Big names are colliding at the 2013 Hilton HHonors Skate America ladies' event this week. The home team sends out its best, and she will be awaiting superstars from Japan and Russia. But perhaps the most exciting prospect this week is the Grand Prix debut of last year's World junior champion.
GOLD Mao Asada JPN - A strong season debut two weeks ago at Japan Open sets the defending Olympic silver medalist up well early this season. Asada hasn't been back to Skate America since a bronze medal finish in 2006, and this is the only Grand Prix even that she has never won, so you can be sure she would love to add this title to her trophy case. Successfully rotating the triple axel will be key to her success based on start value alone, and she did just that at Japan Open.
SILVER Ashley Wagner USA - Triple-triple in hand, the defending Skate America champion definitely has her sights set on a repeat. She has beaten Asada twice in the recent seasons - both times in 2012 - so it's certainly not out of her reach. Her Japan Open debut was solid and she looked plenty confident even after some shake-up in her coaching/choreography team in the off-season. Cleaning up the landings will be a must for her to beat Asada again, for sure.
BRONZE Elena Radionova RUS - The World junior champion makes her Grand Prix debut this week against some stiff competition. After going undefeated internationally last year on the junior circuit, she is looking to translate that into senior success this week. And she already had a great start to her season, winning Nebelhorn in September over two-time World champion Miki Ando. What does she have? Jumps. What is going to keep her from the top? PCS. But if the top skaters open the door, watch out.
4. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva RUS - The Russian champion is coming off a third-place finish at Finlandia Trophy two weeks ago. Much like she did early last season, Tuktamysheva showed some inconsistency issues, with a poor short program that left her scrambling to move back up the standings. Two clean programs will get her on the podium, for sure, but she will most certainly need to be better than she was at Finlandia.
5. Valentina Marchei ITA - With a career-high fourth at Europeans in January, Marchei had a breakthrough season all the way until the very end, when two poor performances left her 18th at Worlds. She was fourth at this same competition last year, and Detroit is her home base, which should serve her well. As with all other competitions, Marchei's disadvantage comes in her base value. But two clean programs will take her far.
6. Samantha Cesario USA - Like Radionova, Cesario is making her Grand Prix debut. She skated a solid competition last month and took bronze at the U.S. Classic, but she is a completely different league of skaters this week, and it will be interesting to see how the elegant Cesario stacks up against some of the best in the world. The triple loop-triple loop, though impressive, is always a liability simply because it's a backend loop combo.
7. Mae Berenice Meite FRA - Just missing top ten at Worlds last season, Meite is trying to set herself up for the sole spot in Sochi for the French ladies. She's got top five potential this week, but only if her jumps are in place.
8. Caroline Zhang USA - After having a resurgent 2011-2012 season, Zhang fell off the radar again last season, with two poor Grand Prix showings and a finish at Nationals outside the top ten. Her success this week will be a function of rotated jumps, consistency, and overall speed.
9. Viktoria Helgesson SWE - It's uncertain exactly where the Swedish star is right now. She was fourth at Ondrej Nepela a couple weeks back after some inconsistent jumping. Still without a lutz and with an inconsistent flip, she relies on her loop, sal, and toe and her solid skating to move up the standings.
10. Elene Gedevanishvili GEO - Gedevanishvili breathed a sigh of relief when she qualified Georgia a spot to Sochi last month after a disastrous Worlds last season. Her free skate is somewhat lacking in technical content, as she currently isn't planning either a flip or a loop.