The 2009-10 Grand Prix of Figure Skating selections were announced late Saturday afternoon and there was at least one surprise.
Three-time World pairs champions Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao will return to the competitive arena for the 2010 Olympic season. They have been assigned to Cup of China and Skate America. After winning the bronze medal at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games Shen and Zhao took a break from competition. They have been performing on the Stars on Ice tour for the past three years.
"It was totally their decision. Not mine or the Chinese association's," Bin Yao, their long-time coach told IFS. "There was no outside pressure. Shen and Zhao want an Olympic gold medal and that is their motivation for returning."
Evgeny Plushenko, the 2006 Olympic champion is also on the comeback trail and is scheduled to make his first appearance on the competitive arena in three years at the Russian Grand Prix event.
As expected, America’s Sasha Cohen has been assigned to Skate America in November. However, she will kick off the season at the first event, Trophée Eric Bompard, in Paris.
Reigning World champion Yu-Na Kim will also compete at the French Grand Prix event. “I am happy with my Grand Prix assignments. It will be my first time competing against Mao Asada in France,” Kim said. Her second event is Skate America.
Adam Rippon, the 2008 and 2009 World Junior champion will kick-start his season in France. His second assignment is NHK Trophy in Japan. “I am really excited to be skating with a lot of really great skaters. It is going to be a lot of fun,” Rippon told IFS. “I am excited to be competing in Japan for the first time. I will be working really hard and my goal is just to skate well at both of them. I know it is a tough field in Japan but hopefully if I skate well it will lead to a good result.”
Toronto, Canada has become a hotbed of action this off-season for some of the world's elite skaters. China's Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang are currently in town working on new repertoire with their choreographer as are Carolina Kostner and Tomáš Verner.
Kostner has left her coach of nine years, Michael Huth, according to the German news agency Sport1. The Italian star is currently looking for a new coach. The agency reported that Brian Orser is a coach Kostner is considering but Orser told IFS that he is not in a position to take on any more high-level skaters. Kostner is reportedly planning on training with Frank Carroll in Los Angeles this summer.
U.S. competitors Rachel Flatt and Alexe Gilles both had new programs crafted last week in Toronto.
Qing Pang and Jian Tong, Jeremy Abbott, Emily Hughes, Johnny Weir and Swiss star Stéphane Lambiel are also scheduled to be in Toronto in the coming weeks.