gpchn-pechafabsArticle & photo by Melanie Hoyt 

This weekend, eight teams will compete in Beijing, China, at the annual Cup of China, once again the third event on the Grand Prix circuit. Beijing last hosted this event in 2010, and this year’s event will mark the seventh time that the Chinese capital has hosted Cup of China since it began in 2003. This event will be the first Grand Prix competition of the Olympic season for seven of the eight teams, and it will feature the first matchup of the year for two teams that are expected to contend for Olympic medals.

Nathalie Péchalat & Fabian Bourzat (pictured, right) faced off against Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev at Cup of China last year, with Péchalat & Bourzat capturing a decisive 10-point victory. The tables were turned by the end of the season, though, when Bobrova & Soloviev won the bronze medal at the 2013 World Championships, and Péchalat & Bourzat were sixth.

The skating world looks forward to this weekend for the global unveiling of Péchalat & Bourzat’s free dance based on “Le Petit Prince (The Little Prince).” Both their short and free dances were débuted at the French Masters event several weeks ago, but only a video of the short dance surfaced. The French duo has given several interviews detailing their choreographic process, and if their free dance lives up to the hype surrounding it, they could set themselves up for another landslide win. Péchalat & Bourzat changed coaches this summer, at the prompting of their Federation, and now train in Novi, Mich., with Igor Shpilband.

Russians Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev recently began their international season at Ice Star in Minsk. They earned a huge score there—180.32 points, 11 points above their ISU personal best—but Ice Star has quickly become known for big scores that do not materialize at more prestigious ISU events. Bobrova & Soloviev’s short dance captured a traditional ballroom quickstep feel well, but a video of their free dance to Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” and Mozart’s “Lacrimosa” was met with a bit more criticism. Bobrova & Soloviev are beginning their second season training with Alexander Zhulin and Oleg Volkov. They have made a great deal of technical process since the switch and are under a tremendous amount of pressure to deliver as the top home team at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in February. This competition should give them an idea of where they stand early in the season.

After fourth-place finishes in the past two seasons, Americans Madison Chock & Evan Bates have a great shot at their first Grand Prix podium this week. Chock & Bates began their season at Finlandia Trophy, where they finished second to Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir with a score of 143.06. A fall on the twizzles in Finland cost them quite a bit of points in the short dance, and they have opportunities to improve their levels throughout that dance. Last season, they emerged as the second-ranked American team and finished seventh at the World Championships. They train alongside Péchalat & Bourzat in Novi.

The United States is also represented by Alexandra Aldridge & Daniel Eaton (pictured, left), two-time world junior bronze medalists making their Senior Grand Prix début. Their senior international début came last month at Ondrej Nepela Trophy, where they scored 130.49 points and placed sixth. Their short dance was plagued with low levels at that event; their elements fared better judgment in the free dance, but they can also improve their score in the free with stronger GOE. Aldridge & Eaton have taken on a Bollywood theme in the free dance, which is sure to be a crowd-pleaser if they can hit the program. Since the details in this style of dance are so intricate, this will likely be a program that continues to grow over the course of the season.

French dancers Pernelle Carron & Lloyd Jones began this year’s Grand Prix season with a sixth-place finish at Skate America. Carron & Jones had a few small mistakes at Skate America, but overall, they showed improvements over last year’s Grand Prix outing. After a year working with Marika Humphreys-Baranova, they have added Igor Shpilband and Barbara Fusar-Poli to their team as they continue to address their technical side.

The host country of China has three teams on the roster, led by Xintong Huang & Xun Zheng, who just won China an Olympic berth at Nebelhorn Trophy. This will be their eighth consecutive appearance at Cup of China, having competed at the event every year since moving to the senior level in 2006. They have placed as high as fifth, in 2010 and 2011, and were seventh last year.

Xiaoyang Yu & Chen Wang are scheduled to make their sixth consecutive appearance at Cup of China; they have competed in the event nine times since it began in 2003, skipping it only once (in 2007). Their highest ranking was sixth, in 2011. Yu & Wang remain on the roster, despite Wang listing himself on in late September. Yu & Wang and Huang & Zheng both train with Hongyan Xi in Harbin.

Yiyi Zhang & Nan Wu will make their senior international début at Cup of China, after four seasons competing internationally on the junior level. Zhang & Wu were 18th at the 2013 World Junior Championships. Zhang & Wu are true hometown entrants; they train in Beijing with former Chinese international ice dance competitor Chongbo Gao. 

The short dance is scheduled for Friday afternoon and the free dance will be held Saturday afternoon. For fans interested in watching live from North America, this means staying up very late or waking very early.