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Champions lead field in Paris

American Meissner going for gold

Kimmie Meissner performs at 2007 Skate America.
Kimmie Meissner performs at 2007 Skate America. (Michelle Harvath)

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By Klaus-Reinhold Kany, special to icenetwork.com
(11/14/2007) - The Trophee Eric Bompard Cachemire begins on Friday in Paris. The U.S. will send eight skaters to the ice at the huge Palais Omnisport. Most skaters will be making their second Grand Prix appearance of the season at the Trophee, the fourth event in the series. Several competitors may qualify this week for the Grand Prix Final, which will be held Dec. 13-16, in Turin, Italy, at the 2006 Olympic rink.

Ladies

In the ladies competition, Kimmie Meissner of the United States, the 2006 world champion and fourth-place finisher in 2007, hopes to win her second gold medal of the year after topping the podium at Skate America three weeks ago. But the competition will be tough.

The top contender is Japan's Mao Asada, the current world runner-up. She won the gold medal at Skate Canada two weeks ago with 177.66 points, 14.43 more than Meissner earned at Skate America. The second strong rival might be Sarah Meier of Switzerland, who was second at the 2007 European Championships and seventh at the world championships in Tokyo.

The second American skater is Ashley Wagner, who is in her first year of competing on the senior circuit. The bronze medalist at the 2007 World Junior Championships came in fifth place at her first Grand Prix event, Skate Canada, two weeks ago. Aki Sawada of Japan, fourth at the 2007 Four Continents Championship, and Italy's Valentina Marchei, fifth at the 2007 Europeans, should be the other medal contenders.

Men

The men's field is also quite strong. Favorite in his home country certainly would have been world champion Brian Joubert, who just won Skate Canada. But the day before the competition he cancelled this competition. He said: "I have been feeling sick since I returned from Canada. I did several medical examinations of my blood and lung, but I could not find out precisely. To my greatest regret I have to cancel this Grand Prix. I know that this is important for the national and international federation, the public, the media and my sponsor Bompard which is more than a partner for me. I would have liked to win again and to qualify for the final." New favourite may be Belgium's Kevin van der Perren who performed the better free program in Canada, including here a quad. Other medal contenders include 16-year-old Patrick Chan of Canada, the bronze medalist at Skate America, and his countryman Christopher Mabee, who finished fourth at Skate Canada. Competition may also come from the second French skater, Alban Préaubert, who came in fifth place at Skate America this year and won the bronze there in 2006. Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic also hopes to contend, but he has not yet reached his top form in two lesser events this year, earning just a bronze medal at the Nebelhorn Trophy and taking the gold at the Finlandia Trophy despite not winning the free skate.

The two U.S. skaters, Ryan Bradley and Scott Smith, will have to fight very hard to compete with this strong field. Both men would like to improve on their earlier Grand Prix appearances this year -- Bradley's sixth-place finish at Skate America and Smith's ninth-place result at Skate Canada.

Pairs

The two Chinese team are the favorites in the pairs competition. Current world silver medalists Qing Pang and Jian Tong have already competed at two Grand Prix events, winning gold at the Cup of China last week and silver at Skate America last month. While Pang and Tong are taking advantage of a special rule that allows the top six finishers at last season's world championships to compete at three Grand Prix, their main competition, Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang (not related), are making their first Grand Prix appearance this season at the Trophee Eric Bompard. Zhang and Zhang won the silver medal at the 2006 Olympics and placed fifth at the 2007 worlds.

Other medal candidates are Tatiana Volosozhar and Stanislav Morozov of Ukraine, who came in fourth place at the worlds in Tokyo seven months ago, and Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov of Russia, who won the Finlandia Trophy a month ago.

America's only pairs team in Paris is Tiffany Vise and Derek Trent, who were fifth at the 2007 State Farm U.S. Championships and at Skate Canada this season.

Ice Dancing

France's Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder, fourth at last year's world championships, are the favorites in the ice dancing competition. This is their first Grand Prix of the season, but they won the Ondrej Nepela Memorial in Bratislava in September.

The rest of the field is quite open. Meryl Davis and Charlie White, seventh at their very first senior worlds last March, were a bit disappointed after their fourth-place finish at Skate America, but they have worked hard since then and hope for an improved performance in Paris. Other contenders include Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski of Russia, who finished one place behind the Davis and White in Tokyo, and Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte of Italy, the silver medalists two weeks ago in Canada.