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Sochi Figure Skating preview (pairs): Handicapping the top pairs (Part 1)

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Have you had enough of the Team Event? Want to get back to the cut-throat individual figure skating competitions? Well, the pairs will give you the pleasure of getting back to the individual events - starting tomorrow! Let's have a look at the top teams in order of appearance in tomorrow's short programs.

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Related: Pairs short skate order
Related: Team Event Day 3 analysis

Cheng Peng/Hao Zhang CHN (Group 1) - The first of the outside medal contenders to skate. (What? Medal contenders?) That elevated status came from their 70+ short program score during the team short program. Add that to the fact that they have the only quad twist in the competition in the free skate and you have yourselves a potential dark horse. They have greatly improved this season in their skating and their programs - top ten for sure, top five a possibility.

Marissa Castelli/Simon Shnapir USA (Group 2) - Speaking of quads, the other pair team to try a quad in the free skate are Castelli/Shnapir - only theirs is the throw quad salchow, which they nearly hit in the Team Event. Their technique on this throw is the best I've seen from any pair, and at Nationals last month, I saw a couple of clean ones in practice. Might Sochi be where the land their first clean quad? But first thing's first, they need to hit their side-by-side jumps, which have traditionally been a problem for Shnapir. But in the past few months, Castelli has been having more trouble. If they skate a clean short, they have the potential to be in the top eight going into the free skate, which would be a great feat for the U.S. champs.

Felicia Zhang/Nathan Bartholomay USA (Group 2) - The two American pairs go back-to-back. And while Zhang/Bartholomay aren't medal contenders by any means, their rise late this season has been refreshing, and their joy for skating is so evident. Top ten is a potential reach for them, but it's a deep pairs field, so they will need to skate like they did at Nationals to make that happen.

Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres FRA (Group 3) - The French pair had a scary team short program, with a near-miss on their triple twist, which has always been a bit of a scary element for them. But they are a solid pair with big tricks. And two clean programs could put them in position for a top eight finish at their first Olympics.

Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov RUS (Group 4) - Like Peng/Zhang, Stolbova/Klimov made a statement for their chances at the podium during the Team Event. Scoring in the mid-130s in the pairs free skate is no joke, and you don't see scores over 130 all that often. They've always been a great team, but their consistency this season is a change from the past, and the addition of a triple twist really helps their cause, especially in the short program. They have made a case for themselves as the second-best Russian pair, and they are firmly in dark horse territory.

Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford CAN (Group 4) - The World bronze medalists seem to be peaking at the right time. After having some struggles with their side-by-side triple lutzes earlier this season, they have hit that element in the last three short programs they've skated in competition. They don't have the PCS that the main podium contenders do, so they will need to rely on their superior technical elements and skate cleanly to put themselves in the running for that Olympic medal.

NEXT: Handicapping the pairs (Part 2)

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