Ilia Malinin headlines field at Grand Prix Espoo as skaters get last shot at GP Final qualification

The ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating series heads to its final regular stop of the season in Finland, with Grand Prix Final qualification on the line. Quad Axel star Ilia Malinin is the main draw of the fields.

6 min By ZK Goh
Ilia Malinin (USA) performs in the men's short program at 2022 Skate America
(Picture by Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports via Reuters)

The last eight spots at December's ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final will be decided this weekend at the last regular-season stop of the 2022/23 Grand Prix series in Espoo, Finland.

It is the second time Finland has hosted an ISU Grand Prix, having also held the Grand Prix of Helsinki in 2018. Espoo, which sits around 16km (10mi) west of Helsinki, replaces the Rostelecom Cup on this year's calendar with the Russian Figure Skating Federation currently suspended by the International Skating Union.

The Grand Prix of Espoo from 25–27 November will be held at the city's Metro Areena, which also hosts the annual Challenger Series Finlandia Trophy and will also be the venue of the 2023 European Figure Skating Championships.

Quadruple Axel trailblazer Ilia Malinin is the headline name, with the American aiming to book his place at December's Grand Prix Final in Italy in his first full season at the senior level. The world junior champion leads a men's singles field that looks to be the strongest of the four events in Espoo. In the women's event, Loena Hendrickx and Mihara Mai will each attempt to win their second Grand Prix of the season for one of three remaining Final places.

Final qualification is on the line in all four disciplines, with two men's, three women's, one pairs, and two ice dance spots yet to be filled. Read on for a preview of the action, when and how to watch it, and permutations for Grand Prix Final qualification.

Men's: Malinin favourite to double up, Sato eyes Final

Ilia Malinin, the world junior champion, has set tongues wagging this season with his quadruple Axel.

Fans in Espoo will be treated to it this weekend, with Malinin hoping to ride the jump to his second Grand Prix victory of the season, having also triumphed on home ice at Skate America.

He recently told Olympics.com in an exclusive interview about first landing the jump earlier this season: "I wasn't expecting to even land it at all. I thought I was going to fall on it or do a step out, but the fact that I was able to hold on to my feet was just wild, crazy."

Malinin is the runaway favourite in a field that includes two-time Grand Prix medallists Keegan Messing of Canada, Kevin Aymoz of France, and Japan's Sato Shun, and the 2021 Rostelecom Cup winner Morisi Kvitelashvili of Georgia.

As things currently stand, a fourth-place finish would be enough for Malinin to obtain the points he requires to mathematically qualify for the Grand Prix Final in Turin.

Sato, who finished third at the MK John Wilson Trophy in Sheffield, Great Britain, is the other man who will be eyeing a spot in Turin.

The 18-year-old Japanese skater will qualify with at least a second-place finish, but with the likes of Messing, Aymoz, and Kvitelashvili in his way, that will not be a straightforward task.

Messing himself is not mathematically out of the Grand Prix Final picture, but will need to win the Grand Prix to make the top-six cut.

Ilia Malinin exclusive: On the quad Axel, how he's inspired by Hanyu - and being raised by Olympians

Women's: Hendrickx, Mihara look to continue breakthrough years after maiden wins

Only one of Mihara Mai and Loena Hendrickx can repeat their feats from Sheffield and the Grand Prix de France in Angers respectively and win their second Grand Prix of the season.

Both women clinched their career-first wins this year, but with each of them in the field in Espoo, only one will have a shot at doubling up. Either way, with the pair on 15 points, podium finishes for either will confirm Grand Prix Final qualification.

Two other women could mathematically make the final depending on their results in Espoo. Georgia's Anastasiia Gubanova, who has already been on the podium once in the venue this year with a third place at the Finlandia Trophy, needs to finish second to guarantee qualification.

And the Brian Orser-trained Kihira Rika, back on the Grand Prix circuit and who finished fifth at the Skate Canada International, has an outside shot of qualifying on a tiebreaker if she wins the event. The Japanese was the 2018/19 Grand Prix Final champion, but spent two full seasons away from international competition due to the pandemic and injury.

Pairs and ice dance: Qualification permutations more straightforward

The pairs and ice dance categories in Espoo will provide intrigue in different ways.

With only one Final spot left on offer in pairs, Italy's Rebecca Ghilardi / Filippo Ambrosini and Georgia's Anastasiia Metelkina / Daniil Parkman are level in the Grand Prix standings with both teams set to compete in Espoo.

On paper, it is a straight fight between the two pairs for the last spot – and the Georgians have the better career personal best score. However, their season hasn't been as smooth sailing as the Italians', with some 24 points between the best marks received this year by the two teams.

That makes Ghilardi / Ambrosini favoured to qualify – but they're not necessarily runaway favourites to win the event. That's because Germany's Alisa Efimova / Ruben Blommaert, taking part in their maiden Grand Prix as a team, are barely three points back on their season best score.

The ice dance event field in Espoo almost certainly means Canada's Piper Gilles / Paul Poirier and Americans Kaitlyn Hawayek / Jean-Luc Baker will earn the last two Final tickets.

Gilles / Poirier and Hawayek / Baker are well clear of the rest, and a fourth-place finish for either team – who should on paper wind up one and two – will see them make it to Turin.

Schedule for Grand Prix of Espoo 2022

(Times are local - GMT/UTC + 2 hours)

Friday 25 November

  • 13:00 Pairs short program
  • 14:20 Opening ceremony
  • 14:54 Women's short program
  • 17:47 Men's short program
  • 19:40 Ice dance rhythm dance

Saturday 26 November

  • 12:45 Pairs free skate
  • 14:21 Women's free skate, followed by victory ceremonies women's and pairs
  • 18:15 Men's free skate
  • 20:25 Ice dance free dance, followed by victory ceremonies ice dance and men's

Sunday 27 November

  • 14:00 Exhibition gala

How to watch live: Grand Prix of Espoo 2022

The ISU streams the Grand Prix on its YouTube channel – though many territories are geoblocked from watching.

American fans can watch on Peacock, and the full list of ISU broadcast partners showing the action on their TV and streaming services for the Grand Prix events is here.

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