Japanese figure skating stars eye golden season
Paris: Japanese figure skaters will be eyeing a golden season in the absence of Olympic champions Kim Yu-Na and Evan Lysacek as the road to Sochi 2014 begins this week with the first round of the ISU Grand Prix series.
Along with South Korea’s Kim and American Lysacek most of the medallists from January’s Vancouver Games have opted to skip the six-leg series which gets underway on Friday with the NHK Trophy in Nagoya, Japan.
The series continues at Skate Canada in Kingston, Ontario next weekend followed by November dates at the Cup of China in Beijing, Skate America in Portland, Oregon, the Cup of Russia, Moscow and the Trophee Bompard in Paris.
The top six skaters in each discipline will qualify for the Grand Prix final in Beijing from December 9-12 with over 1.35 million dollars in prize money up for grabs throughout the series.
The absence of Kim and Lysacek will give Japanese stars Mao Asada and Daisuke Takahashi the chance to fine tune their performances as they bid to defend their world titles at home in Tokyo next March.
In a post-Olympic season emerging skaters will also be looking to break through and lay the groundwork for the next Winter Games in Russia in just over three years time.
The rivalry between Kim and Asada spiced up last season culminating with their epic battle for Olympic gold which the South Korean won with world record scores. Asada, 20, came back to take the world title.
This season will miss that rivalry as the Korean superstar has opted not to compete in the Grand Prix series to focus on recapturing her title at the 2011 world championships.
The 20-year-old Kim’s pre-season was overshadowed by her acrimonious split with long-time coach Brian Orser and switch to Peter Oppegard, the brother-in-law of US skating legend Michelle Kwan.
Asada, the Olympic silver medallist, is the only woman from the Vancouver podium competing with Canada’s bronze medallist Joannie Rochette also absent.
But there are a number of skaters looking to come through.
The Japanese women’s team also includes reigning world junior champion Kanako Murakami, 15, who kicks off her first senior season in her home town of Nagoya at the NHK Trophy.
Seventeen-year-old American Mirai Nagasu, who led the short programme at the worlds only to finish seventh, will compete in the Cup of China and Trophee Bompard.
Her teammates - former world junior champion Caroline Zhang, Rachael Flatt and Ashley Wagner - will also be looking to put the US back on the world podium.
Russia, who have emerging skaters who are too young to compete this season, have their hopes on Alena Leonova and Ksenia Makarova, ninth and tenth respectively in Vancouver.
In the men’s, Takahashi is also the only podium finisher from Vancouver with Lysacek and Russia’s Yvegeny Plushenko not competing.
In addition to Takahashi, Japan’s Nobunari Oda will be looking to emerge and win the Grand Prix title after finishing second last year behind Lysacek. His assignments will be Skate Canada and Skate America.
Canada’s Patrick Chan, the world silver medallist, will compete in Skate Canada and the Cup of Russia with American Jeremy Abbott opening in Japan.
China’s Qing Pang and Jian Tong are the only top ranked pairs skaters competing in the Grand Prix series.
In ice dancing, Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada have had their season thrown into turmoil after she underwent surgery on her shins.
They have already withdrawn from Skate Canada with their second date, the Trophee Eric Bompard, doubtful.
Silver medallists Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the United States open at the NHK Trophy and will also compete in Skate America.
Six-leg 2010-2011 Grand Prix series
October 22-24: NHK Trophy, Nagoya, Japan
October 29-31: Skate Canada at Kingston, Ontario
November 5-7: Cup of China, Beijing
November 12-14: Skate America, Portland, Oregon
November 19-21: Cup of Russia, Moscow
November 26-28: Trophee Eric Bompard, Paris
December 9-12: Grand Prix final Beijing, China