Sunday, December 7, 2008

Grand Prix Final Preview-Ladies

The Grand Prix Final is the culmination of the Grand Prix series, which consists of six events around the globe where skaters earn points based on how well they finished. The top six finishers will now advance to the Grand Prix Final, which will take place in Goyang City, South Korea.This event will serve as somewhat of a preview for the upcoming World Championships and the Olympic Games in 2010. Despite the fact that no American lady has qualified, American skating fans should still follow the results of this event closely because the six ladies that qualified (Yu-Na Kim, Joannie Rochette, Mao Asada, Carolina Kostner, Miki Ando, Yukari Nakano) are who the two American ladies that are sent to worlds this year will have to face in their quest to qualify three spots for the Olympic Games in Vancouver. With a combined placing of 13 required to get those three spots, this means that at least one American has to crack the top six.As for the ladies competing, this competition will serve a particular importance to Yu-Na Kim, who is looking to win her 3rd consecutive Grand Prix Final while competing for the first time in a major international competition in her home country.

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Yu-Na Kim (South Korea)

Season Bests: SP: 69.50(SA) FS: 128.11(COC) Total: 193.45(SA)

Pros: Yu-Na is entering the Grand Prix Final having won the last two years. She owns the highest scores marked this season in both the short and long programs, and is also the world-record holder for scores in the short (71.95) and the long (133.7). Kim's technical marks are aided by the fact that she seldom receives any wrong-edge calls or downgrades on any of her jumps, which is a particular edge she will look to capitalize on over Mao Asada. Kim's consistency is also admirable in that she hasn't fallen once this season thus far. Kim's program component scores (PCS) are of top caliber because of her marvelous expression and speed across the ice.

Cons: Unlike any Japanese, Canadian, or American skaters who have rivals within their respective countries to share all of the pressure being weighted down on them, Yu-Na Kim is the lone hope for a world or Olympic medal in any figure skating discipline. A Korean newspaper declared, "Figure skating star Kim Yu-Na is well on her way to dominating her sport, leaving her rivals in the dust." Being expected to win from one's own country has given skaters grief in the past, examples during the Olympic Games include Midori Ito in 1992 and Michelle Kwan in 1998 and 2002. Kim withdrew from the Four Continents Championships last year due to back problems, and this will be the first time she will have to face that pressure from her own country in a major international meet. On the technical side, Kim received her first wrong-edge call just recently at Cup of China for her triple flip taking off of an outside edge. Kim doesn't have a quad or triple axel in her arsenal, and her triple loop has been a particularly inconsistent jump for her to muster.

Outlook: How Kim does here could foreshadow how she does in the Olympics, as she will face enormous pressure while competing at home at this meet. Kim is more than capable of beating her fellow competitors at the Grand Prix Final, but could have a tough time doing so if Asada busts out two triple axels, or if Ando decides to throw her quad. However, based on the scores that the ladies have received this season, and taking into consideration how strong a competitor Kim is when healthy, Yu-Na is the definite favorite for a 3rd consecutive Grand Prix Final victory, something only Irina Slutskaya has done.

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Joannie Rochette (Canada)

Season Bests: SP: 64.74(SC) FS: 124.15(SC) Total: 188.89(SC)

Pros: Joannie has remarked on her website on how much her confidence has improved over the last couple of years, and the results she has been getting as of late prove that. Wins at Skate Canada (beating Kostner), and at Trophee Eric Bombard (beating Asada) have stated her claim to be one of the top ladies figure skaters in the world. Joannie has scored the second highest SP of this season, and that was without her triple-triple. Rochette is also the only skater besides Kim and Asada to have broken 60 in the PCS scores so far this season for the long program.

Cons: Joannie has yet to medal in a world championship and hasn't qualified to the Grand Prix Final since 2004, where she finished with a bronze medal. From a technical standpoint, Rochette lags slightly behind because of the fact that she has yet to have her triple flip+triple toe combination ratified, and also because her triple-triple in the long is "only" a sequence. Silly mistakes like popping her loop or singling an axel, while not fatal, are not going to crack the top spot on the podium barring major errors from other skaters.

Outlook: Joannie has had a terrific start to her season, but how she will ride that early momentum remains to be seen. With scores higher than Nakano, Ando, and Kostner, there is no question that Rochette is capable of a podium finish next week. However, if Joannie is gunning for a top two finish, than those little mistakes have to disappear immediately, with the opposite being true for her elusive triple-triple combination. On message boards, it is a common sight to find people saying along the lines of "Ladies skating is bleak other than the likes of Kim, Asada, or Rochette." It seems as though people are accepting that Rochette has joined Kim and Asada as the top podium threats for the ladies, and with Rochette's PCS marks going up, it seems as though the judges are viewing her in the same regard.

Mao Asada (Japan)

Season Bests: SP: 64.64(NHK) FS: 126.49(NHK) Total: 191.13(NHK)

Pros: Looking at jump content alone, Asada has the potential to show no mercy to her competitors with two triple axels (one of them in combination with a Tano-double toe), triple-triple combinations in both program, an improved triple lutz now taking off of an outside edge, and a reinstated triple salchow. Despite a disappointing outing at Trophee Eric Bombard, Mao looked like a completely different skater at the NHK Trophy just two weeks later, winning the competition by over 23 points. Mao's scores at NHK, while excellent, could've been even higher had she inserted her 3-3 in the long program and fully-rotated her 3-3 in the short and 3A in the long.

Cons: The last sentence written in the pros section is exactly what Mao's con is, which is getting jumps downgraded even if they look stellar in real time. Some have commented on how her LP jump composition is puzzling, considering that she is doing two triple axels when she is not consistent when even completing and fully-rotating one, and that she has abandoned the triple lutz in the long program for a triple salchow, when the scores for the two elements would be roughly the same even if Mao's lutz were to be marked down because of a wrong-edge takeoff. Mao has struggled in the past with consistency (and particularly at the Grand Prix Final), with that consistency being a key factor into why she has lost the event the last two years.

Outlook: Mao Asada will face off Yu-Na Kim in their first competition together since last year's Worlds. Asada shouldn't have a problem competing in her rival's homeland, after all Asada skated one of her best overall competitions at the Four Continents Championships last year prior to winning her first world title. If everyone were to go absolutely clean, Asada would likely win, but subtle errors like downgrades, wrong-edge takeoffs, and just plain old inconsistency could lead to Asada having to play bridesmaid for the third time in her career at this event.

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Carolina Kostner (Italy)

Season Bests: SP: 57.02(COR) FS: 113.70(COR) Total: 170.72

Pros: Kostner shook off the pressure of competing at home by winning the bronze medal at the Grand Prix Final last year in Torino, Italy. Kostner's assets as a skater are that she rotates her jumps, seldom has any wrong-edge calls, and has triple-triple combinations planned for both programs. Kostner's great speed, musicality, and posture make for world-class PCS marks. Many believed that her extremely controversial silver medal at last year's World Championships was aided by political favor from the ISU by being the only European lady capable of meddling and upsetting an Asian sweep.

Cons: Kostner's inconsistency is evident in many of her triple jumps, especially the lutz. Without a triple axel or a second triple lutz in the long program, Kostner has no room for error for hopes of a top 2 (or even top 3) finish at this final or a world championship/Olympic Games. Mistakes such as double footing, putting her hands down, or popping/falling out of jumps are common errors of Kostner, which make Carolina arguably the least consistent of the six women competing in this final.

Outlook: Kostner has the lowest seasons best for her short program and for total score among the six ladies competing at the final. While those scores don't necessarily indicate that Carolina is incapable of medaling in Korea, she needs to be in much better form than she has been in her first two Grand Prixs of the season in order for such a thing to happen. Taking her technical mark from last year's World Championship free skate, a 61.88, Carolina received negative GOEs on five elements. If say she were to have a flawless skate and substitute those five negative GOEs with base marks, her technical mark would've been a 67.42. While extremely high, Kim, Asasa, and Ando have broken 70 for technical marks in the long before so that score isn't anything groundbreaking(although for Carolina it would be). Looking at the technical marks of that particular skate, there was nothing that was particularly suspicious about any of the GOEs. While Kostner may not have the scoring potential of Kim or Asada, her scores tend to not drop that low because she makes the types of errors that she can somewhat get away with in this COP, rather than receiving downgrades which would hurt her even more.

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Miki Ando

Season Bests: SP: 59.30(COC) LP: 111.58(COC) Total: 170.88 (COC)

Pros: Ando is one of the strongest jumpers in the world. After injury forced her to withdraw from the World Championships midway through her free skate, she has come back this season with a vengeance. Among the elements in her bag of tricks include a triple lutz+triple loop combo, generally consistent skating, and a possible quad salchow. Ando continues to practice the quad jump, and an increase of base value for the element could motivate Ando to do it in the Grand Prix Final. A successful attempt would help her medal chances significantly.

Cons: Over the last couple of years it seemed as though one of Ando's strengths was the fact that her jumps were so rarely downgraded, which made it interesting that the back end of three out of the four 3-3 combos she has done so far this year have been downgraded. In addition to that, two of her triple flips were downgraded at Cup of China. Ando's PCS marks were especially disappointing at Skate America, where she only received 52.16 in the long program(out of a possible 80).

Outlook: Ando's PCS marks were very inconsistent between her two events, her SP PCS went from a 28.52 at SA down to a 27.04 at COC, whereas her FS PCS marks went up from a 52.16 at SA to a 56.40 at COC. Overall, Ando's scores have been a bit disappointing this season, especially in comparison with someone who is also looking to have a hold on third place like Rochette. However, those scores could rise substantially if Ando can rotate her 3-3s and put in her quad. Easier said than done, but Ando would like a strong skate here to prevent any chance of her being left off the world team, with Fumie Suguri and Akiko Suzuki coming on strong and looking to steal one of those coveted tickets to L.A.

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Yukari Nakano (Japan)

Season Bests: SP: 57.46(SA) FS: 115.02(SA) Total:172.53(SA)

Pros: Formerly a jumping bean without a hint of artistry, Nakano has transformed into a mature, expressive artist with solid jumps and spins. Yukari is the only skater besides Mao Asada that is capable of a consistent triple axel, being credited with landing the jump three times in international competition last season. Many were shocked when Nakano failed to medal at the last World Championships after a seemingly flawless performance in the free skate. Nakano is known for her consistency in competition and has participated in the Grand Prix final twice, winning a bronze in 2005.

Cons: Nakano's infamous leg wrap on her flip and lutz holds down her GOEs on those elements, and also doesn't do a triple loop jump. Those two reasons prevent Nakano from doing consistent 3-3s, and thus doesn't currently have any in her jump repertoire. Yukari has yet to attempt her triple axel this year, and tends to be a victim of downgrades. At the last world championships, two downgraded jumps (one of them being the triple axel) did the trick to keep Nakano off the podium. Nakano also has had issues with her short program this season, scoring only 54.82 at NHK.

Outlook: Miss consistency is more than deserving of a trip to the final, but has yet to show off her top form because of the absence of a triple axel and mistakes in her short program during her two Grand Prixs this season. Fifth last year, Nakano will likely need a clean triple axel to pass Rochette and co. for a bronze medal (assuming Kim and Asada skate to their potential and finish 1-2 in either order). Like Ando, Nakano is looking for a strong showing here to maintain her top 3 status in Japan to get another trip to Worlds.

Podium Prediction

Gold: Yu-Na Kim (South Korea)
Silver: Mao Asada (Japan)
Bronze: Joannie Rochette (Canada)

4th: Miki Ando (Japan)
5th: Yukari Nakano (Japan)
6th: Carolina Kostner (Italy)

That is all.

1 comment:

Deborah said...

Wow~ excellent and well constructed analysis. I totally agree with both your analysis and conclusion. Thanks for taking the time to do all this.