Weaver & Poje new and (hopefully) improved for Russia Grand Prix

I like the way this Grand Prix season is going so far. Through two events the judging has been solid and the skating is at a level usually reserved for the second half of the season.

Here’s a look at who and what to watch at this week’s Rostelecom Cup, which opens Friday in Moscow.

CBCSports.ca is live streaming every short and free program, beginning Friday at 7:45 a.m. ET.

The Rostelecom Cup will also be featured on our Road to the Olympic Games shows on Saturday (CBC TV, CBCSports.ca, 3 p.m. ET) and Sunday (2 p.m. ET on CBCSports.ca, 3 p.m. local time on CBC TV).

Fernandez a cut above

Two-time world champion Javier Fernandez leads the men’s field in talent, sophistication and charisma. When the Spaniard puts all these qualities together, I don’t think anyone stands a chance against him.

That includes Japanese phenom Shoma Uno, who is fresh from a win at Skate America.

Shoma Uno wins Skate America7:39

Virtual unknown Mikhail Kolyada doesn’t have a huge amount of international experience, but he did blow the skating community away by finishing fourth at the 2016 world championships. It will be interesting to see if the 21-year-old Russian rises to the occasion in only his second career Grand Prix appearance.

Women’s event is anyone’s guess

If there was ever a time for a crystal ball, it would be in trying to predict the women’s event, which looks like a toss-up between Russia’s three entries: Julia Lipnitskaia, Elena Radionova and Anna Pogorilaya.

Lipnitskaia, the 2014 European champion and world silver medallist, withdrew from Skate America, citing an injury. Radionova’s performance last season was inconsistent, but she’s the defending Rostelecom Cup champion.

My prediction is that Pogorilaya, the bronze medallist at worlds last spring, will use a strong short program as a springboard to the title.

Seguin & Bilodeau go for 2nd gold

There are two standout teams competing for the top spot in the pairs’ event: Canadians Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau, and 2016 world bronze medallists Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot of Germany.

I prefer the Canadians’ skating. Their well-rounded pair and solo skills propelled them to the Skate America title two weeks ago.

Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau win Skate America pairs title7:29

Savchenko and Massot are only in their second season together. They finished 2015-16, impressively, with a silver at the European championships and a bronze at worlds. There’s no denying that the Germans’ technical arsenal has more firepower than anyone’s in this field. The title will likely go to them in their Grand Prix debut. 

Weaver & Poje rebuild

I’m a huge ice dance fan, but that doesn’t mean I’m any further ahead in handicapping this field.

Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates have momentum after the world bronze medallists came away from Skate Canada last weekend with silver medals and the top score in the free dance. 

Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje have a great skating pedigree that includes a pair of Four Continents titles, two Grand Prix Final titles, two Canadian titles and two world medals. But after dropping off the podium at worlds last spring, they revamped everything from top to bottom, including adding Nikolai Morozov as their main coach. 

Morozov’s specialty is strategizing on-ice performances to maximize results. For Weaver and Poje, this is the kind of help that could push them to the top of the podium if it works out.

Keep your eye on Russian ice dancers Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev. This team is talented and creative and boasts a European title among their many accomplishments. Their start to the season has been slow with a bronze at Skate America, and the Russians will need to be better if they hope to qualify for next month’s Grand Prix Final.

Pj’s gold medal picks

Men: Javier Fernandez (Spain)

Ladies: Anna Pogorilaya (Russia)

Pairs: Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot (Germany)

Dance: Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje (Canada)

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