Jessica Dube/Bryce Davidson (Canada)
The only pair team who has even a remote chance of beating the current world champions at this event is the 2008 world bronze medalists and two-time Canadian pair champions Jessica Dube and Bryce Davidson. Dube and Davidson are capable of being a brilliant pair, with strong side-by-side jumps, lifts, and musicality in their arsenal. However, they are also capable of being an inconsistent pair with programs that don't spark emotion; an example being their long program at 2009 Worlds which lead them to a 7th place finish. Dube and Davidson's disappointing showing in Los Angeles also means that Canada will not have three Olympic berths in the pairs event, although it is very unlikely that Dube and Davidson will sink to 3rd at Canadian Nationals and be left off the Olympic team. Dube and Davidson had originally planned to keep last year's long program to "Carmen," but midway through the off season they announced that they would be skating their long program to "The Way We Were" instead, with their short program being to the music of "Requiem For a Dream." Although Dube and Davidson will be hard-pressed to defeat Savchenko and Szolkowy, they have a feasible chance to finish 2nd, provided that they beat the 5th place finishers from last year's worlds, Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov of Russia. They will also compete against Savchenko/Szolkowy and Mukhortova/Trankov at Skate Canada.
Vanessa James/Yannick Bonheur (France)
Vanessa James was a former singles skater who competed for the United States and Great Britain before teaming up with Yannick Bonheur in 2007 after his partnership with French pair skater Marylin Pla terminated. The team has come a long way after having only competed one season together, finishing 10th at Europeans and 12th at Worlds, where they had a nearly clean free skate (the only exception being Bonheur's fall out on a side-by-side double axel). James and Bonheur have many decent aspects to their skating, including high throws and twists and precise unison in their side-by-side jumps and choreography. The team will need to add more complex spins, transitions, and have superior interpretation of the music to move up in the standings and it will be necessary to have made these improvements in the off-season in order for them to have a chance to medal at this event. James and Bonheur qualified an Olympic berth for France by virtue of their finish at the 2009 World Championships.
Aliona Savchenko/Robin Szolkowy (Germany)
Savchenko and Szolkowy arrived at the 2006 Olympics in Turino as a team budding with potential, entering the competition as European silver medalists. That potential never materialized in Italy, with shaky performances that could be blamed on a first-time Olympic experience or the distraction of the investigation of their coach (Ingo Steuer) and his involvement with the Stasi secret police in the former East Germany. Three-and-a-half years later, Savchenko and Szolkowy have become the unquestionable #1 pair team in the world, having won the last two world titles and three European titles. However, the return of three-time world champions Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo could post a significant roadblock in the German pair's gold medal aspirations. Even if Shen and Zhao are not to return as serious gold medal threats, Aliona and Robin were subject to a poor performance at last season's Grand Prix Final, where they dropped to 3rd and were bested by Chinese pair teams Qing Pang/Jian Tong and Dan Zhang/Hao Zhang. Savchenko and Szolkowy won against a weak field at the recent Nebelhorn Trophy, but their long program didn't appear to be nearly as intricate and passionate as their "Schindler's List" program was from last season. The most crucial aspect to observe about Savchenko and Szolkowy's showing in France is not really based on where they will finish, as they should emerge victorious easily, but rather to see if there will be significant improvement of the long program for this competition.
Maria Mukhortova/Maxim Trankov (Russia)
Mukhortova and Trankov are the 2nd ranked Russian pair behind Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov, cracking the top five at Worlds last year and winning the bronze medal at Europeans. The spirited, dramatic duo are in their 7th season skating together, and will be debuting their new programs at this competition. Their short program is to "Appassionata" and their long program is to "Love Story," which could suit their cold yet engaging chemistry in an intriguing way. This team's mastery in the short program, which they won last year at Europeans with a tremendous score of 69.62, has yet to carry over to their long program in a major competition. Botched landings on their side-by-side jumps and throw triple salchow at this year's Europeans prevented any hope of winning there, and the team was criticized by NBC analyist Sandra Bezic at Worlds for their simplistic choreography and lack of actual skating. For this season, it will be imperative that Mukhortova and Trankov bridge the gap between the strength of their short program and the weakness of their long if the team is to break into the top tier of pairs skaters.
Rena Inoue/John Baldwin (USA)
The 2004 and 2006 U.S. pairs champions are perhaps most well-known for their on-ice engagement after their free skate the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, where Baldwin asked Inoue for her hand in marriage to the face palms of many fans. Tacky wedding proposals aside, the team's skating has declined since their historic feat in 2006, by becoming the first pair to ever land a throw triple axel. The team has dropped the element from their program as of late, and may need it in order to attain one of only two Olympic berths granted to the United States in the pairs event. Citing last year's disappointment of finishing 3rd at nationals and being left off the world team, Inoue and Baldwin have made a coaching change to former U.S. Champions Jenni Meno and Todd Sand. Former U.S. bronze medalist Jenny Kirk is pessimistic about their coaching change, stating, "No matter what Meno and Sand do, I don't see them fixing this team's lackadaisical work ethic and giving Baldwin the 180-degree turnaround he needs." There seems to be quite a bit of truth to this statement, especially considering that Baldwin is seldom able to cleanly land his triple toe loop, which is all the more peculiar when considering that he could land triple axels in his singles days. Inoue and Baldwin have three creditable teams who they will be competing against for those Olympic spots, Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker, Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett, and Brooke Castile and Benjamin Okolski. Inoue and Baldwin won't be required to transform into the Protopopovs to make the Olympic team, but they will need to show a fair amount of improvement from their performance at last year's U.S. Nationals. Not competing against any U.S. teams who could feasibly go to the Olympics in Paris, it would still help for political favor at U.S. Nationals for Inoue and Baldwin to perform well here, despite the fact that their chances to qualify to the Grand Prix Final are shabby at best.
Predicted Pairs Standings:
Gold: Aliona Savchenko/Robin Szolkowy (Germany)
Silver: Jessica Dube/Bryce Davidson (Canada)
Bronze: Maria Mukhortova/Maxim Trankov (Russia)
4th: Rena Inoue/John Baldwin (USA)
5th: Vanessa James/Yannick Bonheur (France)
Madison Hubbell/Keiffer Hubbell (USA)
The brother and sister team of Madison and Keiffer Hubbell is coming off of a creditable 2008/2009 season, finishing 4th at U.S. Championships and at World Juniors, where they missed the opportunity to complete a U.S. medal sweep by a mere 0.46. Trophée Eric Bompard will mark the first time that the 2008 U.S. junior dance champions take to the ice in a senior international competition. The Hubbells are competing against two U.S. teams in Paris, who they will need to best at the 2010 U.S. Championships in order to be named to the Olympic team: Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates, and Kimberly Navarro and Brent Bommentre. Both teams bested the Hubbells at the 2009 U.S. Championships, and the prospects of the Hubbells beating one, let alone both, teams here and at the U.S. Championships are weak. The Hubbells need considerable time to improve aspects of their skating, such as extension, originality in their lifts and choreography, and skating closer together. Nonetheless, they should be a force for the Olympic team come 2014; however, with Meryl Davis/Charlie White and Samuelson/Bates likely to stick around into the next quadrennium, the Hubbells will be hard-pressed to become the premier team for U.S. ice dance.
Sinead Kerr/John Kerr (Great Britain)
A creative, expressive team, Sinead and John Kerr have been British national ice dance champions for the last six years, and have placed in the top eight at the last two World Championships. In January, the team became the winner of the bronze medal at Europeans, which was the first European medal attained by a British ice dance team since Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean's European title in 1994. Sinead and John, 31 and 29 years of age, respectively, have steadily risen through the ranks at the six World Championships that they have competed in. Unfortunately, they are unlikely to reach the medals stand at a future World Championship/Olympic Games, as it is probable that their competitive skating careers are coming to an end. As far as placements are concerned for this event, the Kerrs should be looking at a bronze medal. It will be an almost insurmountable task to best Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, and a fairly difficult one to beat Nathalie Pechalat and Fabien Bourzat, but besting the three American dance teams should be a realistic task to accomplish for the British.
Kimberly Navarro/Brent Bommentre (USA)
Navarro and Bommentre have been the U.S. bronze medalists for the last two years; however, they were unable to compete at Worlds last year because of Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto's successful petition onto the team after they withdrew from nationals due to Agosto's back injury. Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates beat Navarro and Bommentre at this year's U.S. Championships by over five points, a significant margin in ice dance. Navarro and Bommentre are extremely generous and personable performers and are always fun to watch, but are lacking in terms of superior extension, posture, and do not have some of the more complex lifts and spins that one would see from other top teams. With Navarro and Bommentre skating at a later stage of their career and Samuleson and Bates at the beginning of theirs, USFSA would be inclined to give the latter the benefit of the doubt when it comes to determining the Olympic team because of the experience and international recognition Samuelson and Bates could gain by competing in Vancouver. Samuelson and Bates have not competed against Navarro and Bommentre much internationally, but Samuelson and Bates's score at 2009 Worlds (where they finished 11th) was nearly nine points ahead of Navarro and Bommentre's score in 2008 (where they finished 12th). Thus, it is likely that Samuelson and Bates will snatch the third Olympic spot for ice dance at Nationals, and it is equally as probable that they will beat Navarro and Bommentre at this Grand Prix.
Nathalie Pechalat and Fabien Bourzat (France)
Pechalat and Bourzat truly define the word "quirky" with their skating, with impressively innovative lifts and complex steps and choreography. The French progressed rapidly last season, going from 4th at Europeans to 5th at Worlds just two months later, where they beat current European champions and 2008 world bronze medalists Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski of Russia. Staying in the top five come the Olympics will be extremely difficult, as 2008 world champions and fellow compatriots Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder return to the ice after Delobel's pregnancy. Pechalat and Bourzat are right up with the top teams technically, having received eight out of eight level 4s for their elements during their free dance in Los Angeles. Presentation wise, there is some room for improvement with expression, but those marks should boost over time with added reputation. Beating the Kerrs at Worlds after having lost to them at Europeans was also a big plus for Pechalat and Bourzat, and the French will certainly be looking to beat the British at this competition next week.
Emily Samuelson/Evan Bates (USA)
Samuelson and Bates have come a long way in a short period of time, finishing just outside the top 10 at their first world championship this year and winning their first U.S. senior dance medal. Samuelson and Bates' strongest portion of the competition is typically their free dance, where they were 9th in Los Angeles, and their weakest phase is generally the compulsory dance. The team's polish and extension is very impressive, but hopefully the Americans will debut a more original and dynamic free dance, which is scheduled to be to "Canto Della Terra" by Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli, as their "Otonal" free dance last season did not fully stretch the team emotionally. Although Samuelson and Bates, who are 19 and 20, respectively, are extremely creditable skaters for being so young, they are keen on improving on all of their underlying weaknesses. They voiced that they are improving several areas of their skating in the off season in a Golden Skate interview, including their lifts, spins, and overall entertainment value. The strength this team further augments the excellent depth of U.S. ice dancing.
Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir (Canada)
Virtue and Moir were sidelined in the Grand Prix last season because of Virtue undergoing surgery for a rare leg condition where she could not expand and contract her muscles normally. The team came back to finish 2nd at Four Continents and controversially bested training partners Meryl Davis and Charlie White for the bronze medal at this year's World Championship. The Canadians won silver at Worlds in 2008, safely taking over the reign of Canada's top ice dance team, formerly a position held by Marie-France Dubreil and Patrice Lauzon. Virtue and Moir will debut their new original dance, a flamenco piece called "Farrucas," and their new free dance to Gustav Mahler's dramatic "Symphony No. 5". It seems very likely that the three teams on the podium in Vancouver (assuming that no one is injured and that Dolobel comes back to full form after her pregnancy), will be Domnina/Shabalin, Dolobel/Schoenfelder, and a North American team. Since Virtue and Moir beat Davis and White on the latter's home turf at Worlds this year, Davis and White should not stand a significant threat to Virtue and Moir's potential spot on the podium, or at least not nearly as much as Belbin and Agosto. Belbin and Agosto easily finished ahead of Virtue and Moir in Los Angeles, and were ahead of them in all three phases of the competition, but Virtue and Moir have the advantage of the home crowd, and the judges were quick to rip Belbin and Agosto to shreds after Tanith fell in the compulsory dance of 2008 worlds. Whether Virtue and Moir will be able to medal at the Olympics will begin to be seen at this competition. Like Savchenko and Szolkowy, Virtue and Moir are not in much danger to lose this event, but wish to perform well to be scored highly and viewed favorably by the international judges.
Predicted Dance Standings:
Gold: Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir (Canada)
Silver: Nathalie Pechalat/Fabien Bourzat (France)
Bronze: Sinead Kerr/John Kerr (Great Britain)
4th: Emily Samuelson/Evan Bates (USA)
5th: Kimberly Navarro/Brent Bommentre (USA)
6th: Madison Hubbell/Keiffer Hubbell (USA)
Next post: Analysis of men and ladies to compete at TEB
That is all.