Beijing, China, plays host to the third event of the Grand Prix series, Cup of China. Judging by the placements last week at HomeSense Skate Canada, the projected results are anything but certain.
Tanith Belbin & Benjamin Agosto of the U.S. will look to defend the Cup of China title they won in 2007 and build on their silver medal finish at Skate America two weeks ago. Belbin & Agosto’s toughest competition may come from two Russian teams, including unlikely training mates, Oksana Domnina & Maxim Shabalin. Within weeks of Belbin & Agosto announcing they were leaving Michigan and longtime coach Igor Shpilband to train in Aston, PA with Natalia Linichuk and Gennadi Karponosov, Domnina & Shabalin announced they were also heading to the U.S. to train with Linichuk & Karponosov.
Jana Khokhlova & Sergei Novitski capitalized on Domnina & Shabalin’s withdrawal from the 2008 World Championships and propelled themselves to a bronze medal podium finish. The team’s “Night on Bald Mountain” free dance from last season earned praise from both fans and media, while their selection for this year’s free dance to Rachmaninov’s “Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini” may or may not be as enigmatic. The side story to this event is not only who captures the gold, but which of the two Russian teams starts off the season as number one in the judges’ (and Russian Federation’s) eyes.
Siblings Alexandra and Roman Zaretsky of Israel have finished fourth at the past two Cup of China Grand Prix events and will be duking it out with Italy’s Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte to retain that placement. To challenge for a spot on the podium, both teams will need to be technically strong and consistent throughout all three phases of the competition. The Zaretskys were topped by Americans Emily Samuelson & Evan Bates at Nebelhorn Trophy, losing by seven and a half points. Low levels in the original dance cost them dearly in TES, but with more than a month to work on this, they enter Beijing with the advantage of that early season feedback.
Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje of Canada will look for a strong season debut in China to match that of their countrymen Vanessa Crone & Paul Poirier, who won the silver medal at Skate Canada last week. Though the event in Beijing is considerably more difficult than Ottawa, this is Weaver & Poje’s second season on the senior Grand Prix circuit and know what they need to bring to the ice.