Asada, Takahashi kick off GP title defence as Sochi looms
Daisuke Takahashi of Japan performs in the men's free skating at the Japan Open figure skating competition at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama on October 5, 2013
As Olympic champions Evan Lysacek and Kim Yu-Na miss the Grand Prix season, the Japanese are looking to hit hard in a series where the top six skaters in each category - men, women, pairs and ice dancing - advance to the final in Fukuoka, Japan from December 6-8.
Takahashi, winner of Japan's first men's Olympic figure skating medal and world title, claimed their first men's Grand Prix Final crown at Sochi's Iceberg Arena last December ahead of compatriot Yuzuru Hanyu and reigning world champion Patrick Chan.
Chan however won a third world title at home in Canada in March and is favourite for Olympic gold as he opens his campaign in Skate Canada from October 25-27 before a Paris date from November 15-17.
Lysacek has not competed since taking gold in Vancouver three years ago.
Initally slated for Skate America, he withdrew last month because of an abdominal tear, and the chances of him defending his title are slim.
The 28-year-old Lysacek needs not only a strong performance at the US Championships in January but also to meet the Olympic qualifying score at an international event.
Olympic hosts Russia are desperate to find themselves back on the top spot on the podium after a title wipeout for the first time in 50 years in Vancouver.
Veteran star Yevgeny Plushenko, the 2006 Olympic champion and two-time silver medallist, will test his form in the Cup of Russia from November 22-24, as the 31-year-old bids to compete in a fourth Olympics at home.
Kazakh Denis Ten, the world silver medallist, and also an Olympic hopeful saw his Sochi warm-up hit as he was forced to withdraw from Skate America on Wednesday citing illness with his second assignment the Cup of China.
In the women's event, Asada will have to wait to renew her rivalry with Kim, sidelined for two months with a right foot injury picked up in late September.
The South Korean made her competitive return last December after a break of more than 18 months and had looked to be gaining momentum by winning a second world title.
Two-time world champion Asada, the Olympic silver medallist, will test her form in Skate America, the only Grand Prix that she has never won and where she last competed in 2006, before taking part in the NHK Trophy from November 8-10.
Asada got off to strong season debut at the Japan Open earlier this month and left early for Detroit to train at the rink used by coach Nabuo Sato's daughter, former world champion Yuka Sato, to prepare for Skate America.
"Every event is a step toward Sochi. I've worked hard and will be dedicating everything to skating until then," said Asada, who will be up against defending Skate America champion Ashley Wagner, who has beaten her twice last year.
Italy's 2012 world champion Carolina Kostner, another Olympic contender, will compete in the Cup of China from November 1-3 and the Cup of Russia.
Russia's hopes in the women's event lie with former world junior champions Elizaveta Tuktamysheva and Adelina Sotnikova.
In pairs, Russia's reigning world champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov open their campaign in Skate America, with four-time world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany kicking off their season in the Cup of China.
In ice dancing, two-time world ice dance champions and Olympic silver medallists Meryl Davis and Charlie White start at Skate America with Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir raising the curtain at their home event in Canada.
For the first time the Winter Olympics will also see a Team Trophy event in which ten countries compete with each presenting skaters in each category - men, women, pairs and ice dance. The United States won the world Team Trophy title in 2013.
ISU Grand Prix series:
Oct 18-20: Skate America at Detroit
Oct 25-27: Skate Canada at Saint John, New Brunswick
Nov 1-3: Cup of China at Beijing
Nov 8-10: NHK Trophy at Tokyo
Nov 15-17: Trophee Eric Bompard at Paris
Nov 22-24: Cup of Russia at Moscow
Dec 5-8: Grand Prix Final at Fukuoka, Japan
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