Grand Prix News
Indication Korea might not host event; Fernandez and Weaver & Pojé not competing on the circuit.
It seemed an ordinary enough post-Olympic summer as far as the Grand Prix of Figure Skating was concerned. Granted, the news came that people like the reigning World Ladies Champion weren’t doing it, but that’s perfectly normal for the start of the new quaddrennium. Then, less than three weeks before the scheduled meeting to determine who’d be competing where, the Chinese skating federation upended everything by declaring they wouldn’t host any international skating events that fall, which meant the third event in the series needed a new location.
The International Skating Union immediately offered it to South Korea, which was certainly the best sounding idea. It meant there would still be two events in Asia, it would take place in a country where there’d be an audience for it, and, indeed, it would grant a Grand Prix event to a country that had certainly earned it with how great its fans have been the last ten years. Now the date we were waiting for was Monday the 25th, the day before the meeting remains scheduled to start. That was when Korea had to give the ISU its answer as to whether it was actually willing to host the event or not.
But now it looks like it might have given its answer early, and that it wasn’t the one fans were hoping for. Meanwhile, withdrawals from top skaters continue, with two more this week. One of them, however, was pretty much expected. The other wasn’t quite, but isn’t too much of a surprise either.
Third Grand Prix Event Possibly in Europe
When the date of June 25th was given out, most assumed we wouldn’t hear Korea’s answer until then. Indeed, it might not be official until then. But today, the Japanese media was announcing various domestic skating details about next season, including the exact location of the National Championships in Kadoma, when they also spoke of the third Grand Prix possibly being held in Europe, with no mention of South Korea. That suggests Korean skating officials have already informally said no, and the ISU is now looking for a European city willing to host.
There’s more than one possibility there. Milan, which held the World Championships last March, has already come up. (Though that wasn’t the best run of events.) The event could even conceivably go back to Germany, which held it for the first eight years of the series’ existence. Then the ISU got a better TV deal from China, who founded the Cup of China specifically to be a Grand Prix event, and the demoted skating competition was only held two more years. But with Germany not getting a spot on the Junior Grand Prix schedule this year, they might be interested in going senior one last time.
It is a bit of a disappointment if we’re not getting a Cup of Korea, which could’ve been a very exciting event. But it’s not easy to host a Grand Prix event, one of the biggest events on the fall calendar. If the federation isn’t ready to handle it just yet, it’s better they not have a trouble-filled event that would make it harder for them to get a Grand Prix event there ever again.
Meanwhile, this might be a stroke of luck for China. A successful Cup of Korea might leave the ISU less than inclined to give them their Grand Prix hosting duties back next season, even if they want them. But a guest European host is more likely to be a one-time affair. If they’re trying to play political football with international officials, the ISU not having an alternate permanent host even gives them leverage.
Javier Fernandez Out for Fall, Possibly Ending Career at Europeans
Before the Olympics, the word on Javier Fernandez was that he would end his career in PyeongChang. When he made history for Spain claiming the bronze, it looked like a nice ending too. But apparently he hadn’t quite had enough. Even as he pulled out of the World Championship, he said he might compete a little longer, but might limit his appearances to the European Championships.
On Tuesday, his agent pretty much confirmed all of this. He’s officially out of the Grand Prix, with Europeans in Minsk as his “focus.” His plans after that are unknown, but it doesn’t sound like he’s planning to compete at 2019 Worlds.
This is a highly unusual course of action for a skater to take. Skipping the Grand Prix in their later years is normal enough, but usually their focus is the biggest prize of Worlds. But Fernandez may be doing it because the pressure is lighter, and it’s easier for him to win. Last year he took his sixth straight title, breaking the record, and he’s only one title short of the overall record number held by Evgeni Plushenko. He could just be aiming to tie that, or even break it, although that would require him to stay another year.
He’ll certainly be the favorite to win, since the only men in Europe who can beat him are the Russians, and they don’t manage it that often. He might not even have to skate well, although if the 2019 European Championships prove his final bow, one would hope that he did.
Weaver & Pojé Also Out of Grand Prix
Even before Kaetlyn Osmond pulled out, Team Canada had lost much of its Olympic team, including their bronze-winning pairs team and their gold-winning ice dance legends, Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir. They’re most of them instead going on the Thank You, Canada tour during the fall, pretty much enjoying their retirement, or at least their break from the ice.
And they may soon be joined on the tour by Canada’s other top tier ice dance team as well. Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Pojé, like Osmond, did go to Worlds, and even came out of it with a bronze medal. But on Thursday, they announced they, too, are taking the Grand Prix off. Like Fernandez, they have expressed a specific intent to compete later in the season, in their case, at Canadian Nationals, which would heavily imply they’ll go on to the ISU Championships. (Provided, of course, they qualify for them, but there’s really no way they won’t.) Although they do talk about considering how they’re going to proceed from here on in, they make that sound like they’re deciding less whether they’re going to compete than how much.
Once upon a time, this would’ve been out of character, since they once said they like to compete at much as possible. But at 29 and 31, they’re not as young and spry as they were then. With Virtue & Moir in all likelihood finally truly done, there’s room for them to find more success in the second half of the seasons, at least if they can stay ahead of the rising Canadian field. If Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron didn’t exist, they could potentially even hope for a World title. But of course, that French team will likely win them all until the next Olympics, and Weaver & Pojé have already said they probably won’t last that long. It makes more sense that they’re being smart, saving the gas for when they can make the most of it.
With them out, Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte become the third seeds, which at least allows them to avoid Papadakis & Cizeron and Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue before the Grand Prix Final. They do lose a chance to voice preference for events, though; they get which ones those teams don’t. (Unless Italy does host that third event, in which case they will almost certainly be at it.) Madison Chock & Evan Bates head the second group of seeds instead, with Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin joining them and Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier in it.
In theory, we will get the Grand Prix assignments next week. But if they don’t know where one of the events is happening, it could be longer.