Two More Grand Prix Withdrawals
Papadakis & Cizeron withdraw from NHK days before event; Higuchi withdraws from Russia after bad skate in Canada.
At the beginning of the week, perhaps the biggest thing skating fans were looking forward to at the NHK Trophy in Hiroshima was finally getting to see Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron. So far, the only place ice dance’s current French overlords have skated at this fall was the Masters de Patinage. And there, they didn’t even do the free dance, and French federation decided the world shouldn’t see their rhythm dance yet and actually cut the livestream during it! We don’t even know their free dance music for sure yet. But this was what they’d be holding it back for: the beginning of the competitions people actually care about.
The competitions, indeed, where there have now been a lot of cases of skaters withdrawing from their first event, but holding out hope of doing their second. Though those skaters have tended to eventually give their second event up too. We have now lost the likes of Gabrielle Daleman and Elena Radionova completely, and when they would’ve otherwise competed this week. Although at least it gave the later a chance to speak at the unveiling of a memorial plaque for Denis Ten in Almaty.
We got something a little more unusual today; a withdrawal from someone who actually skated her first event. The results at it served as indication she might not have been recovered enough for that, so her being out of her second event is no surprise. Much more disappointing was the first-event withdrawal yesterday of the team everybody’s been waiting so long to see.
Papadakis & Cizeron Out of the NHK Trophy
Tuesday, three days before the world would’ve finally seen their rhythm dance, Papadakis & Cizeron announced their withdrawal from their first event, about a week after he’d apparently suffered a back injury in practice. However, unlike most of the first-event withdrawals we’ve seen, this one is genuinely being described as something that might clear up before their second event, which is the series concluder in their native France. It’s described as not serious, and they might even now have already returned to the ice in Montreal. Yet back injuries are always a little hard to predict; he has to be careful not to aggravate it.
If, at least, he’s recovered in time for the European Championships in January, it’s not too much of a loss for them. They have enough laurels now that they can easily skip a Grand Prix series if need be. It’s a much bigger loss to the series, especially with most of the other top couples from last season retired or taking a break. They’ve handed a huge opportunity to Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue; they’re now pretty much the last top couple standing, and will be favored to claim a huge victory at the Grand Prix Final.
It’s way too close to the event for a replacement, but they’ve handed an even bigger opportunity to a few of the other teams. There are now nine couples left on the roster with only two Grand Prix bronzes between them, and one of them will get a huge win no one would’ve ever predicted for them before yesterday. Those two teams, Tiffani Zagorski & Jonathan Guerreiro and Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker, are the best shots for it. The former beat the latter at Skate America, and would also make the Final if they won. It’s also a good unexpected medal opportunity for the other American and Russian couples competing, Rachel & Michael Parsons and Anastasia Skoptcova & Kirill Aleshin.
Higuchi Out of Rostelecom Cup
A week and a half ago, Wakaba Higuchi came to Skate Canada dealing with a foot issue. At the end of her short program, it looked like she might be past it. But her free skate made it very clear she was not. After that, it wasn’t too much a surprise when she disappeared from the Rostelecom Cup roster today.
Losing the series isn’t nothing for Higuchi, but it isn’t the biggest loss either. The real question is whether or not she’ll be ready for Japanese Nationals in late December. Even though she’s a reigning World medalist, Japanese skating has some of the strictest rules about qualifying for the big competitions, and to do anything else this season, Higuchi has to show up and do well enough there. That they thought she might be able to compete in Canada indicates her foot isn’t in a dire state, and raises the hope another month and a half should be enough time. But the Japanese ladies field is so competitive, even being a little bit off her game could be fatal for Higuchi.
There’s enough time for Russian officials to replace her if they really want to, though they aren’t required to, and it might be a tight timeline, especially when most potential replacements would need a visa. Had Higuchi been healthy, she would’ve had a good chance of at least disrupting a Russian sweep, which now may or may not happen; there are still multiple skaters from other countries who might also medal. This field would be much stronger with her, but remains still good even without her.
The NHK Trophy starts on Friday. The Rostelecom Cup is at the end of next week.