Barcelona a first-time host for ISU’s Grand Prix Final

by Gina Capellazzi & Daphne Backman | Photos by Robin Ritoss

14RC-FD-IZ-1946 595This week, Barcelona, Spain will host the International Skating Union’s 2014-15 Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final with both the junior and senior events being hosted at the same location as they have been since 2008-2009.  This is the first time the event will take place on the Iberian Peninsula. 

The top six teams at each level qualified for the Final by earning points based on placement at their respective Grand Prix events.  In the senior event, the United States and Canada each have two teams competing, with France and Russia each sending one team.

Over the past few years in the senior competition, all eyes have been on the duel between Meryl Davis & Charlie White from the United States and Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir from Canada. With both teams not competing this season, there could be another duel between different North American teams, Canada’s Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje and Madison Chock & Evan Bates of the United States.  Both teams faced off at Nebelhorn Trophy in September with Weaver & Poje taking gold, despite Chock & Bates winning the free dance.

Weaver & Poje are competing in their fourth Grand Prix Final. They scored a total of 171.10 at Skate Canada to win their first Grand Prix gold medal.  They followed it up with another gold at NHK Trophy in Osaka, Japan, but they finished with a lower score. At the Grand Prix Final last season, Weaver & Poje finished in fifth place and are the only returning team from the 2013 event.

Team USA’s Chock & Bates won their first Grand Prix gold at Skate America. They posted an ISU overall personal best score of 174.28 at Rostelecom Cup to win their second gold medal and qualify for their first Grand Prix Final. The two are also heavy favorites to win the national title at the U.S. Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina next month.

Also expecting to make a run at the podium is the French ice dance team of Gabriella Papadakis and Giullaume Cizeron. In only their second season at the senior level, the team captured gold in a surprising result at Cup of China, followed by another win on home soil at Trophee Eric Bompard, where they posted their personal best score of 166.66.  Since relocating from Lyon, France to Montreal, Quebec this past summer with coach Romain Haguenauer, Papadakis & Cizeron have shown tremendous improvement.  Barcelona marks first trip to the Grand Prix Final. 

Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani of the United States qualified by finishing second at both of the Grand Prix events. At Skate America, the Shibutanis won silver with an overall score of 160.33, finishing behind fellow Americans Chock & Bates. Their finish marked the first time in Grand Prix history that Americans have finished in gold and silver medal position in ice dance.  The siblings recently topped the leaderboard at the end of the inaugural ISU Challenger Series.  They last competed at the Grand Prix Final in 2011, where they finished in fifth.

Canada’s Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier also qualified by winning silver at their respective events, Skate Canada and Trophee Eric Bompard.  They posted their highest score of the season (157.58) at Trophee Eric Bompard. 

The new team of Elena Ilinykh & Ruslan Zhiganshin (pictured, right) claimed the last roster spot after finishing the Grand Prix series with 22 points and winning the tiebreaker over with fellow Russians Ksenia Monko & Kirill Khaliavin (first alternates) and Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue of the United States (second alternates).  Penny Coomes & Nicholas Buckland are third alternates. 

The Junior Grand Prix Final is a showdown between two countries with four teams from Russia and two Canadian teams filling the roster.   In addition, only two teams from last year’s event are returning in 2014. 

Defending JGP Final champions, Anna Yanovskaya & Sergey Mozgov qualified in first position and are gold medal favorites once again in Barcelona.  The Russians are the only team to qualify by winning both of their JGP events and posted the highest score on the series this season, 152.00.  Outside of gold, the other five teams will battle it out for the remaining medals.

14WJC-FD-3440-EP-RR 595Canada’s Mackenzie Bent & Garrett MacKeen qualify for their Final after finishing as alternates the past two seasons and could challenge the Russians.  Bent & MacKeen qualified by winning silver at Tallinn Cup and gold at Czech Skate and are one of four teams who reached the final by winning one gold at one JGP event and silver at another, but qualified second due to a tie-breaker. 

Qualifying third are Betina Popova & Yuri Vlasenko of Russia, who finished fourth at the Final in 2013.  Popova & Vlasenko scored 16 points higher at their second JGP (147.31), a score that puts them in the realm of the teams who qualified ahead of them.

Alla Loboda & Pavel Drozd of Russia and Madeline Edwards & Zhaokai Pang (pictured, left) of Canada competed at the same JGPs this Fall and flip-flopped their results.  Like fellow Canadians Bent & MacKeen, Edwards & Pang have been JGP Final alternates for the past two seasons.

After four seasons on the JGP, Daria Morozova & Mikhail Zhirnov grabbed the last spot and qualified for their first Final by finishing first and fourth at their events.  

Rachel Parsons & Michael Parsons of the United States who finished sixth at the 2013 JGP Final, are first alternates.  The Parsons’ training mates, Lorraine McNamara & Quinn Carpenter, won the bronze last year, but are second alternates in 2014.  Canada’s Brianna Delmaestro & Timothy Lum are third alternates.

The junior short dance takes place on Thursday afternoon.  Friday’s events include the junior free dance and senior short dance, with the senior free dance being contested on Saturday.