By Laura S. Marshall

The 16th Finlandia Trophy is gearing up to be one of the most exciting ice dance competitions of the early season, with a deep field of decorated veterans, up-and-comers, and one much-anticipated new partnership. With three strong teams from the Arctic Edge Ice Arena in Canton, Mich.—all coached by Marina Zoueva and Igor Shpilband—another Team Canton sweep, as seen at last season’s World Championships, could be in the making. Finlandia Trophy will be held from Oct. 6 to 9 at the Valtti Areena in Vantaa, Finland.

Even on an off day, Canada’s Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir are almost unbeatable for this field. The 2010 Olympic gold medalists and world champions started last season with disappointment as Virtue’s chronic exertional compartment syndrome flared up again, necessitating last-minute surgery on both legs and the team’s withdrawal from Skate Canada International. When they finally rejoined the competitive circuit at the Four Continents Championships, they won the short dance, but were forced to withdraw when Virtue pulled a muscle during the free dance. They were back at the World Championships, though, where they won the silver medal. After a summer of training at 100 percent, the skating world is anxious to see them at their best this season, beginning with Finlandia.

 


Gorshkova-ButikovThe Canadians’ closest competition here will likely be another set of their training mates, Maia & Alex Shibutani, who debuted on the senior circuit last season and surprised the figure skating community when they squeaked by Nathalie Péchalat & Fabian Bourzat to nab the bronze medal at the World Championships by a quarter of a point. With their deep edges, easy synchronicity, and poise beyond their years, they could easily continue racking up medals by taking the silver here.

With a shot at rounding out a Canton sweep is the new partnership of Madison Chock and Evan Bates. It is difficult to predict how they will fare together, but both are strong and experienced skaters. After splitting up with their longtime partners during the tumultuous 2011 off-season—she formerly skated with Greg Zuerlein, he with Emily Samuelson—Chock & Bates only had time after pairing up to skate an exhibition for monitors during the summer season. The team faces a number of unknown factors, including Bates’ recovery from his Achilles injury, a greater height difference than either of them had before, and the complexities of making a new partnership believable. If they skate well, though, their past competitive records indicate that they could have a shot at the bronze medal.

Russia is sending a team that could halt a Canton sweep of the podium. Kristina Gorshkova & Vitaliy Butikov (pictured, left) took the bronze medal here last year, before placing sixth at Skate Canada, fourth at Cup of Russia, second at Golden Spin, and first at the Winter Universiade. Although the duo has skated together since 1999, their skill and unison is sometimes overshadowed by awkward choreography; their programs have not met good reviews this year. As the Russian dance field grows more and more competitive, Gorshkova & Butikov have a chance to make a mark here without the chance of being overshadowed by domestic rivals.

Practices will be held beginning Thursday, Oct. 6, and then the teams will draw their starting positions. The short dance will be skated on Friday and the free dance on Sunday.