While the skies opened in Grenoble and soaked everyone outside as part of a nasty Halloween trick, the skaters participating at this weekend’s Internationaux de France had their first official practices today and treated those watching to previews of their performances.
The temperature inside the Patinoire Polesud may have been frosty, but the welcome in Grenoble continues to be warm for the third year in a row. The men got the practices under way and even though the competition does not start until tomorrow it is hard to see past Nathan Chen as the winner. He was head and shoulders above everyone else here. Let us see how close Olympic silver medallist Shoma Uno can get to him.
Five out of the ten ice teams here in Grenoble are coached at the Ice Academy Montreal in Canada and there were reports of some of the entourage having their luggage delayed on their journey here. Fortunately, we confirmed at the draw earlier today that bags had been reunited with their owners. It would have made for a very short competition if they had not.
The ladies field is undoubtedly the deepest of the four categories this weekend in Grenoble. Alina Zagitova stood out, as an Olympic and World champion should, as a model of relaxed consistency and maturity today. Mariah Bell’s musicality and lyrical expression was also a highlight. Japan has sent three ladies skaters and for Kaori Sakamoto and Wakaba Higuchi this is their second Grand Prix in the space of three weeks. They appeared to be still a little fatigued, but when their jumps were on, they were really powerful and impressive. With the withdrawal of Laurine Lecavelier, Mae-Berenice is the undisputed top French lady here and there is a new softness of touch to her skating that she has clearly been working on during the off-season. The promising new talent Alena Kostornaia had some kind of issue during her run through and shed a few tears. However, towards the end of the session she fixed whatever the problem was and the quality and axis of her jumps were very sharp as usual. It looks like she will include a triple Axel in the short programme and it will be interesting to see how she is scored.
With both of the top seeds having withdrawn, the pairs is probably the most low-key event of this year’s Internationaux de France. On the one hand, there is the youth of Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov and Daria Pavliuchenko and Denis Khodykin from Russia, while the United States of America is fielding two mature teams in the shape of Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier and Ashley Cain-Bribble and Timothy LeDuc. It remains to be seen who will come out on top.
There will no doubt be a few shocks which is perhaps fitting given we have just celebrated Halloween this evening! Until tomorrow………