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The 2016-17 skating season officially began with the recent release of the Grand Prix assignments for the new campaign. It didn’t take long to find a big surprise in the listings.

Three-time world champion Mao Asada will not skate in the NHK Trophy (Nov. 25-27 in Sapporo) for the first time during a season in which she competed for years. Mao has almost always been an automatic choice for the Japan stop on the GP circuit.

The last time Mao was not on the marquee for the NHK Trophy during a season she was entered in the GP series was in 2009 in Nagano.

Why has Mao chosen to skip the NHK Trophy, an event she has won on four occasions, this time around?

The answer remains unclear as Mao’s agent Mariko Wada of IMG did not respond to a request for comment on the move from Ice Time.

Mao’s first GP assignment is at the season-opening Skate America (Oct. 21-23 in Hoffman Estates, Illinois), an event she won back in 2013. Kanako Murakami and senior debutant Mai Mihara will also make the trip to take part in the event in the Chicago suburb.

World silver medalist Ashley Wagner of the U.S. and teammate Gracie Gold will contend with Mao for the title at Skate America.

Mao’s second GP assignment is the Trophee de France (Nov. 11-13 in Paris), where security is certain to be tight in the wake of last year’s terror attack that caused the Trophee Bompard to be halted after the first day of competition.

Mao will face off with Russian world champion Evgenia Medvedeva in Paris. Medvedeva will start her GP season at Skate Canada (Oct 28-30 in Mississauga, Ontario).

Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, coming off a fantastic year last time around despite his second-place finish behind training partner Javier Fernandez at the world championships, will start his season at Skate Canada.

Hanyu’s primary competition in Ontario is likely to come from three-time world champion Patrick Chan, who took silver behind Hanyu at the Sochi Games.

Hanyu’s second assignment is the NHK Trophy, where he will be joined by Sota Yamamoto and Keiji Tanaka. Yamamoto, the Youth Olympic Games champion last season, is looking to bounce back from a fractured right ankle in March which caused him to miss the world junior championships.

Fernandez, the two-time defending world champion, will compete in consecutive weeks at the Cup of Russia (Nov. 4-6 in Moscow) and Trophee de France this season.

Kanako Murakami also is in the lineup for the Cup of Russia, while Mihara will also feature in the Cup of China (Nov. 18-20 in Beijing). Mihara placed second at the Junior GPs in Austria and Slovakia last season.

Satoko Miyahara, who finished a controversial fourth at the worlds last season, is set for Skate Canada and the NHK Trophy.

Rika Hongo, who came in eighth at the worlds, has been assigned Skate Canada and the Cup of China.

Takahito Mura, who struggled with inconsistency last season, is slated to compete at Skate Canada before going to the Trophee de France.

Yamamoto, who was third at the Junior Grand Prix Final last season, will also skate at the Trophee de France.

In addition to the NHK Trophy, Tanaka is set for the Cup of Russia, where teammate Shoma Uno is also entered.

Uno, who made history by becoming the first skater ever to land a quadruple flip in competition when he accomplished the feat at the Team Challenge Cup in April, will also take part in Skate America.

Expectations will be high for Uno after he placed third at the GP Final last season and finished seventh in his first senior worlds.

Daisuke Murakami, who is also on the roster for Skate America, will pull the boots on for the Cup of China as well, where he will be Japan’s lone male entry.

Wakaba Higuchi, the two-time Japan junior champion, who was second at the senior nationals behind Miyahara last season, is penciled in for the Trophee de France and NHK Trophy in her first senior go-round.

Yuka Nagai has drawn Skate Canada and the Trophee de France in her second season on the senior circuit. She was third at last season’s Skate Canada.

Yura Matsuda has been selected for the Cup of Russia and NHK Trophy in her first senior campaign.

Japanese-American Mirai Nagasu received two GP assignments this season (Skate Canada, NHK Trophy) after getting only one last year.

Fellow American Tomoki Hiwatashi, the defending U.S. junior champion and bronze medalist at last season’s world juniors, will compete as a junior again this season, the 16-year-old told Ice Time.

“I will be doing junior again this year for international competitions and senior for the nationals,” Hiwatashi wrote in an email on Sunday. “So I will not be doing Skate America. As of right now, I do not have an international assignment but will get one Junior Grand Prix for sure and a second one if I do good on the first. I do not know where I’m going yet but heard they will be announcing it soon.”

Pairs Sumire Suto and Francis Boudreau Audet will represent Japan at the NHK Trophy, while Russia’s Yuko Kawaguchi and Alexander Smirnov will appear at Skate Canada and the Cup of China.

Ice dancers Kana Muramoto and Chris Reed will take the ice for the Hinomaru at Skate America and the NHK Trophy, while the team of Emi Hirai and Marien de la Asuncion will also compete in Sapporo.

Junior slate: The Junior Grand Prix season, in which defending world junior champion Marin Honda and new sensation Yuna Shiraiwa will compete, starts next month in St. Gervais, France (Aug. 24-27). Japan will host a JGP in Yokohama (Sept. 8-11).

Other JGPs on the docket are: Ostrava, Czech Republic (Aug. 31-Sept. 3), Saransk, Russia (Sept. 14-17), Ljubljana, Slovenia (Sept. 21-24), Tallinn, Estonia (Sept. 28-Oct. 1) and Dresden, Germany (Oct. 5-8).

Progressive move: Anonymous judging was eliminated by an overwhelming vote at the ISU Congress in Dubrovnik, Croatia, last month. The hope is that this will help end results like those seen at the Sochi Games, where Adelina Sotnikova was awarded the gold medal in controversial fashion over defending Olympic champion Yuna Kim.

The proposal for the motion was put forward by the Norwegian Skating Association, according to insidethegames.biz.

“For all figure skating competitions, championships, events and Olympic Winter Games, the judges’ names and their respective scores will be published,” read the proposal.

“If the judging is transparent it will increase the accountability of the judges.

“It will attract the media, sponsors and public in a positive way.”

Ice Time is in complete agreement with the move — the more transparency, the better. Every time there is a scandal like Sochi or at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, it damages skating because the general public doesn’t know if the results are truth or fiction.

Nuptial news: Akiko Suzuki announced last month that she is engaged to be married. The two-time Olympian is 31 now and will marry a former classmate from elementary school, according to media reports.

Suzuki, who retired following the 2014 worlds in Saitama, is still active on the show circuit in addition to doing choreography and coaching work.

Ice Time wishes the classy Suzuki and her future husband the very best.

Political asset: Five-time world champion Michelle Kwan, who retired in 2006, is a part of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Kwan is working as a Surrogate Outreach Coordinator for Clinton as she bids to become the first female president of the U.S.

Kwan, who was a two-time Olympic medalist, will turn 36 on Wednesday. She is married to Clay Pell, who made an unsuccessful run for governor in Rhode Island in 2014. Pell is the grandson of former U.S. Senator Claiborne Pell.

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