NHK Trophy Pairs Preview

Kavaguti and Smirnov and Savchenko and Szolkowy both come into this event with gold medals and this is the first of their two meetings this series (three if they both make the Grand Prix Final as expected).  They both have huge throws and twists and rank among the World’s top teams.

Savchenko and Szolkowy are adding a throw triple axel to their repertoire this season, and after missing the jump at Skate America, they found themselves in 5th place after the short program.  Their free skate is so good, that they came back to win the gold medal in the event.  They’ve shown that they can take big risks, make mistakes and still come out on top.

Kavaguti and Smirnov missed the beginning of the season last year due to injury and have decided to keep their Clair de Lune free skate this season.  Although the program is mesmerizing and they hit all their elements, their score still put them below the Germans.  Kavaguti is very flexible and has long legs but sometimes she ends up looking awkward because she doesn’t quite know how to use that length to her advantage and achieve the long sweeping lines that Russian pairs teams are known for.  They have less room to make mistakes if they want to win gold, especially if the Germans hit the throw triple axel.

While these two teams will be battling it out for gold, there are four teams fighting for the last spot on the podium.  Takahashi and Tran are in their first full senior season.  They had good success, winning two medals last year, but seemed to run out of steam by the end of the season after competing in 8 ISU events.  They have a very contemporary style and although they didn’t medal at their first event, they did set a new personal best and finished just off the podium.

Denney and Coughlin are a new team this season and have huge twists and throws and are even planning on adding quads in the future.  They have been consistent in their short program, setting themselves up to win a medal, but their inexperience has shown through in their free skate.  With more time, they should be able to work out these kinks, hit all the elements, and add more finesse to their program to improve the PCS scores.

Berton and Hotarek had a breakout season, placing in the top 5 at Europeans and top 10 at Worlds.  They’ve been consistent in their two Senior B events this season and while this is their season debut on the Grand Prix, they’ve had a chance to get feedback on their programs and make changes for this event.

Iliushechkina and Maisuradze qualified for the Final last season and even took home a gold medal from Skate Canada.  Their 5th place finish there this season was a disappointment.  Their biggest struggle was their side by side jumps.  While they also are able to complete elements, they don’t always finish everything off and earn negative or low GOEs.  Especially in their short program, it’s full of energy and very fast, but that can lead to them giving points away trying to keep up with the music.

My podium predictions:
Gold: Savchenko/Szolkowy
Silver: Kavaguti/Smirnov
Bronze: Takahashi/Tran

Bios of the competitors:  
Purich/Schultz, CAN: They finished 5th at Junior Worlds.  They won bronze at JGP Great Britain and Czech Republic last season to qualify for the JGPF where they finished 7th.  Their personal best is 131.77.  She is 16 and he is 21.

Savchenko/Szolkowy, GER: They are the reigning World Champions and European Champions.  They won gold at Skate America.  They qualified for the Grand Prix Final last season and won gold.  They are the 2010 Olympic bronze medalists; the 2009 and 2008 World Champions; 2010 World silver medalists; 2007 World bronze medalists; 2009, 2008 and 2007 European Champions; and the 2010 and 2006 European silver medalists.  Their personal best is 217.85.  She is 27 and he is 32. 

 
Berton/Hotarek, ITA: They finished 10th at Worlds and 5th at Europeans.  They placed 6th at Cup of Russia last season.  Their personal best is 164.83.  She is 21 and he is 27.
 
Takahashi/Tran, JPN: They finished 9th at Worlds, 7th at Four Continents and are the reigning World Junior bronze medalists.  They finished 4th at Skate Canada.  They qualified for the JGP Final last season and won gold.  They are the 2010 World Junior silver medalists.  Their personal best is 169.41.  She is 19 and he is 21.
 
Iliushechkina/Maisuradze, RUS: They finished 5th at Skate Canada.  They qualified for the Grand Prix Final last season and finished 4th.  They are the 2009 World Junior Champions and 2008 World Junior silver medalists.  Their personal best is 177.44.  She is 19 and he is 23. 

Kavaguti/Smirnov, RUS: They finished 4th at Worlds and are the reigning European silver medalists.  They won gold at Cup of China.  They are the 2009 and 2010 World bronze medalists, 2010 European Champions, 2009 European silver medalists and 2008 European bronze medalists.  Their personal best is 213.15.  She is 29 and he is 27.
 
Castelli/Shnapir, USA: They finished 4th at Skate Canada and 6th at Skate America last season.  They are the 2009 World Junior bronze medalists.  Their personal best is 159.85.  She is 21 and he is 24.
 
Denney/Coughlin, USA: They finished 4th at their Grand Prix debut, Skate America.  Their personal best is 175.40.  She is 18 and he is 25.