The last two World silver medalists are not in Gangneung, South Korea, this week for the 2017 Four Continents Championships. Ashley Wagner, as always, opted out to rest and train for Worlds, and Satoko Miyahara pulled out with a stress fracture in her left hip. But it's realistic to see as many as ten women with the potential to win this event. One thing is for sure, though, Canada, Japan, and the United States will dominate the top ten. It's going to be a pretty incredible competition.
2017 Four Continents Predictions
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GOLD Kaetlyn Osmond CAN - Without Miyahara and Wagner, Osmond emerges as the slight favorite here. She's had a phenomenal season and hasn't even reached her potential yet. Her short program is absolutely reliable, but it's her free skate that has kept her from really hitting it out of the ballpark so far. And it starts with the triple loop in the middle of that free skate - if she hits that, her chances of bringing home Canada's first Four Continents gold medal in the ladies' event goes way up.
SILVER Mirai Nagasu USA - This is consolation for Nagasu - but it's also redemption. She was a clean triple loop away from eking out the bronze medal at Nationals a few weeks ago. But the long game is the Olympics, and you better believe she's here to prove - to the judges and to herself - that she can handle the hype and hit two clean programs when it counts. She may have had mistakes in the free skate in Kansas City, but she looked trained and ready the entire week, and she will certainly be carrying that over to this week.
BRONZE Karen Chen USA - This is perhaps the most unpredictable one of the bunch. Chen has had a solid season, especially now that she got her boot problems resolved and her jumps look stronger than ever. The fact of the matter is, though, she hasn't cleared 65 in the short or 122 in the free in international competition, and she will need to be in the 70s and 130s to even have a chance to be on the podium. But coming in as the new US champ carries more than a little clout, as Ashley Wagner found out in 2012 when she won her first US title and then skated lights out to beat Mao Asada and set all kinds of personal bests at Four Continents. It will be absolutely crucial for Chen to put down a clean or near-clean short, and that's what will set her up for a strong showing here - and ultimately, for a strong showing at Worlds next month.
4. Wakaba Higuchi JPN - The Japanese silver medalist has had a strong debut season on the senior ranks. Inconsistency has kept her from having the kind of season that fellow freshman Maria Sotskova has had. Jumps-wise, she's got the goods to compete with anyone here, but components-wise, she's at a disadvantage to the other top women. So clean skates will be necessary for her to get on the podium.
5. Mariah Bell USA - It's like what her coach, Rafael Arutyunyan said when I had him on for IceTalk, with Mariah Bell, it's like going to Las Vegas. She was brilliant to start her season, particularly with her second-place finish at Skate America. But then she had a fairly major dip at Tallinn Trophy before returning with a strong free skate at Nationals to take bronze. That said, her record this season has been strong, and I expect her to continue her momentum here and be a dark horse for the podium.
6. Gabrielle Daleman CAN - This season has been a transformation for Daleman - she's figured out how to control her jumps better and skate more complete programs than she's ever been able to. Like Osmond, Daleman's free skate has been the biggest obstacle for her, but if she puts it together this week, a medal is well within reach.
7. Mai Mihara JPN - Mihara has been quietly making her way through the season and flying under the radar. She's got the consistency with her jumps to give the other women a run for their money, but she doesn't have the completeness in her programs yet to challenge for the podium with the field here ... unless the top women make mistakes.
8. Rika Hongo JPN - Needless to say, Hongo's trajectory since her sixth-place debut at Worlds in 2015 has not been one that she's been hoping for. She was fifth at Japan Nationals in December, and her path to Four Continents was paved by Miyahara's injury. And so, like Nagasu, Hongo will be looking for redemption here.
9. Alaine Chartrand CAN - The bronze medalist at Canadians last month, Chartrand missed out on a berth at Worlds because Canada has two spots this season. Her performances at Canadians weren't what she was hoping for, and she definitely has the potential to disrupt the top women here as well.
10. Elizabet Tursynbaeva KAZ - It's been a mediocre season for Tursynbaeva, a skater who many expected to make some waves this season after a 12th-place Worlds debut last year. Her jumps have abandoned her a bit, and she will need to rediscover that form to contend here.