by Jacquelyn Thayer

11TEB-pechbourThe Grand Prix nears its conclusion with Trophée Eric Bompard, where multiple reigning medalists will mingle with teams making their season débuts. More significantly, the competition will see a battle between several contenders for silver and bronze, each reaching to qualify for the Grand Prix Final.

With one 2011-12 Grand Prix victory under their belts, Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir of Canada are set to stake their claim for a second. At Skate Canada, the couple posted a total of 178.34, the highest score seen on this year’s series to date. Despite the outstanding scores, however, the 2010 Olympic champions do have some room to improve.
Though their Funny Face free dance in Mississauga was a dynamic crowd-pleaser, their short dance was comparatively subdued, perhaps related to tweaks made after its Finlandia Trophy début. Given the added weeks of training, however, Virtue & Moir are apt to present two even stronger efforts in Paris.

After taking silver at Skate America, French champions Nathalie Péchalat & Fabian Bourzat withdrew from their second assignment at Skate Canada due to Bourzat’s battle with bronchitis. Having opted to register for three assignments, however, French champions Péchalat & Bourzat can continue their bid for a spot in the Grand Prix Final with a medal here. At Skate America, the duo earned a total of 156.29 with two imperfect performances. Now with Bourzat’s improved health and the program mileage offered by the prior outing, the team are quite likely to exceed those early scores and will certainly be vying for the podium in front of a home crowd.  

Skate Canada bronze medalists Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte of Italy seek to build on their Grand Prix success. Earning a score of 92.95, the Italian team actually placed second in that first event’s free dance with their whimsical La Strada program. If they can build upon the success of that initial performance, as well as that of their feisty, ballroom-influenced short dance, another medal will be well within reach, though silver – and the best chance to reach the Grand Prix Final – will be a fight.

Russians Elena Ilinykh & Nikita Katsalapov will, like a few other teams this season, be facing the daunting prospect of back-to-back events, in this case traveling to Paris from NHK Trophy in Sapporo, Japan. After placing a close first in that event’s short dance, the team ultimately won bronze after a less successful free dance to a modern reinterpretation of “Ave Maria.” Ilinykh & Katsalapov’s central challenge here may be consistency and ease of performance. While the duo is not short on expression, their technique can be shaky, as reflected in the considerably lower technical marks earned at NHK as compared with those of the top finishers. Ilinykh & Katsalapov can contend for the podium here, but it will likely require clean performances.

Only a week and a half before the event, the new American team of Madison Chock & Evan Bates earned their second Grand Prix assignment as substitutes for France’s injured Tiffany Zahorski & Alexis Miart. Chock & Bates’s first outing at Skate Canada was mixed; while their short dance was marred by two literal stumbles, they presented a technically sound free dance to finish fourth in the competition. If they can stay on their feet here, the couple could challenge longer-tenured teams for another high placement.

Spain’s Sara Hurtado & Adria Diaz will make their inaugural senior Grand Prix outing here after several season on the Junior Grand Prix Series. Last season, they finished a solid ninth at the World Junior Championships, though they placed only 23rd at their first senior Worlds. Hurtado & Diaz may be new to senior international competition, but they are among the most active dance teams on the competitive circuit. After tackling ten events in 2010-11, the duo will here be competing for the fourth time in this still-young season: their year began with a seventh-place finish at Nebelhorn Trophy, followed by back-to-back events at Coupe Internationale de Nice and NRW Ice Dance Trophy. In the twist of competition-to-competition scoring, they earned their best result – a bronze medal – at Nice, though far exceeded that event’s score of 112.30 with a total of 118.79 in a sixth-place finish at NRW. Their Sergio Mendes-scored short dance has so far fared particularly well, ranking second at NRW, and it will be interesting to see how their programs’ overall competitive mileage translates to an elite event.  

Kristina Gorshkova & Vitali Butikov of Russia will make their first and only Grand Prix appearance of the season here. The team, who placed fifth at October’s Finlandia Trophy with a tango medley free dance, competed last season at Cup of Russia and Skate Canada, finishing fourth and sixth at those events. Completing the entry list will be China’s Xintong Huang & Xun Zheng, who most recently placed fifth at Cup of China.

Practice will begin Thursday, November 17th. Dance events will conclude each day, with the short dance taking place Friday evening and the free dance Saturday night.