The clear favorites this week in the pairs’ competition will be World champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, who is coming off their first ever undefeated season and looking to win their seventh competition in a row. But the big story might be the return of 2006 Olympic silver medalists Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang after injuries took them out of last season.
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WATCH: Zhangs 2012 Chinese Championships free skate
The American contingent boasts three national champions, though none of them are skating with the partners they won their national championships with. The pair whom everyone has been talking about is Caydee Denney and John Coughlin, who has already had a strong rookie season so far.
GOLD Aliona Savchenko/Robin Szolkowy GER – Not like they haven’t won enough times on the Grand Prix – they are looking for their 12th career Grand Prix title and third consecutive Skate America gold medal. Fans will be eagerly anticipating the debut of their two new programs, and of course awaiting the return of their trademark throw triple flip.
SILVER Dan Zhang/Hao Zhang CHN – At the recent Chinese championships, the Zhangs beat young upstarts Wenjing Sui and Cong Han and reestablished themselves as one of the top Chinese pairs teams. Their performances there made it clear that they are picking up stronger than where they left off in 2010 when they finished off the podium at both the Olympics and Worlds. But it’s tough to see them being a solid Savchenko and Szolkowy.
BRONZE Vera Bazarova/Yuri Larionov RUS – Second at Nebelhorn Trophy in front of Denney and Coughlin, Russia’s number three are hoping to establish themselves amongst the very top this season. Bazarova has a tendency to be a bit weak on landings and certainly can crumble, particularly on the side-by-side jumps. But all else equal, they are podium material this week and should find themselves there unless they make a few major mistakes.
4. Caydee Denney/John Coughlin USA – There’s a lot to like about their skating, only a few months into their partnership. At Nebelhorn Trophy in September, they won the bronze with two solid efforts. Technically proficient, they already look like they are maturing into stronger skaters than they ever were with their previous partners. Believe it or not, even with the strength of the other pairs, they have a good shot at the podium this week. If Bazarova and Larionov look at all fragile, they can sweep in for the bronze.
WATCH: Denney/Coughlin Nebelhorn free skate
5. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Dylan Moscovitch CAN – A breakthrough Grand Prix series, then a bit of a late-season fizzle. They took the silver last year at Skate America behind the Germans. While challenging for the gold is likely out of the question, it will be interesting to see how they stack up against Denney and Coughlin.
6. Maylin Hausch/Daniel Wende GER – Second-in-command in German pairs skating, Hausch and Wende have made a strides during last season, winning their first Grand Prix medal ever.
7. Mary Beth Marley/Rockne Brubaker USA – Brubaker is the third of the three American pairs champs in the field, having won twice with former partner Keauna McLaughlin. Marley and Brubaker are one of the young pairs from the States with strong potential to make a splash internationally. It’s their first Grand Prix appearance, and with this deep field, a top-five finish would be a tremendous accomplishment to start their season.
8. Tiffany Vise/Don Baldwin USA – Sixth at Nationals last year, Vise and Baldwin are also competing in their first Grand Prix event. They were seventh at Nebelhorn earlier this season.
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