The 2010 ISU Grand Prix series wraps up this week with the final qualifying event, Trophée Eric Bompard (TEB), taking place in Paris, France, from November 26-28. Trophée Eric Bompard was one of the inaugural events when the Grand Prix Series, then called the Champions Series, debuted in 1996. Until 2004, it was named after its former sponsor, Lalique.
This Grand Prix series has been one marred by injury-induced withdrawals and Trophée Eric Bompard is no exception. 2010 Olympic Champions Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir of Canada withdrew from TEB due to an injury to Virtue and France’s Zoe Blanc & Pierre-Loup Bouquet are out as well. No replacements have been named, not even from the host country, so the event will continue with eight teams instead of ten, like it did last week at Rostelecom Cup of Russia.
France’s Nathalie Péchalat & Fabian Bourzat are the overwhelming favorites for gold in Paris. The French, who finished fourth at the 2010 World Championships, won their first Grand Prix title in Beijing several weeks ago, besting the reigning world bronze medalists, Federica Faiella & Massimo Scali of Italy, by nearly 20 points. Their score of 159.59 is only six points off the season’s best score of 2010 Olympic silver medalists, Meryl Davis & Charlie White. Péchalat & Bourzat competed at several of the earlier senior international events which allowed them to obtain the valuable feedback necessary to be prepared for the Grand Prix series. Although their results in the early competitions were not as excellent as many expected, the decision to compete early is turning out to be a great move. The post-Olympic year is an excellent time to make a move, and the French favorites appear to be doing just that.
The next two spots on the podium may incur more of a battle.
Americans Madison Chock & Greg Zuerlein (photo, right) are coming off a bronze medal finish at Skate Canada and could qualify for their first Senior Grand Prix Final with a silver medal at TEB. The team scrapped an earlier Cuban-inspired free dance and debuted their “Cabaret” free dance at Skate Canada. It was better received than the first program, but the new program still showed some first-event jitters. Chock & Zuerlein have had three additional weeks to iron out the free dance wrinkles, and their short dance, set to music by Edith Piaf, is sure to please the Parisians.
At Skate Canada, France’s Pernelle Carron & Lloyd Jones seemed poised for the podium after finishing third in the short dance, but low levels in the free dance dropped them to fifth overall, just three points out of the medals. With plenty of time to fix the issues, they could be ready to rebound in Paris. Their charming short dance, to Jacques Brel’s “La Valse à Mille Temps,” will play well for the home crowd, but their “Paint it Black” free dance fell flat at Skate Canada, so it will be interesting to see how it does in Paris. Carron & Jones will not qualify for the Final this year, but a silver medal would block Chock & Zuerlein and would allow Hungary’s Nora Hoffmann & Maxim Zavozin to grab the last spot.
Ekaterina Riazanova & Ilia Tkachenko of Russia finished fifth at Skate America, after winning the bronze at Nebelhorn Trophy in September, and cannot be counted out. Their score at Skate America was between that of Carron & Jones and Chock & Zuerlein in Canada, so they are right in the thick of things. Though they are the only team of the three expected to battle for the silver that is not using French classics for the short dance, their “Snowstorm” program has the ability to captivate any audience if skated well. Like Carron & Jones, if Riazanova & Tkachenko finish ahead of Chock & Zuerlein, the Russians cannot qualify for the Final, but it means that Hoffmann & Zavozin will.
After several years of battling with their teammates, Xintong Huang & Xun Zheng seem to have established themselves as China’s top dance team. After a strong—and surprising—fourth-place finish at last season’s Four Continents Championships, the team opened this Grand Prix season with a fifth-place finish at Cup of China, their highest placement yet at their home Grand Prix. Although they are not expected to challenge for medals here, the Chinese look to build on their strong season debut with another solid competition.
The roster is rounded out by three rookies who are competing in their first year on the senior Grand Prix series.
Canada’s Kharis Ralph & Asher Hill had a solid Grand Prix debut in China, finishing seventh. Although they qualified for the JGP Final last season, Ralph & Hill switched gears midway through last season, and made their international senior debut at the 2010 Four Continents Championships, where they finished sixth. They are known for their unique programs and being able to adapt to different styles, but have chosen two classic programs this year—Rodgers & Hammerstein for the short dance and Gershwin for the free.
Like Ralph & Hill, Isabella Cannuscio & Ian Lorello qualified for the Junior Grand Prix Final last season and made their Grand Prix debut at Cup of China, where they finished tenth. The team skated without noticeable errors in Beijing, but low levels impacted their scores. They were hit with four level 1s across both dances. With two full weeks to take in the feedback they received there, the young Americans are hoping to improve in Paris.
Hungary’s Dora Turoczi & Balazs Major have the distinction of being the only dance team with a four-week break between Grand Prix events. Between their 10th-place finish at NHK Trophy and their appearance at TEB, they also finished seventh at Ice Challenge in Austria. In Austria, they improved upon their NHK score by 12.5 points.
Competition begins Friday with the short dance and wraps up Saturday with the free.