Rising figure skating stars to steal show in China

Bill Marcus
Rising women's stars will take centre-stage at Grand Prix figure-skating's Cup of China this week with Japanese teen Kanako Murakami, pictured in 2010, expected to shine

Rising women's stars will take centre-stage at Grand Prix figure-skating's Cup of China this week with Japanese teen Kanako Murakami expected to shine.

Murakami, Carolina Kostner and Russian hope Adelina Sotnikova, 15, will face off in the ladies competition while Chinese skaters look set to dominate the pairs event as the six-stop series comes to Shanghai for the first time.

Sixteen-year-old Murakami admitted she had suffered some emotional moments in training as she challenges herself to build on last year's Grand Prix Final bronze medal and Asian Winter Games title.

"I've shed some tears at practice," Murakami told the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper. "But I won't give up. That's my theme this season."

"(On the rink), I have to change from a female who acts like an adult, to an adult female," she added.

The third event of the Grand Prix series is missing some top-line stars due to International Skating Union (ISU) seeding rules that spread their participation over the various legs.

But Murakami faces stiff competition in the form of Italy's three-time European champion Carolina Kostner, who finished second at Skate America and will be gunning for a strong performance to secure a Grand Prix Final place.

Kostner, 24, from Ortisei, is also a multiple Italian champion who grabbed world championships silver in 2008, and bronze in 2005 and 2011. She was also a Grand Prix medallist in three of her last four competitions.

Sotnikova, born just hours into the cut-off date for this year's competition on July 1, 1996, won her first national title at age 12 and is competing for the first year at adult level.

As a junior she took first at last year's Cup of Austria, J. Curry Memorial in Sheffield, and the ISU Junior Grand Prix Final in Beijing.

Reigning world champion Patrick Chan is sitting out the men's competition, opening the door for former Grand Prix Final champion Jeremy Abbott, 26, a former American Olympian.

Abbott will face off against Japan's Nobunari Oda, 24, who took the silver medal at last year's Grand Prix Final.

Oda's team-mate, Yuzuru Hanyu, 16, is a former juniors champion from Sendai, which was devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

His home, though still habitable, was damaged, but the earthquake forced him to practice in other cities in Japan. Yuzuru and other skaters held a benefit to raise money for earthquake victims.

In the pairs competition, China's former junior champions Han Cong, 19, and Sui Wenjing, 16, are hoping for strong home support after finishing second in free skating at Skate Canada, the last Grand Prix event.

But they will face competition from their Chinese compatriots, two-time Olympians Zhang Dan, 26 and Zhang Hao, 27, both from the northeast city of Harbin, who took the silver this year at Skate America in October.

The Cup of China takes place on Friday and Saturday at the new Shanghai Oriental Sports Centre, built for this year's World Swimming Championships.

Skaters compete in two events in the Grand Prix series with the top six in each discipline -- men, women, pairs and ice-dancing -- qualifying for the final in Quebec City from December 8-11.