If you thought NHK Trophy a few weeks ago was one of the best showcases of women’s figure skating ever, you’re in for another treat this week at Grand Prix Final. The entire podium from NHK returns this week in Vancouver, and then add the Olympic champion and the woman who has the fifth highest senior ladies’ score of the season. If everyone skates to their potential here, expect this week to be out of this world. This isn’t a two-way race for the title - this could very well be a five-way race for gold.
Grand Prix Final preview
Official hashtags: #GPFVancouver #GPFigure
GOLD Rika Kihira JPN - It really is all about the triple axels this week for Kihira if she is to win the title (and defeat the Olympic champion in the process). Her overall skating and musicality aren’t quite at the level of a Miyahara, but with the highest base value in the world and generally impeccable execution, she really has the opportunity to defeat a clean Zagitova, something very few people can really do right now. But it’s high-risk/high-reward - she can’t afford to make the short program errors that she has this season if she is to control her own destiny.
SILVER Alina Zagitova RUS - She won her two Grand Prix events this season, but it’s tough to imagine that either she or her team were satisfied with those performances. If there’s anything we learned from Zagitova last year, though, it’s that she has a way of peaking at the big events. It’s a less talked-about fact that she, too, has upgraded her content this season. Her free skate now has two lutz-triple combos, and it’s that lutz-loop that has given her trouble this season. In this field, with the quality of skating around her, she will have much less margin for error than she’s had in her other GP events. Will she be more comfortable with her technical content this week?
BRONZE Satoko Miyahara JPN - Speaking of margins for error, of the top skaters here this week, Miyahara has the least cushion to give away with her jumps. She knows this well - she spent part of her summer amping up her jumps to distance herself from the underrotation issues she’s had in the past. And so far this season, it’s paid off. She has never been this strong in her jumps, nor has she ever put out programs that are as musical and well-composed as she is this season. But GOE-wise, her jumps will generally be less favorably scored than those of her competitors here. She will need every ounce of her components - for me, the strongest of the field - to get herself on the podium and have a shot at the title.
4. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva RUS - More triple axels coming from Tuktamysheva this week. She was last at the Grand Prix Final four years ago, and incidentally, that was also the time that she won the whole thing. Her return to form this season has been nothing short of inspiring - she has not only been strong in competition but she has also not had as much fun with her skating as she is this season. We’ve seen it in her projection to the audience and her relation to her music, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least bit if she brings even more energy and confidence to the Grand Prix Final. A clean short program will be of utmost importance for her to figure into the medals in Vancouver.
5. Kaori Sakamoto JPN - It’s been down and up and down and up for Sakamoto so far this season. She started off with an uneven Lombardia Trophy, then came back with brilliance at Japan Open and Skate America, only to falter again at GP Helsinki. She just hasn’t been immune to some nerves this season - and we’ve seen this season that if she makes mistakes, they tend to be big program-disruptive errors. A strong short program will be absolutely critical for her - she’s got a shot at the podium if she’s clean, but given the level of skating of her other competitors, it may require a bit of help from others for her to grab a medal in Vancouver.
6. Sofia Samodurova RUS - Making the Grand Prix Final in her very first season on the senior ranks is quite the coup for Samodurova. Remember that she, along with Kihira, was not even slated to compete at two Grand Prix events when the assignments were announced. But she took full advantage of her opportunities, and of the consistency that she’s shown this season. And though it will be tough for her to break into this group of women in Vancouver, her consistency could allow her to sneak up if others make mistakes.