Now in its sixth year in its current competition format, the Japan Open is the biggest pro-am competition of the year, featuring a number of the top skaters from last season’s World Championships and big names who have retired. The star power is pretty huge, with three Olympic medals, 13 World medals (including five golds), and loads of national titles amongst the 12 skaters.
Three teams of two male and two female singles skaters compete one free skate each, with one team from host country Japan, one from North America, and a third from Europe. Last year, Team Japan edged Team North America by less than a quarter-point. This year, the competition could very well be just as close.
Watch: Rochette 2010 Japan Open free
TEAM JAPAN (Ando, Suzuki, Kozuka, Takahashi)
Strengths:Current World ladies champ (Miki Ando), current World men’s silver medalist (Takahiko Kozuka), World men’s champion and Olympic bronze medalist from the season before (Daisuke Takahashi), Japan certainly assembled their A+ team to take the ice this weekend. Ando has proven to be a consistent skater the past few seasons, and Kozuka and Takahashi are two of the most well-rounded skaters in the world.
Weaknesses:It’s tough (and unfair) to even call Akiko Suzuki the weakness on this team, but she certainly looks to be the one who would contribute the least to the team score. At her best, she can compete with any of these ladies, with a vibrant interpretation of music and a strong array of jumps. But she can be inconsistent. And the same inconsistency can be attributed to Takahashi as well.
TEAM NORTH AMERICA (Czisny, Rochette, Chan, Buttle)
Strengths: Patrick Chan and his love of the quad toe are certainly going to be the biggest asset to Team North America. He has been talking about adding a quad salchow this season, and interested observers will be holding their breath for an attempt this week. But it could be Chan’s quads that put Team North America over the top in what looks to be a close race. Alissa Czisny is coming off a superb last season, where she recaptured her national title and finished fifth at Worlds, and she could very well be an asset to the team as well.
Weaknesses: Both Olympic bronze medalists, Canadians Joannie Rochette and Jeffrey Buttle are not as much weakness as they are wild cards. Buttle retired from Olympic-eligible competition a few seasons ago and the triple axel was never his best jump. Rochette has not competed since last year’s Japan Open, where she put together an incredibly strong skate for a skater who was not even looking to compete last season.
TEAM EUROPE (Leonova, Tuktamisheva, Gachinski, Amodio)
Strengths: World bronze medalist Artur Gachinski and European champion Florent Amodio will be leading the way after both having huge breakout seasons last year. Gachinski’s surprise bronze at Worlds perked up Russian men’s skating, which has been in limbo in Evgeny Plushenko’s absence. Amodio overtook Brian Joubert as the Frenchman to beat after winning Europeans in his first trip. Amodio is a crowd-pleaser and Gachinski proved himself to be quite the jump machine.
Weaknesses: On paper, this is the least decorated and most inexperienced team. With the exception of Sarah Meier, who is the veteran of the bunch, the other three have barely begun their senior careers. But it is also perhaps Meier who is the most unpredictable of the four, since she is now retired from Olympic-eligible competition. Their success will likely hinge on her and on the consistency of Alena Leonova, who has been inconsistent for a couple of season, but skated the lights out at Worlds last season to finish a career-high fourth.
UPDATE: Meier has withdrawn from the competition and her last-minute replacement is Russian youngster Elizaveta Tuktamisheva, who is the current World junior silver medalist and one of the technically adept up-and-comers. That said, being a last-minute replacement in a field of such big names could be a disadvantage.
1. Patrick Chan CAN
2. Takahiko Kozuka JPN
3. Daisuke Takahashi JPN
4. Florent Amodio FRA
5. Jeff Buttle CAN
6. Artur Gachinski RUS
1. Miki Ando JPN
2. Alissa Czisny USA
3. Joannie Rochette CAN
4. Alena Leonova RUS
5. Akiko Suzuki JPN
6. Elizaveta Tuktamisheva RUS
1. Team North America
2. Team Japan
3. Team Europe
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