Not to be outshone by the guys, the ladies at this week’s 2012 Hilton HHonors Skate America will boast some strong credentials. The field includes three former World junior champions and four of the top 11 finishers at Worlds last season (albeit those two groups overlap by one skater), and it will surely be an exciting battle for the gold at the first Grand Prix event of the season.
On paper, it looks to be a three-way fight for the podium, all three with first names that start with A. But if the past few seasons are any indication, expect the unexpected in the ladies’ field. Here’s a look at the ladies at this week’s Skate America.
GOLD Ashley Wagner USA – It’s time. Eleven showings on the Grand Prix, including once in the Final, but no titles. In her 12th appearance, and at home for the first time, the U.S. champ will be looking to take another step toward another dream season with a win at Skate America. She skated well, though not flawlessly, at Japan Open to win the ladies’ side of the event two weeks ago. Wagner won’t need to pull out all the stops to win this week, but the biggest key for her will be consistency (and avoiding two-foot landings).
SILVER Adelina Sotnikova RUS – By most people’s standards, two bronze medals during a debut season on the Grand Prix would be pretty phenomenal. But for the 2011 World junior champ, expectations were so super high that there was definitely a sense of deflation last season, as inconsistency crept into her programs. This year, she started off with a silver at Nebelhorn, upset by Canadian upstart Kaetlyn Osmond. Technically, she is the strongest in the event on paper, but her success will hinge on the condition of her jumps.
BRONZE Alena Leonova RUS – During her slump a few years ago, there were some who thought that she had peaked and that she would just get lapped multiple times by the youngsters who were quickly sprinting up the ranks at home. But nope, she proved so resilient, taking her skating to a completely different level last season to end with a silver at Worlds. Who would’ve thunk it? Leonova didn’t look great at Japan Open, but it’s still too early to tell. Let’s see how much help a week or so of training has given her.
4. Rachael Flatt USA – Maybe it’s school pride. Maybe it’s just me wanting to forget about her 9th- and 10th-place finishes on the Grand Prix last season. Maybe it’s the hope that being more settled now as a sophomore, the 2008 World junior champ will be more prepared than she was at this time last year. Let’s toss a coin. (Go Cardinal!)
5. Valentina Marchei ITA – After starting last season looking completely miserable with her jumps, Marchei, with her always-positive attitude, turned it all around and made it her best season ever with an eighth-place finish at Worlds. It was her first top ten finish at Worlds, and if she can keep that momentum going, top five this week is well within-reach.
6. Haruka Imai JPN – Fourth at Japanese Nationals last season, Imai started off strongly a few weeks ago, taking third at Nebelhorn behind Sotnikova. She has shown in the past that she’s technically capable of keeping up with the top ladies.
7. Viktoria Helgesson SWE – It really seemed like Helgesson was heading toward something good last year, winning the bronze at last year’s Skate America (though the skating overall in that competition was pretty shabby) and then finishing fifth at Europeans (some argued she should’ve been higher). But her momentum fell off at the end, and she finished 11th at Worlds in what many expected to have been a top ten showing. Her sixth place at Nebelhorn was not a great sign, but she could make some noise this week if she can get her jumps together.
8. Christina Gao USA – Like Flatt, Gao’s last season was one to forget. She seemed completely out of sorts with her jumps for much of the season, but she found her skating again to place fifth at Nationals. Now that the hip injury that messed with her season last year is out of the way, could Gao impress the American crowd?
9. Sarah Hecken GER – Tenth at Nebelhorn a few weeks back, the multi-time German champion is looking for the kind of skating that helped her finish 11th at Worlds two seasons ago.
10. Mae Berenice Meite FRA – Finishing second at French Masters two weeks ago was not a terribly great sign for Meite – and the winner wasn’t Yretha Silete, who is sidelined with an injury. She will need to be much stronger in order to finish high in this field.
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