NHK preview from Goldenskate

Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White head to Nagano with two wins under their belts in this young season, and will look to become the first dance team to earn a spot in the Final. Their performance two weeks ago in Russia not only earned them a personal best score, but Davis and White have the highest total score of any team to have competed thus far this season.

"We were really excited that a lot of the judges and fans liked our programs because we were really excited about them," Davis said with her usual grace. "We worked really hard during the off-season, so to be able to debut (the programs) with a positive reaction was really very rewarding for us."

The U.S. Champions steam-rolled their competition in Moscow, winning the title by more than 30 points, and even showed room for improvement by earning level three on several of their elements in both the original and free dances.

"We have a lot we plan on improving before we leave for Japan on Tuesday," Davis admitted. "We'll work on everything from elements to transitions and on the tango since it's the (compulsory) dance again at NHK. Our goals are to skate three solid and confident performances and continue to take steps towards building our programs to the top level of performance, both technically and artistically."

Davis and White's free dance to The Phantom of the Opera is being hailed as a masterpiece by many fans, and could be the vehicle that the Four Continents Champions need in order to break through on the World and Olympic level. Improvements in just about every facet of their skating can be seen, but they have shown most improvement in their speed, attack, and performance level.

Barring an injury, illness, or act of God, Davis and White should walk away with another win in Nagano, and should easily earn a second trip to the Grand Prix Final.

Sinead Kerr and John Kerr from Great Britain are returning to competition after winning the bronze medal in Paris a few weeks ago. The Kerrs finished the compulsory dance in Paris in second place, but were unable to hold on to that position as the competition progressed.

"Our performances in Paris were pretty good," said John, "but obviously we would have liked to finish ahead of Nathalie (Pechalat) and Fabian (Bourzat). They are an excellent team though, so hopefully we can do it next time we come up against them."

Fortunately for the Kerrs, they are aware of what improvements need to be made in each of their programs in order to climb up the standings, and they have been working on making those adjustments since Paris.

"We have been working on all the step sequences from our original and free dances as we only received level 2's on all of them," John explained.

The competition was so close in Paris that earning higher levels on those step sequences could have been enough to move them ahead of Pechalat and Bourzat. In Japan, the Kerrs look to improve their standing, hoping to earn a gold or silver medal for the first time in a Grand Prix event.

"Our goal is to finish top two in Japan," John said matter-of-factly.

And a top two finish should be well within their grasp. With a gold medal, the Kerrs will earn their first trip to the Grand Prix Final, but with a silver medal, they will have to wait and see as other teams compete later in the series.

After a disappointing debut in Russia, Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier need to be at their best in Nagano to reestablish themselves as a team on the rise. The Canadian silver medalists were not able to perform at their best in Moscow, but are prepared to go full out in Nagano.

"Paul had the flu or food poisoning," Crone remembered. "It affected our free dance practice and the actual competition. We weren't able to practice before the competition, and he was up the night before throwing up and in pain. But he got through it and was a trooper."

Crone and Poirier were far off of their personal best scores, but the young Canadians showed promise in earning competent element levels in their free dance.

"We need to just keep our health in shape, work on expression, and improve our levels in footwork," Crone declared. "In Japan, we are hoping to have three clean skates with all the levels that we want and also hopefully medal."

Russia's Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev are making their international debut in Japan, and could be a threat to make the podium. Last season the duo finished in fourth place at the NHK Trophy, and look to improve upon that placement in Nagano.

The 2007 Junior World Champions, like most of their teammates, come armed with a Russian folk original dance, and they have selected Tomaso Albinoni's Adagio for their free dance.

The original dance is typical of Russian folk dances in terms of choreography, and the only element that sets the duo apart is the fact that they are both dressed like sailors. The free dance conversely, takes advantage of Bobrova and Soloviev's long lines and shows improved connection to the music and each other. However, when they skated the program last month in a national competition in Perm, there was much room for improvement in terms of speed, attack, and precision.

The Ukrainian team of Anna Zadorozhniuk and Sergei Verbillo are coming off a fourth place finish at the Cup of China last week, and could challenge for the bronze medal in Nagano. A third place finish would equal the duo's highest finish in a Grand Prix event

Americans Jane Summersett and Todd Gilles return to the Grand Prix after a seventh place finish at last year's Skate America. Earlier in the season, Summersett and Gilles finished in a disappointing fifth place at the Finlandia Trophy, and will try to show that their recent coaching change was a sound decision.

Canadians Allie Hann-McCurdy and Michael Coreno (19th, 2008 World Championships) return to the Grand Prix after a disappointing season last year, while Japan's Cathy and Chris Reed (16th, 2009 World Championships) will try to improve on their consecutive eighth place finishes at this event.

Rounding out the roster is Lucie Mysliveckova and Matej Novak of the Czech Republic (7th, 2009 Rostelecom Cup) and China's Xintong Huang and Xun Zheng (7th place, 2009 Cup of China) who replace the injured World Champions Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin.

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