Wellman's fantasy preview: World Team Trophy
Asada, Chan enter as singles favorites; Weaver, Poje should battle Chock, Bates
|Tara Wellman likes Mao Asada to top the ladies in front of a friendly Tokyo crowd. (Getty Images)|
This weekend's World Team Trophy event is ultimately about combined scores and team wins. But, with just one last chance to manage a winning fantasy team, let's take a look at the lineups and matchups between individuals this weekend in Tokyo.
Wagner started the season with a bang, looking to one-up last season's magical run. She hit a few speed bumps near the end of the season, though. Meanwhile -- despite problems in the short program at the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships -- Asada grew stronger. Suzuki may have the best programs of the three, but she has struggled all year to skate clean. One final time this season, I'm taking Asada over Wagner in a close race.
This group features a number of women trying to make a move toward the top. While the Russian phenoms have the firepower to dominate the event, they haven't lived up to that potential this year.
North America's young guns have an opportunity to put a final stamp on their own successful senior debut seasons. But, you can't forget about Li, who stunned the world with her world championships free skate.
That said, Gold has momentum and confidence ... plus jumps that rival anyone. I'm taking Gold in the finale.
Group C -- Gabrielle Daleman, Lenaelle Gilleron-Gory, Kexin Zhang
Zhang made her season debut at the 2013 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships this year and finished 10th, but she struggled at worlds. France's Gilleron-Gorry just missed a top-10 finish at the 2013 European Figure Skating Championships this year after competing on the Junior Grand Prix circuit.
Their season scores are close, so -- despite not competing much this season -- I'm picking Zhang to top group C.
This rivalry fizzled a bit this season when both men had up-and-down starts to the year. Despite the controversy it created, Chan managed to defend his world title while Takahashi fell to sixth. Takahashi may have the home-crowd advantage, but Chan gives Team Canada an almost unfair advantage because he is, without a doubt, still the man to beat.
This is a chance for Abbott to bounce back after not making the world team. It's also an opportunity for Aaron to prove himself as the top U.S. man again. Or, it could be the time for Reynolds to unleash the quads and assist Chan in Canadian domination.
If Abbott is clean, he'll take the group. If not, Aaron has the higher season scores.
Reynolds, though, outscored them all near the end of the year. This group will be fascinating, but I'm selecting Reynolds.
Menshov pulled off a fourth-place finish at Rostelecom Cup this year, but Kovtun dominated the Junior Grand Prix scene with three wins, including the JGP Final. He also represented Russia at Europeans and worlds. He seems to have the upper hand over his countryman, and this group likely will come down to the two of them. I'm taking Kovtun.
As good as Duhamel and Radford were at worlds (and as much as they probably should have finished higher!), Volosozhar and Trankov are still clearly the team to beat. Not that it can't be done, but I don't expect the status quo to shift enough to let the Canadians take down the world champs. Tatiana and Max it is.
All three "B" teams have had impressive moments this season. However, none is as drastically improved as James and Ciprès. These two wowed me at Skate America and continued to show improvement through the season. They finished 13 points higher than Peng and Zheng and 16 points higher than Castelli and Shnapir at the world championships, and I see no reason they can't repeat that success. It may not be by that wide a margin, but I'm taking the French champs in Tokyo.
Americans Chock and Bates soared up the U.S. rankings this season, edging Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani for silver at the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships and finishing just ahead of the sibling duo at worlds.
The Canadians came roaring back to the international stage after time off for injury. They wowed the Canadian crowd in London, Ontario, and finished in the top five at worlds -- a little more than two points ahead of Chock and Bates. They have the advantage going in, and that is enough to sway my pick, but not by much. This one should be close!
The brother-sister team for Japan stumbled at the world championships, but the Russians were not present in London. They finished fourth at this season's Russian championships and sixth in their only Grand Prix event (Rostelecom Cup).
I'm feeling a bounce-back event coming for the Reeds and choosing them to top their Russian counterparts in Tokyo.
Yu and Wang's season-best score of 108+ falls far below Carron and Jones's 145+ at the world championships. The French runners-up to Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat finished 10th at the European championships and 12th at worlds. Barring dramatic circumstances, they should win this group.
And that, as they say, is that. Another season, nearly in the books. One last time, good luck to all!