The top six men’s, women’s, pairs and ice dance couples of the 2018-2019 International Skating Union (ISU) Grand Prix of Figure Skating series will take centre stage this week when Vancouver plays host to the Final.
A total of 36 skaters/couples from nine ISU members have qualified during the six events of the series; Skate America in Everett, Skate Canada in Laval, the Grand Prix of Helsinki in Finland, the NHK Trophy in Japanese city Hiroshima, the Rostelecom Cup in Russia’s capital Moscow and Internationaux de France in Grenoble.
Reigning world champion Nathan Chen of the United States and world silver medallist Shoma Uno of Japan lead the list of qualifiers in men’s competition after striking gold in their two Grand Prix events.
Chen is also the defending ISU Grand Prix Final champion and Uno the defending silver medallist.
The former scored a season’s best 280.57 points at Skate America, while the latter posted a season’s best 277.25 at Skate Canada.
Czech Republic’s Michal Březina, who picked up two silver medals on the circuit, returns to the Final for the first time since 2011, while Russia’s Sergei Voronov will compete in his third edition.
The two newcomers this season are South Korea’s Cha Jun-hwan, the first male skater from his country to qualify for the senior Grand Prix Final, and Canada’s Keegan Messing, who replaces Japan’s double Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu.
Hanyu had qualified with two victories, but had to pull out due to injury.
Reigning Olympic and ISU Grand Prix Final champion Alina Zagitova of Russia headlines the women’s event and comes with a season’s best 238.43 points to Canada.
She will face Japan’s Rika Kihira, who entered the senior scene with a bang this year, winning her two Grand Prix events like Zagitova did.
The teenagers are up against world bronze medallist Satoko Miyahara of Japan and Russia’s 2015 world champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, competing in her first Final in four years.
Contesting their first senior Grand Prix Final will be Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto and Russia’s Sofia Samodurova.
The pairs event features four newcomers, including France’s world bronze medallists Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres who qualified for their first Final after winning their two events and setting a season’s best 221.81 points.
World silver medallists Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov of Russia compete in their third consecutive Final and will be hoping to recapture the title they won two years ago.
Compatriots Natalia Zabiiako and Alexander Enbert took gold medals in their two events and are debuting in the Final.
China’s Peng Cheng and Jin Yang return to the Final after missing it last year, while Italy’s Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise and world junior champions Daria Pavliuchenko and Denis Khodykin of Russia have qualified for the first time.
Della Monica and Guarise are the first Italian pairs skating team to make the Final.
In the ice dance event, world silver medallists Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue of the US will be looking to take the Grand Prix Final crown, but are likely to face stiff competition from the Russian pairings of Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin, and Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov.
Hubbell and Donohue achieved a season’s best 200.82 points at Skate America. while Stepanova and Bukin have 200.78 from the Finlandia Trophy and Sinitsina and Katsalapov picked up 200.38 in France.
Italy’s Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri travel to Vancouver with a season’s best 196.26 points.
This year’s Four Continents champions, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker of the US, and Russia's Tiffani Zagorski and Jonathan Guerreiro have also qualified.
With the exception of Hubbell and Donohue, all the couples are new to the Final.
Competition is due to begin at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre tomorrow, with the men's and women's short programme.
Action will be spread over three days in all and followed by an exhibition gala on Sunday (December 9).