Sports

ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Post-NHK Trophy

Just two weekends are left ahead of the International Skating Union’s (ISU) 2021-22 Grand Prix Final (GPF). With the conclusion of the 2021 NHK Trophy held in Tokyo, Japan, only the Internationaux de France and Rostelecom Cup are left in the series. The majority of Grand Prix Final places are still up in the air, and athletes will be vying for them over the next couple weeks. However, a few standout skaters have already earned enough points to solidify their place in the tournament.

In the men’s singles category, Japan’s Shoma Uno, alongside Americans Vincent Zhou and Nathan Chen, have secured Grand Prix Final qualification. Uno and Zhou, both having garnered 28 points, mirrored each other’s performances, with Zhou taking gold and Uno taking silver at Skate America back in October; before Uno went on to take gold as Zhou took silver at last week’s NHK Trophy. Chen, with 26 points, put on an uncharacteristic performance at Skate America, finishing third behind Uno and Zhou, but Chen made a spectacular comeback the following week at Skate Canada, scoring over 300 points and solidifying his spot in the Grand Prix Final. Neither Uno nor Chen are strangers to the Grand Prix Final, with both athletes set to make their fifth appearance at the tournament, but Zhou will make his Grand Prix Final debut. Chen, having won the competition the last three years, will be looking to defend his title as Uno looks to dethrone him. Despite this being his first time competing at the Grand Prix Final, Vincent Zhou is not an athlete to write off, given his commendable performance this year.

Cha Jun-hwan of Korea and Makar Ignatov of Russia are both in qualifying positions with 18 points each after placing third and fourth at the NHK Trophy, respectively. But with Japan’s Yuma Kagiyama (15 points), American Jason Brown (13 points), and Russian Mikhail Kolyada (13 points) all slated to compete in the next two weeks — Kagiyama and Brown in the Internationaux de France and Kolyada in the Rostelecom Cup — neither Cha nor Ignatov are secure in their qualification status. In the likely scenario that Kagiyama, Brown, and Kolyada all finish in fifth place or better in their respective competitions, these three athletes will join Uno, Zhou, and Chen at the Grand Prix Final.

Qualification for the Grand Prix Final in the women’s singles category is still completely up in the air, with no guaranteed qualifiers. As it stands, Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto leads the pack with 24 points following her gold medal performance at the NHK Trophy, followed by You Young of Korea with silver last week and 22 points total, Japan’s Mai Mihara with 18 points, and American Alysa Liu with 16. With Russians Anna Shcherbakova (15 points), Kamila Valieva (15 points), Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (13 points), and Maiia Khromykh (13 points) set to compete — the latter three in the Rostelecom Cup and the former in the Internationaux de France — among other athletes, it is still anybody’s game.

China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong have dominated the pairs field, winning gold at both Skate Canada and the Gran Premio d’Italia for a total of 30 points and guaranteed qualification for the Grand Prix Final. Russians Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov have also guaranteed their qualification, following closely behind with 28 points thanks to a gold at Skate America and a silver last week at the NHK Trophy. Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara trail with 24 points, as do Americans Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc with 20. Qualification for these two pairs is likely, but still not set in stone.

Four Russian pairs will be vying to knock the current qualifiers down the rankings for a spot in the Grand Prix Final. Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov (15 points), Daria Pavliuchenko and Denis Khodykin (13 points), Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii (11 points), and Iuliia Artemeva and Mikhail Nazarychev (11 points) will all be looking to better their positions across the next two weeks’ competitions in order to skate in Osaka come December.While the chances of either of the latter two pairs making the Grand Prix Final is low, all four of these pairs continue to pose threats to Miura and Kihara, as well as Cain-Gribble and LeDuc.

Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donahue are the only current guaranteed qualifiers in ice dance, with a gold at Skate America and a silver at the Gran Premio d’Italia, totaling 28 points for the pair. Trailing just behind are Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates with 26 points, who successfully supplemented their second-place performance at Skate America with another silver last week, as well as Spaniards Olivia Smart and Adrián Díaz, with 20 points, and Americans Caroline Green and Michael Parsons with 16.

While Chock and Bates will likely qualify for the Grand Prix Final, neither Smart and Díaz nor Green and Parsons can be confident in their position. French pair Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron (15 points), Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier (15 points), Russians Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov (15 points), and Italians Charlène Guignard and Marco Fabbri (13 points) are all presently scheduled to compete in another competition. It is relatively likely that one or more of these pairs will be able to overtake the current second- and third-placed qualifiers to earn a place in the Grand Prix Final.

With Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu out of the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating after an ankle ligament injury forced him to withdraw from the 2021 NHK Trophy last week, it looks like we will probably be seeing a clash between Shoma Uno, Vincent Zhou, and Nathan Chen for this year’s Grand Prix Final men’s singles gold. In pairs, Sui Wenjing and Han Cong will be looking to keep up their momentum and stave off Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov. Ice dance faces a similar situation, as Hubbell and Donahue head into the tournament with Chock and Bates hot on their heels. With women’s singles being the sole category where no athlete has guaranteed their Grand Prix Final qualification, it will be interesting to see how things shape up for these skaters in the next two weeks.