Virtue and Moir have the edge in Grand Prix Final showdown

Editor’s note: is live streaming every short and free program at the Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final, beginning Thursday at 4:15 a.m. ET. The event will also be featured on CBC Television’s Road to the Olympic Games shows on Saturday at 2 p.m. ET and Sunday at 3 p.m. local time. Here’s Pj Kwong’s breakdown of what to expect at the event.

The favourites at the Grand Prix Final are normally pretty clear. But this year is different.

Some of figure skating’s top names will be missing from the men’s and ladies’ events in Nagoya, Japan, leaving the door open there. Meanwhile, the pairs and dance competitions will feature more familiar top contenders.

Here’s what to watch for in all four events:

Dance: Virtue and Moir’s artistry bears fruit

Apples and oranges. That’s how I see the ice dance event.

My money is on the “apples” — defending champs Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir — every time. I love the fact that the Canadians can do anything. They’re not afraid to take artistic risks, and that’s why they’ve been able to create programs throughout their career that are forever etched in my brain.

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir skate to gold at NHK Trophy8:24

The “oranges” are two-time world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron. The French skaters don’t push boundaries the way Virtue and Moir do, but they know what they do well and they excel at those things every time. They’ve built their meteoric rise on a fluid style with sensational skating skills, speed, unison and sheer beauty. I admire their ability to take something that works for them and replicate it. It wins competitions and that is always the goal. Smart.

France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron take gold at ISU Grand Prix7:43

It will undoubtedly be one of these two dance teams who will take the Olympic title this February, which makes this head-to-head competition especially important.

Virtue and Moir focused on Pyeonchang gold8:32

Men: No Big 3

At the start of the season, I never would have thought that my “trifecta of terrific” — 2014 Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, 2014 Olympic silver medallist Patrick Chan and two-time world champion Javier Fernandez — would all fail to qualify for the Final. These three men have been regulars at this event, and one of them has won the title every year but one since 2010.

Their absence creates an opportunity for two teenagers — 18 year-old Nathan Chen and 19-year-old Shoma Uno — to go head to head for the title. Presumably, both men will make the final flight at the Olympics in February, so I’m excited to see how this event will play out. Chen and Uno are both jumping machines who match wonderful skating skills with great material, making this a very close race.

Nathan Chen wins gold at Skate America5:01

Women: Osmond’s time to shine

Evgenia Medvedeva is extraordinary. Since 2015, she has lost only once, including victories in both her Grand Prix events this season. But she has a broken bone in her foot and is healing at home in Russia. 

Medvedeva’s absence could make for a wide-open competition between the likes of 30-year-old Italian Carolina Kostner and rising Russian star Alina Zagitova, who is literally half her age.

I’m also convinced this is the event where we’ll see Canada’s Kaetlyn Osmond come into her own. The silver medallist from the 2017 world championships has talent and programs to die for. It’s time for her to get serious in advance of the Olympics and lay down two clean programs to take the title.

Kaetlyn Osmond falls to bronze at Internationaux de France7:56

Pairs: Loaded field

The pairs’ field is the most evenly matched. The strongest team seems to be China’s world champions, Wenjing Sui and Cong Han. They’re consistent, talented, prepared and have the early-season results to prove it, with gold medals in both of their Grand Prix events.

China’s Wenjing Sui, Cong Han capture pairs gold at NHK Trophy9:14

Two-time world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada also have the talent, worth ethic and drive to make it to the top of the podium. In fact, all of the teams competing in Japan are either world or Olympic medallists or finished in the top five at a world championships. Even more than the other events, the pairs’ competition will come down to who performs best on the day.

Meagan Duhamel, Eric Radford end up with bronze at Skate America8:07

Pj’s gold-medal picks

Men: Shoma Uno (Japan)

Ladies: Kaetlyn Osmond (Canada)

Pairs: Wenjing Sui and Cong Han (China)

Dance: Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir (Canada)

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