Three down, three to go. NHK Trophy is the fourth stop in this season’s Grand Prix series, and one by one (or in pairs and dance, two by two), the skaters have been making their debuts, showing off their new programs, and doing their best to impress the judges. In dance this week in Sapporo, World bronze medalists Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani are at it again to try for that first career Grand Prix title.
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But like last week, when Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev pulled off the upset, the Shibutanis could find themselves in the silver medal position again with Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje in the field. And with Russian bronze medalists Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov also competing this week, it looks like the three teams have the podium locked up. But in what order?
GOLD Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani USA– With valuable base points lost by not achieving the higher levels on their elements (as dictated by the technical specialist), the Shibutanis were unable to keep up with Bobrova and Soloviev at Cup of China and took the silver. They will need to make the necessary adjustments to hold off the Canadians and the Russians. They have a strong chance of qualifying for the Grand Prix Final with a strong placement this week.
WATCH: Shibutanis Cup of China short dance
WATCH: Shibutanis Cup of China free dance
SILVER Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje CAN– Already with a silver at Skate Canada, Weaver and Poje are legitimate threats for the title at NHK Trophy. Like the Shibutanis, a strong placement this week will go a long way towards qualifying them for the Final. There is much to like about this team, who just had a breakthrough season with a career-high fifth at Worlds.
WATCH: Weaver/Poje Skate Canada short dance
WATCH: Weaver/Poje Skate Canada free dance
BRONZE Elena Ilinykh/Nikita Katsalapov RUS– The competition in Japan is certainly strong, the Americans and Canadians were third and fifth at Worlds, and Ilinykh and Katsalapov were seventh. They are making their season debut this week. And remember that it was only two season ago when they handily defeated the Shibutanis at Junior Worlds.
4. Nelli Zhiganshina/Alexander Gazsi GER– Just missing the podium at Skate America, the Germans will look continue their strong season so far this week. They will likely not be challenging for the podium, but they can certainly be the best of the rest.
WATCH: Zhiganshina/Gazsi Skate America free dance
5. Lynn Kriengkrairut/Logan Giulette-Schmitt USA– Amidst all the new partnerships in American ice dance this season, this team has been completely off the radar. But they took the Ice Challenge last week for their first ever international title and should figure into the top five this week in Japan.
6. Cathy Reed/Chris Reed JPN– The Japanese champs took fourth at Nebelhorn a couple months ago and is looking for a strong skates at their home Grand Prix.
7. Lorenza Alessandrini/Simone Vaturi ITA – The young Italians won the silver at Ondrej Nepela earlier in the season. They are making their Grand Prix debut.
8. Alexandra Paul/Mitchell Islam CAN– Paul and Islam had a disappointing outing at Skate America and will be looking to rebound in Japan.
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