There's so much to look forward to in the pairs' event at the Four Continents Championships this week - and one of those is the return of two pairs who have been missing in action all season long. Much of the intrigue here will be around where they are in their return, and how they fit into the very talented field of pairs six weeks to the World Championships.
2017 Four Continents Predictions
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GOLD Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford CAN - A change in their game plan brought them back to equilibrium at the Canadian Championships. There was an ease about their skating at Canadians, especially in the short, that was different than what we have seen this season. And subbing out that triple axel with the lutz certainly helped that. Their goal for the next two months is definitely four clean programs, and it starts here at Four Continents.
SILVER Xiaoyu Yu/Hao Zhang CHN - To be Grand Prix Final silver medalists in their first season together is pretty spectacular. Yu/Zhang have made a splash in their debut, thanks to their individual prowess as pair skaters and the ease with which they have forged their partnership. They've also put up some big numbers this season and will challenge for that top spot. What they don't have quite yet are the more difficult side-by-sides and throws, but clean, well-executed elements will go a long way.
BRONZE Wenjing Sui/Cong Han CHN - At their best, Sui/Han are one of the best. But after two surgeries this summer for Sui, they are back in their first competition of the season. And considering she bears the burden of landing three solo jumping passes and three (huge) throws in two programs, this event will be quite the test of how competition-ready they are. I'm guessing their quad twist will be back in the mix, since it's less impact on Sui's legs than a throw quad, so that will keep them in contention. But if they are ready, watch out.
4. Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Chris Knierim USA - Am I going out on the limb here? Absolutely. Like Sui/Han, Knierim/Knierim are making their season debut at Four Continents. I saw them in December at an exhibition where they were still on the road back from Alexa's surgery in the off-season, and they were looking fairly solid already. The additional training time they've gotten with their withdrawal from the US Championships will certainly help, and it would be a surprise if they weren't in strong form this week. They have great memories of Four Continents - this was the competition last season where they hit 140+ in their free skate.
5. Lubov Ilyushechkina/Dylan Moscovitch CAN - Fifth here last season, Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch have shown all the potential to battle with the best in the world. But their side-by-sides have been out of whack this season, and that's kept them from reaching the kind of heights they were hoping to reach. Two clean programs, though, and they have dark horse written all over them.
6. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro CAN - It seems to be a story of comebacks in pairs this season. Moore-Towers/Marinaro also took much of the first half of the season off with Moore-Towers' concussion over the summer. But they looked very good at Canadians just a few weeks ago, and will be looking to show that they are more than capable of getting the marks that they deserve in international competition.
7. Ashley Cain/Timothy LeDuc USA - One of the hot debuts of the season, Cain/LeDuc shocked everyone with a win in the short program at the US Championships. They have taken strides with every competition and no doubt will do the same this week in South Korea. If you're looking for a surprise finish, this is the pair to put your money on.
8. Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier USA - The new US champs have looked good this season, but their side-by-sides have been toughest to get back since Denney's surgery last year. It will be crucial for them to hit those to get them up with the top 5 or 6.
9. Cheng Peng/Yang Jin CHN - Speaking of side-by-sides, those have been a liability for Peng/Jin as well. Their short programs have been stellar, only to be marred by mistakes in the free skate that take them out of contention.
10. Ekaterina Alexandrovskaya/Harley Windsor AUS - This may be a history-making pair for Australia. Alexandrovskaya/Windsor made it to the Junior Grand Prix Final earlier in the season and will be making their Four Continents debut this week.