by Laura Flagg | Photo by Robin Ritoss
The fourth of six Grand Prix events will take place in Bordeaux, France this week. Only seven teams will complete, as reigning World Champions, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, withdrew earlier this week, leaving the top spot on the podium up for grabs. The 2015 World Champions have been sidelined since Papadakis received a concussion during a practice accident in August.
Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier are likely candidates for gold, which is what they will need to ensure themselves a spot at the Grand Prix Final for the second straight season. After taking the gold at the Ondrej Nepela Trophy, which is part of the ISU Challenger Series, Gilles & Poirier finished third at Skate America. A victory in Bordeaux would be their first Grand Prix event win. They are coached by Carol Lane, Jon Lane, and Juris Razguliaevs.
Two of the other medal contenders, Madison Hubbell & Zach Donohue from the United States and Russia’s Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin will be competing in the first of their two Grand Prix assignments. A second place finish or better would put either team in a good position to make the Grand Prix Final. While Hubbell & Donohue made their international debut this season by winning gold at the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic, Trophee Eric Bompard marks the season’s debut for Stepanova & Bukin. At the 2015 World Championships, the Russians bested the Americans with just .39 separating ninth and 10th places. Stepanova & Bukin are coached by Alexander Svinin and Irina Zhuk, while Hubbell and Donohue are now coached by Marie-France Dubreuil, Patrice Lauzon, and Romain Haguenauer.
The final top medal contender, Penny Coomes & Nicholas Buckland, must make the most of this event, as it is currently their only Grand Prix assignment. Coached by Igor Shpilband, Coomes and Buckland, who represent Great Britain, had a strong showing at Nepela Trophy in October, finishing second. Coomes & Buckland missed most of the ISU championship events in 2015 due to illness and opted to retain their free dance to music by Muse for a second season.
Denmark’s Laurence Fournier Beaudry & Nikolaj Sorensen started the season with a silver medal at the U.S. International Classic and a third place finish at Finlandia Trophy before finishing seventh in their Grand Prix debut at Skate Canada. However, their Skate Canada performances were not up to the level that earned them an 11th place finish at Worlds, so they have room for improvement. They are training mates of Hubbell and Donohue in Montreal, Canada.
Reiging Junior World Champions, Anna Yanovskaya & Sergey Mozgov, are competing in their second event of the series. They finished sixth at Skate America, but are capable of more. They are coached by Svetlana Alexeeva, Elena Kustarova, and Olga Riabinina in their home country of Russia.
Turkey’s Alisa Agafonova & Alper Ucar, who are making their Grand Prix series debut, round out the field. Agafanova & Ucar are coming off two first place finishes in recent weeks at the NRW Trophy and the Denkova Staviyski Cup, where they set new personal best scores. They train with Alexander Zhulin and Oleg Volkov.
The short dance is on Friday the 13th, while the free dance is on Saturday the 14th.