15NHKPreviewby Laura Flagg | Photo by Robin Ritoss

The last of six Grand Prix events takes place in Nagano, Japan this weekend.  Eight teams will be competing, with four looking to secure a spot at December’s Grand Prix Final in Barcelona, Spain.

Due to the cancellation of the free skates at Trophee Eric Bompard, the ISU announced earlier this week that the short dance results would count as the final event results.  In addition, if a team who competed in Bordeaux finishes seventh in the final Grand Prix standings, they will advance to the Grand Prix Final along with the top six. 

The battle for the gold medal will be a fierce one and could come down to two American teams. 

The American team of Madison Hubbell & Zach Donohue are fresh off a (short dance) victory at Trophee Bompard.  As a result, a top four finish will clinch a berth at the Grand Prix Final after just missing out last season.  Both their short dance to “Hallelujah” by k.d. lang  and free dance to “Adagio for Strings” by Daft Punk shows off their newfound smoothness, a result of their new Montreal training location with coaches Marie-France Dubreuil, Patrice Lauzon, and Romain Haguenauer. 

Also representing the United States and capable of clinching a spot in the Grand Prix Final are Maia & Alex Shibutani (pictured).  The Shibutani siblings started their season with a bronze medal at Ondrej Nepela Trophy and placed second at Skate Canada several weeks ago and have continuted to build momentum as the season has progressed.  Their free dance to “Fix You” by Cold Play was choreographed by five-time U.S. champion Peter Tchernyshev has received praise. 

The Americans will likely be challenged by Penny Coomes & Nicholas Buckland of Great Britain as well as a pair of Russian teams.

Coomes & Buckland were also at the Grand Prix event in France, where they finished fourth in the short dance.  The Brits bested the Shibutanis at Ondrej Nepela Trophy, where they won the silver medal.  They have a new coach, Igor Shpilband, but an old — but beautiful — free dance to music by Muse. 

Placing one spot ahead of the Brits in France were the Russian team of Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin.  While making the Grand Prix Final is unlikely, another top 3 finish is very possible.  They are coached by are coached by Alexander Svinin and Irina Zhuk.

Also representing Russia are Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev.  Bobrova & Soloviev are back after missing all of last season due to Soloviev’s knee surgery.  They had a good performance at Skate Canada, finishing third and seven points behind Maia & Alex Shibutani, but may need to be even better to earn a spot at the Grand Prix Final.  They are coached by Alexander Zhulin and Oleg Volkov. 

Last minute replacements for Canada’s Alexandra Paul & Mitch Islam, Anastasia Cannuscio & Colin McManus of the United States will have the opportunity to redeem themselves after a disappointing performance last week at Tallinn Trophy.  They will be looking to improve on their strong performance at Skate America, where they finsihed fifth and earned a new personal best for their free dance to music by Beethoven.  They are coached by Karen Ludington and Christie Moxley.

The host country is allowed to send up to three teams, but Japan chose to enter just two, Emi Hirai & Marien de la Asuncion and the new pairing of Kana Muramoto & Chris Reed.  The former train in France with Muriel Zazoui, while the latter train in Michigan with Zoueva.  This will be the season debut for Hirai & de la Asuncion, while Muramoto & Reed will be making their international debut as a team in Nagano. 

The short dance is on Saturday, November 27, with free dance being contested on Sunday.