The “Grand” affair is set to begin in Goyang City, South Korea tomorrow. A total of 84 skaters (56 entries) from 12 International Skating Union (ISU) members are competing in the ISU Grand Prix of Final and the ISU Junior Grand Prix Final from Dec. 11 to 14. The two finals are being held at that same venue for the first time.
IFS is in Korea covering the competition and we will be providing regular updates.
THE SENIOR FIELD
Yu-Na Kim, Joannie Rochette and Patrick Chan are just a few of the big names who are among the 24 entries from 11 countries are competing in the Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final. Six skaters/couples in each category qualified in the six events of the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Series: Skate America in Everett, Skate Canada in Ottawa, Cup of China in Beijing, Trophée Bompard in Paris (FRA), Cup of Russia in Moscow and NHK Trophy in Tokyo (JPN).
The skaters are vying for prize money of $272,000 (U.S.). The prize money is awarded to winners and placed skaters/couples as follows:
Men and Ladies, Pairs and Dance (per couple):
1st place USD $25,000
2nd place USD $18,000
3rd place USD $12,000
4th place USD $6,000
5th place USD $4,000
6th place USD $3,000
THE SENIOR LADIES
Kim (KOR) and Rochette (JPN) each advanced to the final with the maximum of 30 points, respectively, after claiming gold medals in their two respective events.
Rochette claimed the title in Ottawa and in Paris and comes into the final with a season’s best of 188.89 points.
Rochette worked hard in the off-season to improve. “I don’t get discouraged, and things get better every year,” she told IFS. “I’m 22 years old now, but I feel just as good [physically] as I did when I was younger. I feel I can keep improving. I don’t feel like I’ve reached my peak. I feel like the quality of my performance gets better every year.”
Kim is the defending Grand Prix Final champion while Rochette competed in the final just once in 2005 where she earned the bronze medal.
Kim captured gold in Everett and Beijing. She also earned a season best of 193.45 points at Skate America. “I am satisfied with both programs here and I’d like to keep that pace for the season,” the 18-year-old told the press at Skate America. “I tried to do the program like in practice. I was a bit nervous, but when I regarded it as a practice, I found confidence.”
Meanwhile, reigning World champion Mao Asada advanced to the final with a silver medal from Paris and a gold from Tokyo (and a season best 191.13 points). “I am very happy to be in first place today. Now the Grand Prix Final is my next goal,” Asada said after her golden performance in her homeland. “For me it is important to do all my elements without mistakes in the final. This is the first time I did my program without falling and this gives me great confidence.”
Asada was the silver medalist at last yeas’ competition, held in Torino.
European champion Carolina Kostner returns to the final after taking the bronze last year in her native Italy. This season, she won the Cup of Russia and placed fourth at Skate Canada.
Yukari Nakano (JPN/season best: 172.53 points) comes back to the final after placing second at Skate America and third at NHK Trophy. 2007 World champion Miki Ando (JPN/season best 170.88 points) earned a spot in the final with a bronze medal in Everett and a silver in Beijing.
The substitute skaters are: Fumie Suguri (JPN), Rachael Flatt (USA) and Alissa Czisny (USA).
THE SENIOR MEN
Chan (CAN) is the only man to advance to the final with two victories on the Grand Prix circuit. He claimed the gold at Skate Canada and Trophée Bompard, where he scored his new personal best of 238.09 points.
“I think Korea will be interesting. Hopefully I will land both of the triple Axels in my long program this time,” he told IFS recently.
Takahiko Kozuka comes to Goyang City with a gold medal from Skate America and a silver from Paris (season best 230.78 points). Kozuka will be competing the final for the first time in his career.
Johnny Weir (USA) is back at the final after earning two silver medals on the circuit in Everett and Tokyo (season best 225.20 points). 2008 World silver medalist Brian Joubert (FRA) advanced to the final with a victory in Moscow and a fourth-place finish in Paris (sesaon best 230.78 points).
Jeremy Abbott (USA) and Tomas Verner (CZE) are both newcomers to the final. Abbott secured his spot after claiming the title at the Cup of China and placing fourth at the Cup of Russia (season best 233.44 points). Verner earned a bronze medal in Beijing and the silver in Moscow (season best 222.94 points).
The substitutes are: Alban Préaubert (FRA), Evan Lysacek (USA) and Yannick Ponsero (FRA).
Reigning World champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy (GER) and World silver medalists Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang (CHN) lead the pairs field. Each couple qualified for the final with two victories on the circuit, respectively.
Also in the final are Yuko Kawaguchi and Alexander Smirnov (RUS), Qing Pang and Jian Tong (CHN), Tatiana Volosozhar and Stanislav Morozov (UKR), and Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov (RUS).
The substitutes are: Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker (USA), Jessica Dubé and Bryce Davison (CAN) and Rena Inoue and John Baldwin (USA).
Reigning World Champions Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder (FRA) are the top qualifiers in the ice dancing event with two gold medals from Skate America and Trophée Bompard (season best 187.64 points
European and defending Grand Prix champions Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin (RUS) took the gold in Beijing and the silver in Moscow to rean their spot in this season’s final.
Also competing are Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali (ITA), Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski (RUS), Meryl Davis and Charlie White (USA), Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto (USA).
The substitutes are: Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat (FRA), Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier (CAN) and Sinead Kerr and John Kerr (GBR).
THE JUNIOR CIRCUIT
A total of 32 skaters and couples from eight ISU members are competing in the Junior Final. Eight skaters/couples in each category qualified in the eight events of the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Series in Courchevel (FRA), Merano (ITA), Mexico City, Ostrava (CZE), Madrid (ESP), Gomel (BLR), Cape Town (RSA) and Sheffield (GBR). The prize money made available by the ISU is $105,000 (U.S.)
The prize money is awarded to winners and placed skaters/couples as follows:
Men and Ladies:
1st place USD $6,000
2nd place USD $5,000
3rd place USD $4,000
4th place USD $3,000
5th place USD $2,000
6th place USD $1,000
Pairs and Dance (per couple):
1st place USD $9,000
2nd place USD $7,500
3rd place USD $6,000
4th place USD $4,500
5th place USD $3,000
6th place USD $1,500
Kristine Musademba (USA) is the only funior lady to advance with the maximum of 30 points to the final after claiming gold medals in her two events in Courchevel and Madrid. “I really want to focus on doing clean programs and being consistent and confident,” she told IFS.
Musademba placed fourth in the junior final last year.
Yukiko Fujisawa (JPN) and Alexe Gilles (USA) qualified with a victory and a silver medal for Goyang City. Fujisawa won in Ostrava and was second in Sheffield while Gilles was a silver medalist in Mexico City and won in Cape Town.
Kanako Murakami (JPN) and Amanda Dobbs (USA) booked their ticket to Korea after claiming a gold and a bronze medal on the circuit. Becky Bereswill (USA) qualified with two silver medals, while Angela Maxwell (USA) and Diane Szmiett (CAN) made it to the final with a silver and a bronze.
Richard Dornbush (USA) is the top qualifier in the junior men with two gold medals from his events in Mexico and South Africa. It is his debut appearance at the Junior Grand prix Final. "I’m very excited, because I’ve never been here (to Korea) before. It’s a big event," he said. "All I felt was excitement going in.”
Armin Mahbanoozadeh (USA), last year’s bronze medalist, comes back with a silver medal from France and a gold medal from Spain.
Alexander Johnson (USA) and Florent Amodio (FRA) qualified with a victory and a bronze medal. Ivan Bariev (RUS), who was ranked seventh in the Junior Final in 2007, earned his spot with two silver medals on the circuit. "When I first got here, I thought it was going to be just like a regular Junior Grand Prix," Johnson said. "But, once I actually got to the rink and I saw all the people and the fans, I thought ‘Wow, this is just like Worlds. It’s really cool. It’s an honor to be here, and to skate in front of this group of people is just amazing.”
Denis Ten (KAZ) won the event in Belarus and came fourth in France to claim a pot in the final. Elladj Baldé (CAN) advanced with a silver and a bronze medal. Artur Gachinski (RUS) replaces Michal Brezina (CZE), who withdrew, citing a knee injury. Gachinski finished second in Madrid and fourth in Sheffield.
Russia qualified five pair teams for the junior final: Lubov Iliushechkina and Nodari Maisuradze, Anastasia Martiusheva and Alexei Rogonov, Sabina Imaikina and Andrei Novoselov, Ksenia Krasilnikova and Konstantin Bezmaternykh, and Ksenia Ozerova and Alexander Enbert. Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran (JPN), Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir (USA) and Yue Zhang and Lei Wang (CHN) round out the field.
“I think it’s really great just to be here," said Shnapir.
Castelli added: “I’m really excited to watch the seniors skate. It’s the most exciting thing.”
The dance competition features eight couples from four ISU members. Madison Hubbell and Keiffer Hubbell (USA) and Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlein (USA) advanced with the maximum of 30 points to the final.
Hubbell and Hubbell, who won the junior final in 2006 but then didn’t compete in the Junior Grand Prix series last season due to injury, now come back with gold medals from Mexico and South Africa. “We want to give a full-out performance and to have the effect that [the audience] is seeing a story between two skaters more than technical elements,” Madison Hubbell told IFS.
Chock and Zuerlein, who were ranked fifth last year in the final, won their two events in Italy and Great Britain. “We’re a little bit more experienced this year, which always helps and we’re just more comfortable with the whole international scene," Chock said.
Zuerlein added, “Last year, we just wanted to get out there and show what we were capable of. This year we’re just more polished and more ready, I think.”
Also in the field are Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani (USA) Ekaterina Riazanova and Jonathan Guerreiro (RUS), Alisa Agafonova and Dmitri Dun (UKR), Kharis Ralph and Asher Hill (CAN), Ekaterina Pushkash and Dmitri Kiselev (RUS), Marina Antipova and Artem Kudashev (RUS). Antipova and Kudashev are replacing Americans Piper Gilles and Zachary Donohue who withdrew due to injury.
“We’re really excited. It’s a great opportunity, being able to skate in front of all these people," Shibutani said. "It’s a great new experience.”
The schedule is as follows:
* Thursday, Dec. 11: Junior Original Dance, Junior Men, Pairs and Ladies Short Programs
* Friday, Dec. 12: Junior Pairs and Junior Men Free Skating, Senior Original Dance, Senior Men, Ladies and Pairs Short Programs
* Saturday, Dec. 13: Junior Free Dance, Junior Ladies Free Skating, Senior Free Dance, Senior Men, Ladies and Pairs Free Skating
* Sunday, Dec. 14: Exhibition Gala