Grand Prix Final Comes to Marseille, France
by Klaus Reinhold Kany
After two years in Barcelona, Spain, the Grand Prix Final 2016 will take place in Europe again, this time in Marseille which is France‘s second largest city and greatest Mediterranean harbor city.
Marseille has around 850,000 people and a lot of Arabic influence. Many ships from the former French colonies of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, which are independent states for about 60 years now, stop in Marseille. You might compare the big North African community in Marseille with the big Cuban community in Miami. This year’s Final will be the last one in Europe for some time, because next year it is planned in Nagoya, Japan and in two years in Vancouver, Canada.
Marseille has little skating tradition. The event will take place in the "Palais Omnisport Marseille Grand Est,“ which was built about seven years ago and is a few miles southeast of downtown. In 2009 French national championships were held there when it was quite new, but otherwise there have been no major skating events here.
Like in the past years, the senior and the junior final are held together. This is a win-win situation because firstly it helps to save money for the ISU. Secondly the best juniors in the world can see the best seniors live who often are their idols. Thirdly it is also more interesting for the spectators because a senior final with only six skaters or pairs in each category alone would be over too quickly and for some visitors not worth travelling around the world. This year several thousand Japanese fans are expected.
There are four junior and four senior competitions, each of them with six skaters or couples. In single skating this means one flight, in ice dance and pair skating two. Unlike last year in Barcelona, there is no synchronized skating competition included this year because the synchronized skaters have the Shanghai Trophy in March as a comparable event.
Each skater who qualified for one of the Finals competed in two Grand Prix. This year‘s six senior events took place in Hoffman Estates in the USA, Mississauga in Canada, Moscow in Russia, Paris in France, Beijing in China and Sapporo in Japan.
In the senior men’s final, a fight between Brian Orser’s two top students Yuzuru Hanyu and Javier Fernandez for the gold medal can be expected. Both skaters were outstanding in at least one of their two Grand Prix: Hanyu with more than 300 points at the NHK Trophy and Fernandez in Russia. But Patrick Chan should not be neglected because of his outstanding skating skills if he lands his jumps. In Canada he even beat Yuzuru Hanyu.
All three of these men have been World champions and are the clear three medal favorites. The other three senior men are Japan’s rising star Shoma Uno and a bit surprisingly the two Americans Nathan Chen and Adam Rippon. Chen qualified with a second place at the NHK Trophy and a fourth place at the Trophée de France whereas Rippon came to Marseille with two bronze medals, at Skate America and in Paris. Unlike at the world championships in Boston, the U.S. men were more successful than the U.S. ladies in the fall. First alternate is Boyang Jin from China, followed by Sergei Voronov from Russia and Alexei Bychenko from Israel.
In the ladies final, there are no U.S. skaters this year because neither Gracie Gold nor Ashley Wagner did well at both their Grand Prixs, and Polina Edmunds withdrew before the beginning oft the series.
Four of the six ladies in the Final are from Russia which confirms the superiority of this country in this discipline although neither the 2015 World champion Elizaveta Tukamysheva nor the 2014 Olympic team gold medalist Julia Lipnitskaia qualified.
The reigning World Champion Evgenia Medvedeva, who had also won last year‘s Grand Prix Final, is a slight favorite for the gold after her two victories in Canada and France, butut her countrywoman and world bronze medalist Anna Pogorilya did two excellent Grand Prix in Russia and Japan as well and will fight hard to win.
The third Russian skater, Elena Radionova, also is a medal candidate after winning in China and being second in Russia. The fourth Russian lady Maria Sotskova would be happy to win a medal as well, but it would be a surprise.
The two non-Russian ladies in the Final are Kaetlyn Osmond from Canada, who won two silver medals in her Grand Prix in Canada and China and performed the highest jumps of all ladies; and the second is Satoko Miyahara from Japan who qualified with a second and a third place. First alternate is Ashley Wagner, second alternate is Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (Russia) and the third is Mai Mihara from Japan.
Reigning world champions Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford from Canada are the favorites in the pairs competition in spite of making some mistakes in their two Grand Prixs, in Canada and Japan, which they both won nevertheless. Two other hot medal candidates are the two new Chinese pairs who exchanged partners after the World Championships in April.
Both pairs of these Chinese paris are better now for it: Xiaoyu Yu and the very experienced Hao Zhang won silver in Mississauga and gold in Beijing whereas Cheng Peng & Yang Jin took silver in China and Japan.
Evgeni Tarasova & Vladimir Morozov from Russia also have an eye on the podium after being third at Skate America and second in France. The second Canadian pair of Julianne Séguin & Charlie Bilodeau are in the final for the second time, mainly thanks to their victory at Skate America.
World bronze medalists Aliona Savchenko & Bruno Massot from Germany qualified by winning their Grand Prixs in Russia and France. But they withdrew from the Final because Savchenko still suffers from the ankle injury (half-torn ligament) which occurred after a bad landing on the triple throw Axel during the competition in France. Therefore the first alternates Natalia Zabiiako & Alexander Enbert from Russia were invited to the Final.
Haven Denney & Brandon Frazier who now train with Rockne Brubaker in Geneva, IL near Chicago would be the next alternates, Liubov Ilyushechkina & Dylan Moscovitch from Canada the third ones.
Several top couples have not competed in this year’s Grand Prix: The Olympic Champions Tatiana Volosozhar & Maxim Trankov pause because Volosozhar is expecting a baby in March. The Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova & Fedor Klimov from Russia withdrew because of several injuries, and the Chinese team Wenjing Sui & Cong Han, second at the World Championships in Boston, have not trained since May because she underwent surgery on both feet.
The ice dance events in the Grand Prix Series had a very high general level, and more than six couples would merit to take part in the Final. After their extremely strong comeback with two victories, the 2010 Olympic Champions Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir from Canada are slight favorites; but the 2015 and 2016 World Champions Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron, from France, mainly lost against the Canadians at the NHK Trophy because of two small mistakes. If they do not make any mistakes, like at the Grand Prix in France, there might be a close race between gold and silver.
If everything goes normal, the other four couples can only hope for bronze, although they are excellent as well. Not less than three of them from three different dancing schools are Americans which underlines the high level of U.S. ice dance in general: The 2016 World silver medalists Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani won gold at Skate America and the Cup of China. The 2016 World bronze medalists Madison Chock & Evan Bates qualified with two second places in Canada and Russia. Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue, sixth in Boston, won a silver and a bronze medal in their Grand Prix events. And last but not least, Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev from Russia qualified because of a third place in the USA and a first place in Russia. They recovered well after being wrongly banned from Worlds because of doping. It turned out later that the substance she said she had taken last year was illegal only after January 1 of this year. It could not be proved that she had taken it this year.
The three alternates for Marseille are Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje from Canada, Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier, also from Canada as well as Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte from Italy. All of them had been in a Final before and are very good couples.
The best six Juniors in each category in the seven Junior Grand Prix competitions qualified for the Junior Final. The Junior Grand Prix took place in St. Gervais (France), Ostrava (Czech Republic), Yokohama (Japan), Ljubljana (Slovenia), Saransk (Russia), Tallinn (Estonia) and Dresden (Germany). The Russian skaters were most successful and won 14 of the 24 spots, the U.S. skaters four, Japan three and the Czech Republic, South Korea and France one.
In the ladies Junior Final, three skaters are from Japan (Rika Kihira, Kaori Sakamoto and Marin Honda), and three from Russia (Anastasiia Gubanova, Alina Zagitova and Elizaveta Nugomanova who came as first alternate after her countrywoman Polina Tsurskaya withdrew due to a knee injury.
For the men’s Junior Final the four Russians Alexander Samarin, Roman Savosin, Ilia Skirda and Dmitri Aliev are qualified, plus the South Korean boy Jun Hwan Cha and the U.S. skater Alexei Krasnozhon.
In ice dance, the three medalists of the 2016 Junior World Championships all remained juniors and are in the Final. Like in seniors, no less than three dance teams are from U.S. Figures Skating: Lorraine McNamara & Quinn Carpenter, Rachel Parsons & Michael Parsons, who are favorites for gold and silver, as well as Christina Carreira & Anthony Ponomarenko. The three other teams are Alla Loboda & Pavel Drozd as well as Anastasia Shpilevaya & Grigory Smirnov, both from Russia and Angelique Abachkina & Louis Thauron from France
The Junior Pairs Final would almost have been a Russian national Junior championship because five of the six teams which qualified are from this country: Mishina & Mirzoev, Ustimkina & Volodin, Atakhanova & Sirodov and Boikova & Kozlovskii will compete, but Borisova & Sopot withdrew because Ekaterina Borisova has some (unknown) painful injury. Instead of them, the first alternates and Australians Alexandrovskaya & Windsor will compete in France, plus the Czech couple and reigning Junior World champions Duskova & Bidar.
The ISU transmitted the whole Junior Series in a high quality live stream with the Canadian Ted Barton commentating. You can still see all programs on the ISU channel on YouTube. There were around seven million clicks during the Junior Series this year, last year there were four millions.