SOCHI, December 6 (R-Sport) - Canada's Patrick Chan said Thursday he is targeting a third straight Grand Prix Finals title in Sochi, two months after his record of invincibility at the top of men's figure skating was shattered.
The finals are being held at the 2014 Olympic venue, the Iceberg Skating Palace in the Russian city of Sochi.
The Canadian has been the undisputed world leader in figure skating in recent years, going almost two years unbeaten before faltering in front of his home crowd in October when he finished second to Spain's Javier Hernandez.
Chan faces Hernandez again, along with four Japanese opponents including former world champion Daisuke Takahashi, who has two second places to his name at the finals.
Also in the mix are short program record holder Yuzuru Hanyu and the unpredictable pair of world silver medalist Takahiko Kozuka and Cup of China winner Tatsuki Machida.
"For many years I was like: 'Oh, I'm so glad I'm not Japanese. I don't have to do [the] Japanese national [championships]," but this is very similar," Chan joked.
"It's great, I think it's very competitive, we're all very focused, we're almost at the top of our game."
In the women's event, all eyes will be on the battle between Ashley Wagner of the United States and Japan's Mao Asada.
Wagner has been on the Grand Prix circuit since 2007 but has burst onto the scene this year with wins at the French and U.S. events, while Asada is chasing her third finals title after three years' absence from the year-end event, on the back of victories this season in China and Japan.
Up against the dominant pair are Russia's 15-year-old prodigy Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, who won two Grands Prix in her debut season last year but has since struggled to replicate that form, and Japan's Akiko Suzuki, a comparative veteran at 27.
Kiira Korpi became the first Finn to reach the finals after winning in Moscow last month, while Christina Gao of the United States completes the lineup after being called in as a late replacement for Russia's injured Julia Lipnitskaia.
The pairs skating is likely to offer Russian fans their best chance of success, with home skaters taking three of the six qualifying places for the finals.
Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov qualified in first place after winning Grands Prix in Russia and Canada, while the pairs of Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov and Vera Bazonova and Yuri Larionov each won another regular-season round.
"In principle, we've prepared for this tournament very seriously, very strongly," Trankov said after practice. "We're physically prepared very well, technically well prepared."
Their strongest challenge could come from China's Pang Qing and Tong Jian, who won the 2008 finals are two-time world champions.
Also in the running are two Canadian pairs, with Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford making up one pair and Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch the other.
The pairs field for the finals was opened up when dominant four-time world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy failed to qualify after illness forced them to withdraw from one of their regular-season events.
Ice dance, meanwhile, pits together three pairs who each won both of their designated Grand Prix events, with three-time finals winners Meryl Davis and Charlie White the likely favorites for gold.
Canada's Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are the reigning Olympic champions, but have yet to add the finals to their medal collection after coming second twice, while France's Nathalie Pechalat and Fabien Bourzat have finished on the podium at the last three finals but are still searching for their first win.
Rounding out the ice dance lineup are two Russian pairs, Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev and Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov, as well as the only Italians in the finals, Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte.
The Iceberg arena received praised from leading names on Thursday's practice day.
"The arena, first of all, is an Olympic venue, it's very qualified for it and the rink is great, the lighting is great, the ice is great," Chan said.
"So far everything's amazing. Excellent weather, very good ice, fantastic arena. We're satisfied with everything," Russia's Smirnov said.
One criticism was raised by International Skating Union head Ottavio Cinquanta, who branded the poor visibility in some seats an "embarassing situation."