The Japanese Figure Skating Federation has officially announced the postponement of this year’s Grand Prix Final, a major figure skating competition before the 2022 Beijing Olympic Games. The event was set to take place in Osaka, Japan. This was set to be one of the last major international competitions to bring together top senior level figure skaters before the start of the Olympic Games.
The International Skating Union (ISU)’s Grand Prix Final, particularly in an Olympic year, is typically a key competition for the world’s top skaters. With the rise of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, Japan has re-imposed travel restrictions on those entering the country. This is the second year in a row that the ISU has postponed or cancelled the Grand Prix Final due to COVID-19 concerns. The 2020 Grand Prix Final was ultimately cancelled, and had been set to take place in Beijing.
American skaters Nathan Chen, Jason Brown, and Vincent Zhou were set to compete in the men’s event. They were to be joined by home crowd favorites, Yuma Kagiyama and Shoma Uno, who both made big impacts on the Grand Prix circuit this season. Reigning Russian National Champion Mikhail Kolyada was set to round out the men’s event after two Grand Prix silver medals. Yuzuru Hanyu, who would have normally been a shoe-in to make an appearance at this event, did not compete in any Grand Prix events due to injury.
The women’s event looked to be a preview of the Russian National Championships, with Japanese skater Kaori Sakamoto being the only non-Russian skater to qualify for the event. This was also meant to be a preview of what the Olympic podium will look like in this event, with the top Russian skaters all looking to finish in medal positions. Aliona Kostornaia of Russia, the reigning champion from the 2019 Grand Prix Final, was to have the opportunity to defend her title.
The pairs event also looked like it was going to be a preview of the 2022 Olympics, with top Russian teams facing off against heavy event favorites, the Chinese team of Sui Wenjing and Han Cong. Reigning Russian National Champions Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov were to lead the Russian contingent. The home crowd in Osaka would have gotten a chance to watch the Japanese team of Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara, the second Japanese team in the history of the event to qualify for the Grand Prix Final.
American teams Madison Chock and Evan Bates, and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue had qualified in the ice dance event. The Olympic favorites, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France were set to lead the ice dance event after their two Grand Prix gold medals. Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier were the only skaters from Canada that qualified for this year’s Grand Prix Final. The Russian team of Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov qualified for the Grand Prix Final after their two gold medals on this year’s Grand Prix circuit.
There is no word yet on plans to reschedule the event; however, the ISU has said it is considering holding a Grand Prix Final at the end of this figure skating season. In terms of what’s next for the world’s top figure skaters, most will turn their focus to their respective National Championships and earning a spot on their countrys’ Olympic teams. National Championships typically take place between the end of December and the beginning of January each year. Countries will select their Olympic teams, as well as which skaters to send to other major international competitions that will take place over the rest of the figure skating season.
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted so many sports, and the 2022 Olympics no doubt are going to be included in that. Fans can only hope that the safety of athletes, coaches, officials, and everyone else essential to staging the Olympics is going to be put first. As much as skating fans are looking forward to rooting for their favorite skaters and teams, health and safety always needs to be a priority.
The US Figure Skating National Championships will take place from January 3-9, 2022.