At last year’s Cup of China, Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin of Russia narrowly won the gold over Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto of the United States. This year, the stage is set for a rematch.
Fresh off of their win at Skate America, Belbin and Agosto have the advantage of momentum. Their new free dance to Chopin selections was met with rave reviews, and with more time to train this summer, they are head and shoulders above where they were at this time last year. This is their third appearance at Cup of China. In addition to their second place finish last year, they also won the event in 2004. With six Grand Prix wins in the past four years and experience on their side, the three-time World Medalists look to extend their season record to 2-0.
Domnina and Shabalin’s free dance to “Masquerade Waltz” will go head-to-head with Belbin and Agosto’s Chopin interpretation, but unlike the Americans, the Russian team has not yet competed with this dance. Domnina and Shabalin, who were fifth at last year’s World Championships, have only beaten Belbin and Agosto once, although they have certainly closed the gap over the past two years. They won this event in 2006 over Belbin and Agosto. The final outcome may be decided in the last few seconds of the event.
The teams most likely to be battling for the bronze medal are Federica Faiella & Massimo Scali of Italy and Sinead Kerr & John Kerr of Great Britain.
Despite a fall in their free dance at Skate America two weeks ago, Faiella and Scali won a bronze medal at the competition. In order to have a chance of making the Grand Prix Final, they will have to win the bronze here and even then, the chance is slim. After placing eighth at the 2006 World Championships, they dropped to ninth in 2007. The last time they competed at Cup of China, in 2005, error-filled performances left them in sixth. They have something to prove this week.
The Kerrs from Great Britain make their season début at Cup of China. It will also be their first appearance at this event. Since they are not known for being strong in the early part of the season, it will be interesting to see how they match up against Faiella and Scali. The Kerrs have performed their avant-garde competitive programs in shows this fall, and while they have left impressions on their audiences, it will be the judges who have the final say this time.
Last year, Alexandra Zaretski and Roman Zaretski of Israel placed fourth at this event. Like the Kerrs, the Zaretskis are siblings. This year marks their third consecutive trip to Cup of China. The Zaretskis switched coaches this year and are now working with Galit Chait and Nikolai Morozov. After a seventh place finish at Skate America with reasonably strong performances, they may factor into the top five at this event.
Ukraine’s Anna Zadorozhniuk and Sergei Verbillo finished tenth at the 2007 European Championships to the Zaretskis’ eleventh. Cup of China could be an exciting rematch between these two teams. Zadorozhniuk and Verbillo are making their first appearance at Cup of China in their third season on the senior Grand Prix. Last year, they finished a strong sixth in their only Grand Prix event, NHK Trophy. However, since they have not yet competed this season and the Zaretskis have, it may be the Zaretskis who have a slight advantage.
Cup of China will be Zoe Blanc and Pierre-Loup Bouquet’s first senior international competition. This young French team placed fourth in the first French competition of the season, the Masters de Patinage, well behind their more seasoned teammates. Last year, their season was highlighted by a sixth-place finish on the Junior Grand Prix.
As the host country, China sends three teams to its event. Xintong Huang and Xun Zheng have the most experience, having competed on the Junior Grand Prix circuit for several years before making their Grand Prix début last year. They were tenth at Cup of China in 2006. Li Liu and Bin Suo placed fourth at the 2007 Asian Winter Games, but have not yet competed on the Grand Prix. This will be the first international competition for Meimei Guojia and Fei Meng.