by Melanie Hoyt

This weekend, the final stop on the Grand Prix Series is Moscow, Russia, for Rostelecom Cup. Many of the competitors are returning to Moscow for the second time this year, having competed at the postponed World Championships in late April. With four berths to the Grand Prix Final virtually in the books, and the remaining two likely decided as well, Rostelecom Cup lacks some of the drama that the final event has had in recent years. However, ice is slippery, and Rostelecom Cup is the event last year that saw half the field withdraw due to various injuries, so it is important to remember that anything can happen.

Meryl Davis & Charlie White of the United States have the second-highest score of this year’s Series and will be the favorites in Moscow. Five weeks after they earned 178.07 points with a relatively new free dance at Skate America, the skating world is anxious to see how the program has progressed. Although they have not officially qualified for the Final yet, it is difficult to imagine them finishing off the podium this weekend. Without a heightened level of pressure, they should be able to delight the audience with their elegant “Die Fledermaus” free dance in the arena where they won the World title earlier this year.

Russians Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev will also be looking to qualify for the Grand Prix Final this weekend, in front of a home audience. With a victory three weeks ago in China, they probably only need a top-four finish to punch their ticket to Québec City. With an ISU personal best score of 163.52 in Beijing, they are already in great form for the season, but are unlikely to challenge the World champions for the top spot.

Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje of Canada already have their sights on Québec City. As seeded skaters, they chose to compete in three events on the Grand Prix Series this year, and with two silver medals under their belts, their result here will probably not have any bearing on their qualification. Among the top teams, Weaver & Poje have one of the most sizzling short dances, but they are still shooting for a clean performance of their free dance. Perhaps Moscow, where they turned in a fantastic fifth-place finish at the 2011 World Championships, still holds some magic for them.

Beyond the top three teams, the rest of the field appears quite evenly matched, with scores this season within about six points of each other. The difference between fourth and seventh is a big one, though, in terms of ISU points, prize money, and reputation, which should inspire every team to bring their best to Moscow.

tobias-stagniunas-11corRussia will send two more Ekaterinas (and their partners) to its home Grand Prix event. Ekaterina Riazanova & Ilia Tkachenko and Ekaterina Pushkash & Jonathan Guerreiro already faced off this year at Skate Canada, with Riazanova & Tkachenko finishing fifth to Pushkash & Guerreiro’s sixth. Riazanova & Tkachenko did not live up to expectations with a Skate Canada performance that had quite a few shaky moments, but Rostelecom Cup is a new opportunity for them to show off their abilities. They received a music deduction in Canada because a majority of judges felt that their free dance did not have a beat suitable for dance. Unfortunately for dance fans, this probably means that another gorgeous piece of music will be subjected to a synthesized rhythm track.

Lithuania’s Isabella Tobias & Deividas Stagniunas (pictured, left) were the surprise bronze medalists at Skate America this year with a score of 132.58, just ahead of what Riazanova & Tkachenko scored at Skate Canada. While a trip to the Final is unlikely—they would probably need a win here—Tobias & Stagniunas have a great opportunity to build some momentum as they head into the second half of the season. Their fun ‘50s-inspired free dance should be a crowd-pleaser.

Pernelle Carron & Lloyd Jones of France also won a bronze medal this season, at Cup of China, with a score of 130.97. Their programs in China left opportunity for improvements, and with several weeks to train between events, they should be set up for strong performances in Moscow. Carron & Jones switched coaches and countries of residence this summer, moving from Lyon, France, to work with Natalia Linichuk & Gennadi Karponosov in Aston, Penn., U.S.A.

Dance is given the honor of closing the event on both days of competition in Moscow. The short dance is scheduled for 8:20 p.m. on Friday and the free dance will be at 7:25 p.m. on Saturday.