The International Skating Union’s (ISU) Grand Prix series kicked off this past weekend on October 22. Ahead of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, it’s a critical look ahead to what the Olympic figure skating competition will have in store.
Figure skating is one of the Winter Olympics most popular sports, and it is always exciting to get a preview of programs and skaters in the season leading up to an Olympics. As with virtually all other sports, the figure skating circuit has been affected by stops and starts, and ever-evolving COVID 19 regulations.
The ISU Grand Prix consists of six events. Six countries, the United States, Canada, China, Japan, France, and Russia play host to the top figure skaters to senior competitive figure skaters. The Grand Prix events take place every year between October and November on consecutive weekends. After the final event, the top six skaters or partners from all six events are sent to the Grand Prix Final.
Skaters are given event assignments based on their international rankings. Qualifications to compete in the ISU Grand Prix have evolved over time. At minimum, skaters must be a minimum of 15 years of age and meet minimum score requirements from ISU sanctioned competitions from the previous season. Typically, skaters compete based on their standings from the previous season or by invitation, and can compete in up to two events. Each country may invite up to three skaters/partners from each discipline to showcase local talent.
The first event of the ISU Grand Prix this season is in the books, and took place in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The major story out of this competition was that American Nathan Chen’s 4-year winning streak at this event has come to an end. After falling out of two critical quadruple jumps during the short program, Chen finished third behind fellow American Vincent Zhou and former Japanese national champion Shoma Uno. Of the end of his winning streak, Chen told reporters, “It was inevitably going to end as a winning streak at some point in time, and I am really proud of these guys here”.
Russia also continued their domination of the women’s event, with a gold-silver finish by Alexandra Trusova and Daria Usacheva respectively. The Japanese pairs team of Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara earned the first medal for Japan on the Grand Prix circuit. Pairs skating and ice dance remains less popular in Japan than the individual events. Perhaps this team’s success will be the beginning of changing that.
This ISU Grand Prix event will be held in Vancouver, Canada from October 29-31 2021.
One of the main stories in this event is likely going to be the introduction of the pairs team of Vanessa James and Eric Radford. Radford, a previous Canadian and international champion with partner Megan Duhamel, announced his retirement with Duhamel following the 2018 season. He apparently did not inform Duhamel of his intent to return to competition, for which Duhamel expressed “disappointment”.
Fans will also get another chance to watch Nathan Chen in action leading up to the Olympics, as well as fellow Americans Karen Chen and Alysa Liu, two former US National Chamypions looking to also make an international impact leading up to the Olympics.
2021 Grand Prix of Italy:
This year, the Cup of China, a staple of the ISU Grand Prix was cancelled in August 2021 due to the ongoing COVID 19 pandemic. It will be replaced by the somewhat uncreatively-named 2021 Grand Prix of Italy to be hosted in Turin, Italy. The competition will run from November 5-7 2021.
This competition will feature Italian skaters from across all four disciplines. Italy is not typically known for its figure skaters, Carolina Kostner notwithstanding. This can be a benefit of having these events move countries, a chance to showcase figure skaters who may not otherwise get a chance on the world stage. Fans will also get to see five-time Korean champion Cha Jun-hwan compete in the men’s event. He’s an underrated gem who is always very fun to watch.
2021 NHK Trophy:
The 2021 NHK Trophy will take place from November 12-14 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.
Figure skating has been incredibly popular in Japan for a number of years. One of the country’s (and the world’s) most popular skaters, Yuzuru Hanyu (affectionately known by fans as “Yuzu”), will get a chance to debut his programs leading to the Olympics. He is a ridiculously talented skater, being the only man in the post-war era to win seven World Championship medals.
The other interesting story to watch for in this event is the ice dance partnership of Kana Muramoto and Daisuke Takahashi. Muramoto’s partner, American ice dancer Chris Reed, tragically passed away in 2020 at the age of 30. She has partnered with Takahashi, a former men’s singles skater who was the 2010 Olympic bronze medalist. They debuted at the 2020 NHK trophy, placing third, and placed second at the 2020 Japanese National Championships.
2021 Internationaux de France:
The 2021 Internationaux de France will take place November 19-21 2021 in Grenoble, France.
Figure skating fans who have been around for a number of years will likely enjoy watching Anthony Ponomarenko, the son of former Soviet ice dancers and 1992 Olympic Champions Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko. Ponomarenko the younger will be competing in the ice dance event with his partner Christina Carreira for the United States.
Former US National Champion Jason Brown will be competing in the men’s event. At age 26, he may be older than a lot of other skaters in the event. However, his programs are always entertaining and a joy to watch.
2021 Rostelecom Cup:
The final Grand Prix event before the Final will take place November 26-28 in Sochi, Russia.
Russian figure skaters, like all other Russian Olympic athletes, will not be able to compete under the Russian flag at the 2022 Olympics. That is not stopping them from sending their best figure skaters across all four disciplines to compete on home turf. Figure skating coach Eteri Tutberidze has several skaters, known by some fans as “Tutberidze Girls” competing under her direction, despite several having left her to work with former Olympic champion Evgeni Plushenko.
The 2021 ISU Grand Prix promises an exciting six weeks of competition, followed by what is sure to be an epic Grand Prix Final. If you’ve never been into figure skating, this is a great year to start watching. These stories are sure to carry on through the season leading to the Olympics, and it’s so good to see figure skating back and better than ever!