Grand Prix assignments handed out for figure skating season

The six-event series will look more like regional events as the ISU sets to limit international travel, though some skaters chose to compete near their training bases.

By Nick McCarvel

The assignments were handed out on Thursday (1 Oct.) for the ISU’s Grand Prix Series of Figure Skating, with athletes limited to just one event versus the normal two.

Little is normal in COVID times, however, and the assignments are as expected: With most of the Grand Prix events taking on a national feel as athletes are limited to traveling in their home or training nation/region.

That means that Skate America, set for 23-25 Oct. in Las Vegas, will feature two-time and reigning world champion Nathan Chen, while the field for the Russian ladies event is blockbuster, including Olympic silver medallist Evgenia Medvedeva, reigning European champion Alena Kostornaia, and two other on-the-rise stars in Alexandra Trusova and Anna Shcherbakova.

PyeongChang 2018 gold medallist and 2019 world champion Alina Zagitova is not assigned to any event at this time.

Two-time world champions in pairs, Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, will compete at home in China, while the four-time ice dance world champs Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron will skate at the Internationaux de France instead of Skate Canada, though they train in Montreal.

Two-time Olympic gold medallist Hanyu Yuzuru announced in late August that he would sit the Grand Prix out, due to concerns of traveling during the pandemic. The Japanese star has eight Grand Prix golds to his name and has won four golds at the Grand Prix Final, which was delayed from its December date by official earlier this week.

Trainer base option for some

The assignments list does see a few athletes competing away from home and closer to their training bases, most notably Uno Shoma, the 2018 Olympic silver medallist, set to skate in France. He will be joined there by compatriot Kihira Rika. Fellow Japanese skater Miyahara Satoko is set for Skate Canada in week two of the season.

Other notable names away from their home/regional Grand Prix events: Three-time world medallists Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov of Russia at Skate America; Keegan Messing of Canada at Skate America; and Jason Brown of the U.S. at Skate Canada.

A full list of assignments can be found here.

Chen headlines Vegas; Brown vs. Cha in Ottawa

Skate America is set to kick off the season later this month, U.S. Figure Skating announcing the event will be closed-doors with no fan access. In the men's event, Chen will have a challenger in 2019 world bronze medallist Vincent Zhou.

In ice dance in Las Vegas, it will be Madison Chock and Evan Bates going head-to-head with Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue.

At Skate Canada (30 Oct.-Nov. 1) in Ottawa, Brown is joined in the men's field by Korean skater Cha Jun-hwan, both men training with Brian Orser in Toronto. Canada's Nam Nguyen should factor in there, as well. Ice dancers Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier will be favoured against a field that has an international flavour, including the Team GB duo of Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson.

Papadakis/Cizeron head home; Kihira, Uno also in France

The pairs event will the strongest at Cup of China (Nov. 6-10), where Sui and Han will face off against Peng Cheng and Jin Yang. Jin Boyang and Yan Han will clash in men's singles.

In Grenoble, France (Nov. 13-15), Kihira and Uno will go up against European fields in the women's and men's events, respectively, including Kevin Aymoz of France and Matteo Rizzo of Italy in the men's competition. Papdakis and Cizeron's chief challengers in dance should be Rizzo's Italian counterparts, Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri.

Russian fields stacked; Takahashi returns

Russia's figure skating prowess will be on display at Rostelecom Cup (Nov. 20-22), with a loaded ladies field that includes Kostornaia, Trusova, Medvedeva and Shcherbakova, as well as 2015 European and world champ Elizaveta Tuktamysheva. A resurgent Mikhail Kolyada, who looked good at the Russian test skates last month, will lead a men's field that also features Dmitri Aliev.

Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii will battle it out in pairs with Daria Pavliuchenko and Denis Khodykin, while Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin lead the dance field along with Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov.

At the NHK Trophy in Osaka (Nov. 27-29), the absences of Hanyu, Uno, Kihira and Miyahara will be felt in singles. That opens the door for Sakamoto Kaori and a host of other established women in the ladies' event, while Kagiyama Yuma, the 2020 Youth Olympic Games winner could have a breakout result.

And plenty of fans are looking forward to the return of Takahashi Daisuke, the Vancouver 2010 bronze medallist in men's singles. He's back -- in ice dance -- and teaming up with Muramoto Kana.