Cup of China: Four things to watch at skating season's second Grand Prix

It’s a showdown in the men’s event between Jin Boyang and Yan Han, though Olympic silver medallists Sui and Han are sitting out due to surgery recovery.

By Nick McCarvel

Two weeks after the completion of Skate America, the figure skating Grand Prix returns with the Cup of China, held in the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing.

Skate Canada, meant to fall between the two events, was cancelled due to COVID-19 pre-cautions. The Internationaux de France, set for 13-14 Nov., has also been cut due to the pandemic.

Cup of China, however, will go on – albeit without fans in attendance, like Skate America – and will feature only Chinese skaters in a move by the ISU to limit the international travel of skaters.

Olympians Jin Boyang, Yan Han, Peng Cheng and Jin Yang, as well as Wang Shiyue and Liu Xinyu will all compete. PyeongChang 2018 silver medallists and two-time world champion pairs skaters Sui Wenjing and Han Cong will sit out, however, as Han continue to recover from hip surgery in April.

Here, four things to watch for the event, which is set for 6-7 Nov.

Men: Jin and Yan meet on same ice

Two established skaters are set to face off, though Jin is the one with more recent success, having placed fourth in PyeongChang, won two world championship medals (bronze in 2016 and 17) and won five Chinese national titles, in addition to being the reigning Cup of China champ.

Yan had initially stepped away from the sport after PyeongChang, but made a splash of a comeback 12 months ago by winning silver at Cup of China. Now 24, Yan won the Chinese title for 2020, though he was 10th at Four Continents in February in South Korea.

Yan is also the 2012 Youth Olympic Games champion, and has won Chinese nationals four times.

Jin, the first skater to complete a quadruple Lutz-triple toe combination, will look to defend his title. And Chen Yudong, the reigning Chinese junior champ, will also compete. The 16-year-old finished sixth at the Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne in January. This is his senior international debut.

Peng/Jin look to impress home judges

Without Sui and Han (more on that below) the pairs field is down to just three teams in the discipline that the Chinese have won at least one Olympic medal in over four out of the last five Winter Games.

The reigning junior national champions, Wang Yuchen and Huang Yihang, will also feature. The duo, still both teenagers, placed fifth at the Youth Olympic Games.

Peng and Jin had their best season ever in 2019-20, having joined forces three years prior. They won Skate America, were second at Cup of China, grabbed silver at both the Grand Prix Final and Four Continents and won their third national title together.

Having been fourth at the world championships in 2019, the duo continue to push Sui and Han on the international stage. They’ll skate to programs by Marie-France Dubreuil (short) and Lori Nichol (free) this season.

Sui/Han: Han in ‘recovery’ mode post-surgery

World champs in 2017 and 19, Sui and Han are seen as medal contenders for Beijing 2022 with the Olympics less than 16 months away.

But Han had surgery on his hip joint in April and still needs more time to recover, according to the state-run Xinhua News.

“We had planned to come back at the Four Continents Championships. But as the Cup of China is to be held on home soil, we thought for a while the possibility of competing at Chongqing. However, we finally decided not to be in a hurry," said Han, according to Xinhua.

Sui and Han train alongside Peng and Jin with coach Zhao Hongbo, the Vancouver 2010 pairs gold medal winner (with wife Shen Xue). They also won bronze in Salt Lake City and Torino.

"Although the COVID-19 pandemic had an impact on our training plans, generally speaking, everything goes smoothly," said Zhao, who is the head coach of the Chinese figure skating team.

"The Cup of China is like an exam and I hope all the skaters can show their best on the rink."

Ladies and dance: Open fields

Three-time and reigning Chinese champions in ice dance, Wang and Liu have been back in Beijing since the pandemic hit. In the recent past, the team had made the move to Montreal to train with Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, alongside some of the top ice dance teams in the world.

Chen Hong and Sun Zhuoming, in just their third season together, are two-time Chinese silver medallists and will look to challenge Wang and Liu for podium positions.

In the ladies field, three-time Chinese medallist Chen Hongyi, 18, is the most established skater. She finished 19th at the world championships in 2019.

At Skate America, Lin Shan, who won bronze at Chinese nationals, was sixth. The Texas native switched to skating for China in 2018.