If you're the reigning World champions and you start off your season breaking all sorts of records in your first competition, heads are going to turn. And that's exactly how the World champs are going into this week's 2013 Hilton HHonors Skate America. Can anyone catch them?
GOLD Tatiana Volosozhar/Maxim Trankov RUS - This is the second competition of the season for the World champs, who are looking very much toward their home Olympics in February. They started off in world record fashion at Nebelhorn Trophy last month, becoming the first pair in history to break 80, 150, and 230 in the short program, free skate, and total scores. And that was their first competition of the year.
Undoubtedly, with a start like that, their odds of gold in Sochi are probably the highest of any skater or team in the world right now. Catching them this week is going to take a monumental effort and more than a couple mistakes from them.
SILVER Kirsten Moore-Towers/Dylan Moscovitch CAN - What a beautiful season they came off of. Fourth at Worlds, Moore-Towers/Moscovitch reestablished themselves as one of the best pairs in the world. And just a few weeks ago, they put down a flawless free skate at U.S. Classic to break 200 for the first time in their career in international competition. Like Volosozhar/Trankov, the Canadians definitely have momentum behind them right now, and their programs this year are just wonderful.
BRONZE Caydee Denney/John Coughlin USA - It was a solid return at U.S. Classic for the 2012 U.S. champs after injury and surgery took them out of the second half of the competitive season. They took silver behind Moore-Towers/Moscovitch, looking stronger and more together as a pair than ever. With another few weeks of training, I'm sure we will see a more consistent Denney/Coughlin this week, which will put them in prime position to stand on the podium again this year.
4. Stefania Berton/Ondrej Hotarek ITA - Tenth at Worlds last season, the Italian champs had a great Grand Prix season last year and hope to start off on the podium again. Numbers-wise, they and Denney/Coughlin are a fairly even match, so it will depend on execution this week for the bronze.
5. Marissa Castelli/Simon Shnapir USA - Quad salchow - that's what you'll be seeing from these two this week. They had a pretty solid attempt at U.S. Classic, and it's one of the more beautiful (and dare I say, effortless-looking) throw quads we've ever seen. Their hurdle, though, is always the side-by-side jumps, which will dictate their placement more than anything else this week.
6. Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov RUS - With news of Russian teammate Alexander Smirnov's injury, Stolbova/Klimov's Olympic season suddenly looks a lot brighter potentially. They have made a few splashes on the senior level since winning Junior Worlds a few years ago, but they have yet to emerge out of the shadows of the three top Russian teams. Skate America could be a chance for them to shine.
7. Margaret Purdy/Michael Marinaro CAN - The World junior silver medalists make their senior international debut this week against some big names. But they have proven that they can certainly hold their own, and a top five finish is plenty within reach.
8. Felicia Zhang/Nathan Bartholomay USA - The U.S. bronze medalists had a rough time at U.S. Classic last month, looking under-prepared in the Salt Lake City altitude. But it's a few weeks later and we are in Detroit, so their outlook could be very different this time around.