FIGURE SKATING Preview: Strong U.S. team looks to be favored in World Team Trophy in Fukuoka

American Ice Dance stars Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue

The sixth World Team Trophy competition will be held this week to finish off the 2018-19 international figure skating season, but outside of Tokyo (JPN) for the first time.

Instead, the 15,000-seat Marine Messe Fukuoka will be the site this time, for the four-day event (including a non-scoring exhibition on Sunday). The performance schedule:

11 April: Ice Dance/Short Dance, Women/Short Program, Men/Short Program
12 April: Pairs/Short Program, Ice Dance/Free Dance, Men/Free Skate
13 April: Pairs/Free Skate, Women/Free Skate

There are six competing teams, chosen on the basis of a points system that incorporates the World Championships, World Junior Championships, the European Champs and Four Continents and the Grand Prix season. The qualifiers:

1. 9,038 Russia
2. 7,752 United States
3. 6,991 Japan
4. 5,541 France
5. 4,344 Italy
6. 4,217 Canada

The teams include two men’s skaters, two women’s skaters plus one Pairs and one Ice Dance team, for a total of eight skaters. They will score points from 12 down to one in each phase (short program and free skate) of each discipline and the total will decide the overall winner.

Is this event important? Not really, but the skaters report that it’s fun and it is a rare opportunity for a team competition, which is also part of the Olympic program now. There is also money attached: $200,000-170,000-160,000-150,000-140,000-130,000 for the teams placed 1-6, to be split equally among the eight skaters. So the winning team members each get $25,000 for their effort.

The U.S. has a formidable team and there are excellent entries in all four events. The top competitors, based on this season’s competitions:

Nathan Chen (USA) ~ 2019 World Champion
Vincent Zhou (USA) ~ 2019 Worlds bronze medalist
● Shoma Uno (JPN) ~ Fourth at the 2019 Worlds
● Matteo Rizzo (ITA) ~ Seventh at the 2019 Worlds
● Andrei Lazukin (RUS) ~ 10th at the 2019 Worlds

● Rika Kihira (JPN) ~ Fourth at 2019 Worlds
● Kaori Sakamoto (JPN) ~ Fifth at 2019 Worlds
● Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (RUS) ~ 2019 Grand Prix Final bronze medalist
Bradie Tennell (USA) ~ Seventh at 2019 Worlds
● Sofia Samodurova (RUS) ~ Eighth at 2019 Worlds
Mariah Bell (USA) ~ Ninth at 2019 Worlds

● Natalia Zabiiako/Alexander Enbert (RUS) ~ 2019 Worlds bronze medalists
● Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres (FRA) ~ Fifth at 2019 Worlds
Ashley Cain/Tim LeDuc (USA) ~ Seventh at 2019 Worlds
● Nicole Della Monica/Matteo Guarise (ITA) ~ Eighth at 2019 Worlds
● Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN) ~ Seventh at 2019 Worlds

Ice Dance:
● Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) ~ 2019 World Champions
● Victoria Sinitsina/Nikita Katsalapov (RUS) ~ 2019 Worlds silver medalists
Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) ~ 2019 Worlds bronze medalists
● Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje (CAN) ~ Fifth at 2019 Worlds
● Charlene Guignard/Marco Fabbri (ITA) ~ Seventh at 2019 Worlds

The U.S. appears to have the best-balanced team and looks poised to win the Team Trophy for the fourth time in its six editions. Japan won in 2017 (second title), with Russia second and the U.S. third. Chen and the Pairs entry of Cain/LeDuc return from that 2017 team.

The World Team Trophy is not being televised in the U.S. and is only available online. Look for results here.