by Melanie Heaney | Photo by Robin Ritoss

The ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating heads to Moscow this weekend for Rostelecom Cup. The Russian Grand Prix has typically been in the second half of the series in the past, but this year, it is the third event. A couple of teams will be trying to secure spots in the Final after medaling in their first events, and another major contender will try to set themselves up well for the rest of the season.

Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje will finally make their long-awaited season debut this weekend. They were scheduled to compete at Finlandia Trophy last month, but delayed the start of their season, citing big changes. The changes they have made this season include adding Nikolai Morozov to their coaching team and adding both Hackensack, N.J., and Moscow to their training locations. Fans are anxious to see their Michael Jackson short dance, with blues to a cover of “The Way You Make Me Feel” and hip-hop to “Dangerous,” and their free dance set to “Concierto de Aranjuez.” Weaver & Poje have not lost a fall international event in the past two seasons.

Among Weaver & Poje’s challengers are Americans Madison Chock & Evan Bates, fresh off of a stellar Grand Prix opener at Skate Canada International, where they nearly defeated comeback favorites Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir. Armed with new choreographers Rohene Ward and Christopher Dean, their short dance to “Bad to the Bone” and “Uptown Funk” has been incredibly well received, and when they skate their “Under Pressure” free dance like they did in Canada last week, it has been showered with great marks.

Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev lead the home team, but they may have their work cut out for them to face off against Weaver & Poje and Chock & Bates. They won the bronze medal at Skate America two weeks ago and skated well, but their programs have not received outstanding praise this year. Their short dance oddly pairs Christina Aguilera with Louis Prima, and their free dance, while perfectly fine, pales in comparison to their “Anna Karenina” free. Still, so much of scoring among the top teams depends on levels, so if Bobrova & Soloviev get great calls, they could be anywhere on the podium. To make the Final, they will likely need to be second or higher.

Charlene Guignard & Marco Fabbri of Italy finished a strong fourth two weeks ago at Skate America. They have a charming “Nutcracker” free dance that they have skated very well so far. Now in their seventh season together, Guignard & Fabbri have steadily improved, finally breaking into the top ten at the World Championships last season.

Like Chock & Bates, Laurence Fournier Beaudry & Nikolaj Sorensen of Denmark are skating back-to-back events. They were seventh last week at Skate Canada. Their material this year boasts a charming short dance to Elvis Presley songs and a “La Vie en Rose” free dance that is quite nice, but a little similar to their past free dances. Last week’s effort at Skate Canada saw them earn a new ISU personal best in both the total score (156.71) and the free dance (94.06). Earlier this season, they set a new personal best in the short dance at Autumn Classic (63.26).

Also representing Russia are Tiffany Zahorski & Jonathan Guerreiro and Sofia Evdokimova & Egor Bazin. Zahorski & Guerreiro are finally making their Grand Prix debut after a long wait for Zahorski’s release from the French federation; she eventually received Russian citizenship last fall, which allowed her to finally skate internationally for Russia. The team began their season early and already has a pair of bronze medals from Ondrej Nepela Memorial and Finlandia Trophy.

Evdokimova & Bazin will make the senior international debut on this big stage. They have previously won bronze medals on the Junior Grand Prix Series, one in 2013 and another in 2015.

Americans Elliana Pogrebinsky & Alex Benoit are another junior team moving up, but they have already begun a strong senior campaign this year. They were fourth at Nebelhorn Trophy and they were seventh at Skate America, skating extremely well in the free dance and topping 90 points.

The Turkish team of Alisa Agafonova & Alper Ucar have a second Grand Prix event for the first time. They have already finished ninth at Skate America, where they set a new personal best in the short dance of 58.98.

Viktoria Kavaliova & Yurii Bieliaiev of Belarus round out the roster. This is their first Grand Prix event of the season; they also competed at Rostelecom Cup last year and finished seventh. This year, they began their season at Nebelhorn Trophy, where they were ninth.

The dancers will open competition with the short dance on Friday afternoon. The free dance is set for Saturday afternoon.