Four weeks into the Grand Prix season, fans will see the strongest field yet at the NHK Trophy in Tokyo on Friday and Saturday.
The lineups are impressive from American and international perspectives with reigning ice dance World champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White making their second Grand Prix appearance after winning Skate America and the season debut of Javier Fernandez, the reigning World bronze medalist.
Here’s the broadcast schedule:
Universal Sports online broadcast schedule
Friday — 12:50 a.m. (pairs/men’s/women’s short programs)
Friday — 10:05 p.m. (short dance/pairs free)
Saturday — 10 p.m. (free dance)
NBC broadcast schedule
Sunday — 1:30-3:30 p.m.
Here are event-by-event preview:
While Fernandez will be one to watch, so will almost the entire men’s field, which includes 2010 Olympic bronze medalist Daisuke Takahashi.
Takahashi stumbled in his Grand Prix opener last month, finishing fourth at Skate America. Americans Adam Rippon and Max Aaron beat Takahashi in Detroit, Rippon registering a personal best on his way to silver while Aaron was third.
It will be an excellent weekend for the Americans — Rippon and Aaron are joined by three-time U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott – to measure themselves against Fernandez and Takahashi, as well as Japan’s Takahito Mura and Nobunari Oda, the latter who won bronze at Skate Canada two weeks ago.
Abbott, specifically, will look for a strong showing after finishing a disappointing sixth at Skate Canada. He was ninth at the 2010 Vancouver Games.
Japan has a strong contingent among the ladies as well, most notably Mao Asada, the 2010 Olympic silver medalist and two-time world champion. Asada will look to build on her Skate America win with her triple Axel and strong spins. Countrywoman Akiko Suzuki, 28, was second a week later at Skate Canada.
Gracie Gold, 18, who won silver at the U.S. Championships in January, took bronze at Skate Canada and will have two more weeks under her belt with veteran coach Frank Carroll, whom she began working with in September. Gold is joined by Mirai Nagasu, the 2008 U.S. champion who was fourth at the Vancouver Games.
Russia’s Alena Leonova is making her Grand Prix season debut, though the 2012 World silver medalist was a disappointing 13th at the same competition this year. More eyes might be on Yelena Radyonova, 14, who was third at Skate America but is ineligible for the Olympics because of age restrictions.
Davis and White look not only to win gold in Tokyo, but also to capture their 14th straight Grand Prix title, a streak dating to 2009 and includes Skate America in October.
It’s that event that gives the World champions confidence. They scored 188.23 in Detroit, seven points higher than Canadian rivals Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir at Skate Canada the following week.
Italy’s Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte, second at Skate America, will push Davis and White at NHK.
American siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani were third at Skate America, where they debuted their Michael Jackson medley free dance, Alex falling on a transitional passage. Russians Yelena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov are another couple to watch, having placed fifth at the 2012 World Championships.
Russia’s best bet for an Olympic gold medal in figure skating is in pairs, where Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov are the reigning World champions. Volosozhar and Trankov broke their own world records at Skate America and shouldn’t run into too much trouble to win again in Tokyo.
U.S. champions Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir hope to improve from sixth in Detroit.