NHK Trophy predictions
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GOLD Evgenia Medvedeva RUS - Well, not so unexpected here, but it will absolutely take multiple errors for Medvedeva to snap her winning streak. I'm not even going to say much else here. She may be in Osaka, but her sights are firmly set on PyeongChang.
SILVER Carolina Kostner ITA - Ethereal but conservative at Rostelecom Cup a few weeks ago, Kostner is the only skater in this competition with the goods to challenge Medvedeva on the component mark. The bigger question is whether she's going to continue with the watered down technical content or if she brings back her lutz or her triple flip-triple toe this week as a way to test the waters before the big competitions. That said, it may be smart for her to get that Grand Prix Final spot under her belt and try the new stuff then. If she skates conservatively again this week, her chances at silver are pretty solid.
BRONZE Mirai Nagasu USA - This is where Mirai Nagasu says, "take that!" After a season of highs and lows, it may be time for Nagasu to finally put it all together and deliver on her way to the U.S. Championships. She's landed (or thought she landed) her triple axel, she's had a meltdown thereafter, she's roared back with strong skating. And the last time she was in Japan, for the Japan Open in October, she was brilliant. Two solid programs here will set her up well for the podium, and for the U.S. Championships coming up in January.
4. Satoko Miyahara JPN - A lot of question marks around Miyahara this week as she comes back to competition for the first time since winning her third Japanese title last December. She dealt with a stress fracture in her hip and skipped the rest of last season, and most recently, she was quoted as saying that she's had to gain around eight pounds to combat a bone density problem as directed by her doctors. Much of her performance this week will depend on how solid her rotations are and whether or not she is back to, or at least near, full health.
5. Mariah Bell USA - Sixth at Rostelecom Cup a few weeks back, Bell has podium potential this week, particularly if she can find her triple lutz-triple toe again like she was doing in Moscow. She has not had the buzz of her American teammates this season, but she's dangerous when those jumps are on.
6. Alena Leonova RUS - Her free skate at Finlandia Trophy was the best skate that Leonova has had in ages, and it was also her last competition memory, so that should serve her well here in her first Grand Prix of the season. She's still a long shot for an Olympic spot this season, but a spectacular showing here will boost her confidence and could boost her chances.
7. Rika Hongo JPN - After a sixth-place finish at Skate Canada, Hongo is trying to reinsert herself into the conversation for the Olympic team. She's gained back some of the consistency she lost late last season, but she will need to be still a couple steps better if she is to contend again this season.
8. Polina Tsurskaya RUS - Many expected greatness from Tsurskaya since her dominant junior season a few years ago. But injuries starting from the 2016 World Junior Championships have plagued her progress; and this season, she's been dealing with a rare genetic illness as well. NHK will be her Grand Prix debut.
9. Yuna Shiraiwa JPN - Shiraiwa comes in on the heels of a seventh-place finish earlier in the season at Finlandia Trophy. And though she made some splashes on the junior level two seasons ago, her progress has not been as strong as you would have expected from her.
10. Alaine Chartrand CAN - It's been a bit puzzling to see Chartrand have troubles this season even with her more consistent jumps. But then again, she's made some changes in her coaching team that has required some adjustment. After an 11th at Skate Canada, can she regain her form?
11. Soyoun Park KOR - A left ankle fracture took Park out of the second half of last season, and, like Miyahara, she comes back this week for the first time in international competition since last season. She withdrew from Rostelecom Cup a few weeks ago, so this will be a big test for her as she looks to grab one of the two Olympic spots for South Korea this season.
12. Nicole Rajicova SVK - 17th at last year's Worlds, Rajicova comes into her first Grand Prix of the season after a seventh place start at Nepela Trophy earlier in the season. She was 11th here last year.