Grenoble, set to host the Internationaux de France from November 13 to 15, is hovering near the maximum alert threshold after record daily levels of COVID-19 cases in France.
In total, the country has reported more than 624,200 cases and nearly 32,300 deaths.
There are still plans to allow 1,000 spectators into the Patinoire Polesud arena each day, however.
The venue is set to reopen later this month following renovation works, despite reports it had been closed due to the pandemic.
The ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating is scheduled to begin with Skate America in Las Vegas from October 23 to 25.
This is set to be followed by Skate Canada in Ottawa from October 30 to November 1, and the Shiseido Cup of China from November 6 to 8 in Chongqing,
Next on the schedule is the Internationaux de France and the Rostelecom Cup, before the NHK Trophy in Osaka from November 27 to 29.
This year's ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final, which was due to be held from December 10 to 13 in Beijing, has been postponed.
It was due to take place at the Capital Indoor Stadium, which is scheduled to host figure skating and short track speed skating during the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
The ISU cited the proximity to festive holidays and National Championships as reasons behind the decision, while also highlighting that the number of participants could be affected depending on the status of quarantine regulations.
It might not look like what fans are used to, but the ISU’s Grand Prix Series kicks off on 23 October with Skate America in Las Vegas, then heads to four other stops in China, France, Russia, and Japan.
Normally assigned to two Grand Prix stops, skaters will instead participate in just one, and each event will take on a more national and regional field as officials are limiting the amount of travelling done by the skating community in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before the first program has been skated, the Series has already hit a couple of major bumps, however, with Canadian officials announcing the cancellation of Skate Canada (30 and 31 October) and the postponement of the Grand Prix Final - where the top six skaters from each discipline compete, and which had been set for December as an Olympic test event ahead of Beijing 2022.
No plans have been announced to re-schedule the Final as of yet, but the 2021 calendar has already been impacted, too: Four Continents, set for February in Sydney, was called off on Friday (16 October).
As the calendar rounds towards the next Winter Olympic Games, the coming season still promises plenty of high-stakes competition, with some skaters trying out new coaching arrangements, upping their technical games, trialling different choreography, and hoping to qualify for the world championships, set for late March in Stockholm.
Here, we have six things to watch out for during the Grand Prix Series, which Olympic Channel will provide full coverage of in the coming weeks.
Ladies: Russian revolution continues With reigning Olympic champion Alina Zagitova sitting out the Grand Prix and silver medallist Evgenia Medvedeva back with coach Eteri Tutberidze, Russia reigns supreme in the ladies’ division, with a host of youngsters aiming for more senior success.
Russians Alena Kostornaia, Alexandra Trusova and Anna Shcherbakova swept the six Grand Prix events last season, while Kostornaia was victorious at the GP Final and European Championships as Shcherbakova won Russian nationals.
It will feel like Russian nationals at Rostelecom Cup when the three former training mates (Kostornaia and Trusova now skate under Evgeni Plushenko) go head-to-head, joined by Medvedeva, former world champ Elizaveta Tuktamysheva and more.
To kick off the season, Americans Bradie Tennell and Mariah Bell will face off at Skate America in an American-heavy field. Three weeks later, two-time Four Continents champ Kihira Rika (pictured above) and her triple Axel will compete at Internationaux de France, near her training base, while Sakamoto Kaori, Hugichi Wakaba, Honda Marin and Mihara Mai feature in a loaded NHK Trophy field.
Two-time world medallist and four-time Japanese champion Miyahara Satoko will not feature because of Skate Canada's cancellation. It's still unclear if a substitute event of some sort - even virtual - might take place in the coming weeks.
It’s not quite clear, either, what the future holds for Zagitova, still only 18, as she’s opted to do a Russian skating TV show in the coming months. But Medvedeva’s move back to Tutberidze from Brian Orser was a clear signal: She was unable to train at the highest level in Russia with her coach via video chat, so she opted instead for a domestic setup, returning to the coach who helped her to two world titles and Olympic silver.
Men: Chen headlines action The reigning and two-time world champion Nathan Chen has been home in California since March, back training with coach Rafael Arutunian as in-person classes were halted at Yale University.
He will compete at Skate America in a field that also includes 2019 world bronze medallist Vincent Zhou.
Two-time Olympic gold medallist Hanyu Yuzuru, meanwhile, has been back home himself in Japan, unable to train in Canada with longtime coach Orser. The Japanese superstar has opted out of the Grand Prix, citing his asthma, as well as a want to “help protect against the spread of the infection,” he explained in a statement posted on the Japan skating federation’s website.
Neither Hanyu nor 2018 Olympic silver medallist Uno Shoma will compete at their home Grand Prix in November, with Uno instead scheduled to skate in France along with his compatriot Kihira, near to his training base with coach Stephane Lambiel.
American Jason Brown was meant to stay near his training base (Toronto), too, for Skate Canada, much like with training mate Cha Jun-hwan as well as Canada’s Nam Nguyen.
Nguyen told Olympic Channel after the cancellation that training remains his focus: "Initially when I found about the (cancellation) news I was going to take the rest of the week off, but I didn’t want to stop the momentum that I had built up already," the 2014 world junior champion said. "For us we’re trying to keep (training) simple. The boundaries are sky-high now because of skaters like Yuzu and Nathan. I’m glad I didn’t take this time off this week. I don’t want to have to start from square one again (after COVID)."
It will be a season of established skaters like Russia’s Mikhail Kolyada and Kevin Aymoz of France looking to cement their top-tier status. Youngsters Matteo Rizzo, Artur Danielian, Kagiyama Yuma, Daniel Grassl, and others will try to make a splash of their own.
China’s Jin Boyang and Yan Han will go head-to-head at Cup of China, as well.
Dance: Dancing into a new season Who dances to the top this season when we reach Stockholm in March? Since Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir’s retirement following their second Olympic gold in 2018, the team to beat in ice dance has been four-time world champs and Olympic silver medallists Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron.
But the French duo were beaten in their most recent competition, falling to Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov at Euros in January.
“It was kind of disappointing to end the season with this performance and this result,” Papadakis told Olympic Channel in August. "But, I mean, it's kind of past us now. We realised what had happened.”
Sinistsina and Katsalapov’s Russian counterparts Aleksandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin will look to challenge the French, as will their Montreal-based training mates, the American teams of Madison Chock and Evan Bates, as well as Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue. Chock/Bates announced last week they would skip Skate America, citing training limitations due to COVID-19.
With Montreal as an international training hub for dance, Skate Canada's cancellation hits hard. Toronto-based Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier of Canada were meant to go head-to-head with Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson (GBR) and Olivia Smart and Adrian Diaz (ESP), among others.
An already-loaded international field in dance just got that much more interesting, too: Vancouver 2010 bronze medalist in men’s singles, Takahashi Daisuke, is making the switch to ice dance, partnering with Kana Muramoto. They’ll make their debut at NHK Trophy.
“I’m both excited and curious at once,” said Meryl Davis, 2014 Olympic ice dance champ with Charlie White. “It’s so unique. Daisuke is an icon… a legend. I am blown away by what (I’ve seen) already. He’s one of those people who thrives on a challenge.” she told Olympic Channel ahead of the season.
Pairs: Top teams lead Olympic race There are fewer top teams to contend with in pairs versus ice dance, though the competition is no less fierce, and especially so as Beijing 2022 hosts China are the strongest in this discipline.
Sui Wenjing and Han Cong are the two-time and reigning world champions, and will go up against their chief domestic rivals, Peng Cheng and Jin Yang, at Cup of China.
Like in ladies and dance, Rostelecom Cup will be bubbling over with talent in pairs, led by reigning national and European champs Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii.
Canada’s Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro look to be the standout team at Skate Canada, while the race at Skate America could come down to two teams that train together in southern California: Alexa Knierim and new partner Brandon Frazier vs. Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson.