by Melanie Heaney | Photo by Robin Ritoss

The 2019 ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating will begin this week at Skate America in Las Vegas. Athletes can compete twice on the series and will earn points based on their placements. The top six in each discipline will quality for the ISU Grand Prix Final in December.

With no known injuries and only one retirement among the top 15 teams from the 2019 World Championships, this year’s series should be quite competitive.

Skate America

  • Several of the top contenders, Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue (USA), Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin (RUS), and Tiffany Zagorski & Jonathan Guerreiro (RUS) have not yet competed this season. The Russians participated in public test skates, but the American test skates were behind closed doors.
  • Especially on home ice, Hubbell & Donohue are likely still the frontrunners, even though their programs have not yet had a public debut.
  • Laurence Fournier-Beaudry & Nikolaj Sorensen (CAN) have a shot at their first Grand Prix medal. This is their first Grand Prix since 2017, when they represented Denmark.

Skate Canada International

  • Hubbell & Donohue are slated for back-to-back weeks and are also the favorites for Skate Canada International. They opted for this strategy last year, and it worked well for them; they won both Skate America and Skate Canada in 2018, before going on to win the Grand Prix Final as well.
  • Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier (CAN) are the top home team and are poised to finish in the top two if they skate well. A top-two finish could allow them to make their first Final in five years.
  • Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker (USA) and Sara Hurtado & Kirill Khaliavin (ESP) are also in the medal hunt.

Internationaux de France

  • Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) are the clear favorites for the gold medal. They have not competed internationally this season, but they were in fine form at the Masters de Patinage in France.
  • Madison Chock & Evan Bates (USA) will make their first Grand Prix appearance of the year here. They have already won two Challenger Series events this fall.
  • France will also be the first Grand Prix of the season for Charlene Guignard & Marco Fabbri (ITA). They qualified for their first Final last year and won the bronze medal, but they seem to have a tougher road ahead of them this year.
  • Zagorski & Guerreiro should also challenge for the podium.

Cup of China

  • Viktoria Sinitsina & Nikita Katsalapov (RUS) are the last of the top teams to begin their Grand Prix season. They have two gold medals this year so far, from Ondrej Nepela Memorial and Shanghai Trophy.
  • Chock & Bates should also contend for the gold medal, but they will have to overcome the fatigue from back-to-back events, six time zones apart.
  • Hawayek & Baker and Fournier-Beaudry & Sorensen will likely battle for the bronze. Last year, Hawayek & Baker came out on top in both ISU Championship events, but this year, Fournier-Beaudry & Sorensen have already defeated them at Nebelhorn Trophy.
  • Shiyue Wang & Xinyu Liu (CHN) have made strides this year and should represent the home team well.

Rostelecom Cup

  • Sinitsina & Katsalapov are the clear favorites at their home event. It will be their turn to face back-to-back events and a time difference of five hours. It is unlikely that anyone else in this field would defeat at home, barring a major mistake.
  • Gilles & Poirier are poised to take the silver medal.
  • Hurtado & Khaliavin train in Moscow, so they will not have to face jet lag and travel fatigue. They are well positioned to land on the podium.

NHK Trophy

  • This event is Papadakis & Cizeron’s to win.
  • Stepanova & Bukin and Guignard & Fabbri will likely fight for the remaining medals.
  • If they are healthy, Lorraine McNamara & Quinn Carpenter (USA) will compete in their only Grand Prix this year; they had to withdraw from Internationaux de France due to injury. This will be an important head-to-head matchup against Christina Carreira & Anthony Ponomarenko (USA), who have already split dances with Hawayek & Baker this season.

Looking to the Final

  • Papadakis & Cizeron, Hubbell & Donohue, and Sinitsina & Katsalapov seem to have clear paths to the Final, as all are likely to win one or both of their events. These teams were the top three seeds from Worlds.
  • Stepanova & Bukin, Chock & Bates, and Gilles & Poirier were the next three seeds, and as they seem likely to finish in the top two at their events as well, they are also good bets.
  • Fournier-Beaudry & Sorensen, Guignard & Fabbri, Hawayek & Baker, Hurtado & Khaliavin, and Zagorski & Guerreiro all have medal hopes on the Grand Prix circuit, but will need to get past one of the top six seeds in order to make the Final.

Other Items of Note

  • The Grand Prix returns to China this year; last year, the event was moved to Finland. It will be held in Chongqing, in central China, for the first time.
  • Las Vegas is another first-time host (for Skate America).
  • Notable Grand Prix debuts include Marjorie Lajoie & Zachary Agha (USA) and Sofia Shevchenko & Igor Eremenko (RUS), two of the top junior teams from last year.