There are a few storylines this week at Rostelecom Cup, but one very major storyline is the return of Gracie Gold to competition after almost two years away. Lots of unknowns surround her return to competition, and the intrigue will be in how “back” she really is technically, yet I’m seeing the support for her return will be immense no matter how she performs in Moscow.
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GOLD Alina Zagitova RUS - The Olympic champ won in Helsinki two weeks ago, but there was no way she was happy about her performances there. She made a major error in each program and didn’t blow away the competition the way that she’s used to. But let’s not forget, her opening competition at Nebelhorn in September was spotless, and she will be looking for second GP win here and, more importantly, to regain some of that invincibility that she was searching for in Helsinki.
SILVER Mako Yamashita JPN - Am I jumping on the bandwagon? It isn’t Yamashita’s silver medal win that impressed me the most at Skate Canada three weeks ago, it was how fantastic her overall skating was that really caught my eye. It’s really a question of whether she can remain consistent again here, but two clean programs should get her on the podium and perhaps punch an unexpected ticket to Vancouver for the Final.
BRONZE Eunsoo Lim KOR - Coming off a sixth-place finish at NHK Trophy last week in a ridiculously competitive field, Lim has a really good look at a first Grand Prix medal here in Moscow. Her short program at NHK was spotless, but on the heels of a warmup collision in the free skate, she looked tentative and dropped a couple spots with a few mistakes in that program. This may be the competition where she puts two together and establish herself as the definitive top skater in South Korea.
4. Yuna Shiraiwa JPN - A very strong fourth-place finish at Grand Prix of Helsinki two weeks ago and a withdrawal from this event helped Shiraiwa earn her second GP appearance of the season. Like some of the others here, you often don’t know what to expect from her in competition - she could brilliant like she was in Finland or she could fall apart like she did at US Classic, where she was fifth in a much less competitive field.
5. Sofia Samodurova RUS - The surprise bronze medalist at Skate America should be beaming with confidence as she heads into her second Grand Prix, with the possibility of making it to the Final. Technically, she’s got all the goods to challenge for the podium again, but her power and flow across the ice compared to the top women in this field may be what keeps her from overtaking them if everyone skates cleanly.
6. Elizabet Tursynbaeva KAZ - Fifth at Skate Canada, Tursynbaeva has put down some strong skates this season. She’s been able to put down stronger short programs this season than she has in the past, and it will be important for her to put herself in a good position with that short to give her a chance at a medal in the free skate.
7. Gracie Gold USA - I mean, it’s anyone’s guess at this point. Gold has been very much under the radar as she’s ramped up to her first competition in almost two years. Her progress was promising at Champs Camp in August, and she’s had another three months of training under her belt since. This comeback is for herself, but the world will be watching - and applauding.
8. Polina Tsurskaya RUS - The former Russian junior champion has really been an unpredictable quantity since she moved into the senior ranks. She’s medaled on the Grand Prix before, but she’s also succumbed to inconsistency, as she did at Skate America where she finished seventh. Two clean programs can send her back to the podium again.
9. Alexia Paganini SUI - It’s a Grand Prix debut for the Swiss champion, who took eighth at Autumn Classic to start her season. She’s got great potential and, given two clean programs, should be competitive with the other talented skaters in this field.
10. Yura Matsuda JPN - Matsuda was 11th at Skate Canada to start her Grand Prix. She will likely have the lowest technical content of all the women here, which will keep her from really making a dent in this competition.