Tara Lipinski, Johnny Weir preview Grand Prix Final women’s, ice dance events
Every woman in the Grand Prix Final field has lost this season, and with the reigning World champion not even making the six-skater event, the competition is one of the most open in recent memory.
U.S. Olympians Gracie Gold and Ashley Wagner will look to break up recent Russian and Japanese dominance in Barcelona this week.
Mao Asada, the most decorated in the exclusive field, will try to become the first singles skater to win five Grand Prix Final titles, a full decade after her first crown.
Icenetwork.com will provide live coverage of all Grand Prix Final programs for subscribers. NBC will air coverage Dec. 20 from 4-6 p.m. ET.
Here’s the schedule:
Pairs short program -- 2:30 p.m. ET
Men’s short program -- 3:55 p.m. ET
Short dance -- 1:05 p.m. ET
Pairs free skate -- 2:20 p.m. ET
Women’s short program -- 3:55 p.m. ET
Free dance -- 11:25 p.m. ET
Women’s free skate -- 1:45 p.m. ET
Men’s free skate -- 3 p.m. ET
Here are women’s and ice dance previews with thoughts from NBC Olympics analysts Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir:
Women’s Field (Best Grand Prix qualifying total score)
Yelena Radionova (211.32) -- World bronze medalist
Yevgenia Medvedeva (206.76) -- World junior champion
Satoko Miyahara (203.11) -- World silver medalist
Gracie Gold (202.80) -- Olympics, Worlds fourth-place finisher
Ashley Wagner (202.52) -- Grand Prix Final bronze medalist
Mao Asada (197.48) -- Three-time World champion
Last season’s Grand Prix Final and World champion, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, struggled this fall and failed to qualify. That coupled with the fact that no women won both of their Grand Prix series events for the first time since 2006 gives everyone in the field a shot at gold.
Medvedeva and Radionova, two Russians born in 1999 who combined to win the last three World junior titles, may be the most reliable.
Gold, the top qualifier into this event, has six times finished between fourth and sixth in individual standings at the Olympics, Worlds and Four Continents Championships. A medal in her first Grand Prix Final would be a breakthrough.
Wagner, who won Skate Canada in October but finished fourth at NHK Trophy two weeks ago, has already been there, finishing second or third at each of the last three Grand Prix Finals. Another top-three would break her consecutive-podiums tie with Michelle Kwan for the American record.
Then there’s Asada, who won her first Grand Prix Final title in 2005 at age 15. The Japanese icon is shaking off rust after taking the 2014-15 season off. She won the Cup of China in October and then took third at NHK Trophy.
“If [Asada] skates fairly clean, it’s a shoo-in for her, especially if she lands the triple Axel. Mentally, she’s so far ahead of where these other skaters are at just because she’s gone to two Olympics and been up against the best in the world, someone like Yuna Kim. I think she has the wisdom and this calmness on the ice and this feeling of comfort that she gives to the audience and to the judges that pretty much no other skater out there can do.”
“Yevgenia has been my favorite new surprise of the season. We are used to all these new Russians, new little teenagers popping up ... you wonder if Yevgenia can sustain this type of skating the next few years before [the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics], but it’s exciting to watch because she’s so tough. I can feel that when she takes the ice. She has this steely look in her eyes. ... As much as I think Mao will have it in the bag if she skates clean, I think Yevgenia is possibly the person who can bring home the gold.”
"[Gold] has always technically been so good that there’s no doubt in my mind she can win any event that she enters, but this is the first year that I actually sense a new Gracie, a Gracie that’s much more comfortable in her skin, much more comfortable in a competition setting. ... But she does struggle getting two great skates out there [in one competition]. At the final, there’s no room, especially in the short program, to bury yourself.”
“Ashley, obviously her last event didn’t go so well, but you can’t really base anything on track record when it comes to her just because she’s feisty. Yeah, she’ll have a bad competition, but she’ll come out the next one guns blazing and nail it. ... Ashley really brings a performance value that a lot of the other girls don’t have. Yes, you have to hit the jumps, but when you sell a program like Ashley does, that makes a huge difference.”
“The ladies are super interesting. For all this talk about the Russian teenagers, they didn’t really fare that well in the Grand Prix [season]. My personal favorite is Yevgenia Medvedeva, the Skate America champion and a barely silver medalist at Grand Prix Russia. She is, to me, the brightest star that Russia has produced. I love [Yulia] Lipnitskaya, I love Radionova, I love the other Russian ballerinas, but for me, Yevgenia, she has the whole package. She can spin. I actually feel her when she’s skating. The jumps are impeccable. For me, she’s my favorite. But Gracie Gold and Ashley Wagner, both in the Final, very exciting for the U.S. Gracie has been skating wonderfully in the Grand Prix series. I definitely think it’s going to come down to Medvedeva, Gracie Gold and probably Yelena Radionova.”
Ice Dance Field
Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje -- Canada
Madison Chock/Evan Bates -- U.S.
Anna Cappellini/Luca Lanotte -- Italy
Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani -- U.S.
Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue -- U.S.
Yekaterina Bobrova/Dmitry Soloviyev -- Russia
The U.S. put three ice dance teams into a Grand Prix Final for the first time, an impressive feat bolstered by the fact that the first U.S. Olympic ice dance champions, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, are not competing this season.
All three qualified U.S. dance teams won one of the six Grand Prix series events this fall and made the podium in their other Grand Prix starts.
The most decorated of the trio are Chock and Bates, who took silver at last season’s Worlds and Grand Prix Final. The Shibutani siblings’ top international finish was a bronze medal at the 2011 Worlds. Hubbell and Donohue qualified for their first Grand Prix Final.
But any predictions must begin with Weaver and Poje, who have won five straight Grand Prix series titles, including last season’s Grand Prix Final. The Canadians were upset at last season’s World Championships by the French couple of Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who sat out this Grand Prix season due to Papadakis’ concussion.
“I’m excited to see Kaitlyn and Andrew against Madison and Evan because their styles are so different. I flip-flop back and forth as to which one is going to perform better. ... Kaitlyn just steals the show for me when she’s out there, and I feel like Andrew is the perfect frame for their picture, strong and solid. It just lets her emotionally bring it home. ... The storytelling on Madison and Evan’s part is what grabs me. It’s not this chemistry-filled, powerful skating that you get from Kaitlyn and Andrew, but it’s this beautiful, classical style that’s very unique to them.”
“Three American teams is really impressive. My personal favorite, Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, I think they bring something so special to the ice. They’re really in tune with their emotions. Nothing seems forced or fake to me with them. That’s what I like to see in my dancers. But you’ve got Cappellini and Lanotte, who are another favorite of mine going back to their very Italian, rich, sophisticated style, and I like that, too. But of course you’ve got the [2014 Grand Prix Final] gold and silver medalists coming to the competition as well in Weaver/Poje and Chock/Bates. But my personal favorites are the Italians and Hubbell/Donohue.”