The first title defense is always the hardest. And Kaetlyn Osmond will be trying to do just that this week at the 2013 Skate Canada International, where she was the surprise winner last year. She faces a field with both precocious peers and seasoned veterans.
GOLD Julia Lipnitskaia RUS - It's a rematch between Lipnitskaia, the former World junior champ, and Japanese veteran Suzuki from Finlandia Trophy, where Lipnitskaia prevailed. This will be Lipnitskaia's first season age-eligible for Europeans and Worlds, which also means that she will be age-eligible to compete at the Olympics. She will certainly be looking to Skate Canada as her first step in proving that she is the one (or at least one of the two) for the job. Hitting her technical elements will be necessary for her to stay ahead of Suzuki, and lapses like she had at points last season will not do.
SILVER Akiko Suzuki JPN - After a disappointing 12th at Worlds last season, Suzuki picked up the seasons and skated superbly at World Team Trophy a few weeks later, and then put down two solid efforts to take the silver at Finlandia to start her season. With Suzuki, it's always a question mark with consistency. And for her to win Skate Canada for the first time in her career this week, she will have to be consistent.
BRONZE Gracie Gold USA - Olympic season? Yes. New coach? Yes. Early season jitters out? Hopefully. At U.S. Classic last month, Gold seemed a bit unfocused, and perhaps it had a lot to do with leaving her coach. She is now under Frank Carroll and will be returning to the site of her Grand Prix debut last year, which was not a great event for her. But a year and a sixth-place at Worlds later, Gold is a different skater. If she brings her potential to Skate Canada, a podium finish is in her pocket.
4. Kaetlyn Osmond CAN - It's the defending champion's first big competition of the season. She had warmups in the pre-season that looked shaky, and her podium chances are questionable with her not being 100% after a foot injury took her off the ice for all of September. She has been known to be a short program skater, so we will see how the lack of total preparation leading in will affect her free skate this week.
5. Christina Gao USA - Gao was one of the Grand Prix surprises last season, but she couldn't translate it into success at Nationals, where she was fifth for a fourth year in a row. She opened the season with a bronze at Ondrej Nepela last month, but she will have to throw down the jumps a lot better this week in order to get on the podium here. At her best, she can hang with the top ladies here for sure.
6. Courtney Hicks USA - It's the U.S. pewter medalist's Grand Prix debut. Hicks won U.S. Classic over Gold to start her season, and she skated lights out in the free skate to do so. Components-wise, she is not as strong as the top skaters, but she is as strong, if not stronger, than most with her technical prowess.
7. Amelie Lacoste CAN - You have to think it's a last-push kind of situation for the 2012 Canadian champion, who is working toward that Olympic spot that she didn't get four years ago. But it's tough to see her getting too far this week without a trusty lutz and flip.
8. Veronik Mallet CAN - Fifth at Canadians last year, Mallet started off her debut senior season very strongly with a nice fourth-place finish at Nebelhorn Trophy. She has the chance to earn a minor upset this week by finishing higher than Lacoste.
9. Natalia Popova UKR - Popova was 15th at Worlds last season, and she has found a solid consistency with her jumps. But she lacks the components that most of her competitors this week have. This will be her Grand Prix debut.