If there was ever a time when a crystal ball would come in handy, this would be it. Trying to pinpoint who is headed to the top spot of the podium at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships next week is proving to be more difficult than usual.
I am going to start with the men's event where the field is wide open. The Japanese men demonstrated their prowess early in the season by claiming four of the six Grand Prix titles. The three-man Japanese team includes 2010 world champion, 2010 Olympic bronze medallist and current Grand Prix Final champion Daisuke Takahashi. On any given day, Takahashi's artistry and technical mastery would put him front and centre to take the title. What calls him into doubt for me was his disappointing seventh place finish at the recent Four Continents Championship. Brilliant or bobbly, I am not sure which way it will go for Takahashi. If brilliant, he stands to re-gain his world crown.
Newly-crowned Japanese champion Yuzuru Hanyu burst on to the scene last year and claimed the world bronze medal. Over the course of this season, like everybody else, he has been at times outstanding and at other times faltering. There is no doubt he is a very talented skater but I think that he needs a little more time to mature before hitting the top step of the podium.
Patrick Chan has suffered from the same kind of inconsistent results this season which makes snagging his third consecutive World title a bit of an uphill climb. There is no doubt that Chan has the ability to take another world title but in 2013 he will have to rely a little on the results of the other skaters rather than simply running his own race. That said, the fact that he has spent some time training in Calgary with Scott Davis, came to Toronto to tweak his programs with choreographers Jeff Buttle and David Wilson and has been in Detroit working en route to London may have given him the change of scenery he needed to be his best. Time will tell.
The skater who seems to have the most momentum in this second half of the season is Spain's Javier Fernandez. In becoming the first ever European champion to represent Spain, he scored a whopping 16 points more than he did at the Grand Prix Final, where he came fourth. He beat Chan at Skate Canada but was beaten by Takahashi, Hanyu and Chan at the Grand Prix Final.
This men's field is very competitive but there is something about winning the European title in such a decisive fashion that I think gives Fernandez the edge he needs in London.
There are potential spoilers in the men's event: keep your eye on Four Continents champion Kevin Reynolds from Canada who squared off successfully against both Takahashi and Hanyu in Osaka. France's Florent Amodio could improve on his fifth place world finish in 2012. Brian Joubert, the 2007 World champion from France, could also contend as could first time American champion Max Aaron.
Pairs event not so wide open
As complicated as the men's event is, I think that the pairs' event is more straight forward. There is a two-way battle for the world title between four time World champions from Germany Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy and Russians Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov. The rivalry between these two teams is fierce. At last year's worlds, the German pair took their title with only 11-hundredths of a point to spare.
Volosozhar and Trankov most recently faced off against Savchenko and Szolkowy at the European championships where they won both the short and free on their way to collecting their second European title. If they skate a solid short program, I think they will be hard to catch in the free.
I think the battle for the bronze at Worlds will be between former and two-time world champions Qing Pang and Jian Tong from China, Grand Prix Final silver medallists Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov from Russia, and 2013 Four Continents Champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford from Canada.
Ice dance has a similar situation in that the battle for first and second will undoubtedly be between reigning Grand Prix Final and Four Continents champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White from the United States and reigning world champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir from Canada.
I have always maintained that these two teams are equally strong and in this season they both have outstanding short dances. When it comes to the free dance, I prefer the more artistically daring Carmen
program from Virtue and Moir over Davis and White's Notre Dame
piece. That said, Virtue and Moir have not been able to skate their more technically challenging program with enough speed and power to win.
At the end of the day, this is a competition. Virtue and Moir have yet to win against Davis and White this season, having met on two separate occasions. Virtue and Moir are quoted as having said that they see the free dance as a process and are looking to have it be at its strongest at worlds. If that's the case then I think they could take their third world title in London.
Davis and White are outstanding competitors and are masters at putting their best foot forward. They leave nothing to chance and although their free dance material isn't as artistically interesting to me this season, it takes nothing away from the fact that they are amazing ice dancers and want to be the reigning world champions heading to Sochi.Battle for bronze
The mystery for me is who will end up taking the bronze? Canadian ice dancers Kaitlyn Weaver and Andre Poje who finished in fourth in 2012 and reigning World bronze medallists from France Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat were all off the ice for some time due to injury. What that means to me is that they have lost a little momentum as well as competition opportunities heading into Worlds. We don't know how much their respective injuries have affected them and what the time off has meant to their programs.
Also in the mix is the Russian team of Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitry Soloviev who recently won the European title for the first time and seem poised to make the leap on to the world podium. Italy's Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte, and Russians Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov will also be looking to try for a podium finish.
I like the fact that Japan's Mao Asada's results have been much stronger this season. The two-time world champion and 2010 Olympic silver medallist has struggled both personally and in her skating over the last two seasons. She lost her mother while en route to the Grand Prix Final in December 2011 and has struggled through a re-vamp of her jump technique. She appears to be hitting her stride once again with golds in both her Grand Prix events, and the Grand Prix Final and Four Continents titles.Asada sets aside her struggles
In my mind, Asada is still gaining strength and will be the one to look for at next year's Olympics. For this year, I think Asada is definitely a contender but is still doing some of the chasing rather than being chased.
I think the one being chased is the reigning world champion from Italy, Carolina Kostner. Kostner took time off from the Grand Prix events but was back in fighting form to take her fifth European title. I haven't seen her skate her programs live but based on the small screen, I think that Kostner's programs are extraordinary this season and she seems far less a victim of her nerves as she has been in the past.
The big question mark at these Worlds is Yu-Na Kim. Kim is the 2009 World champion and 2010 Olympic champion. The last time she competed at Worlds was in 2011 where she came second. She took last season off but is back to get ready to try to defend her Olympic title in 2014.
You cannot count Kim out but I think that competing at this elite world level is harder to do when you haven't been doing it for a while. Having Kim back on the skating map at these worlds gives Korea the chance at more than one woman for the Olympics and puts her squarely in the mix for the Olympics.
The other Japanese women are both strong contenders in this field. Akiko Suzuki is the reigning World and Grand Prix Final bronze medallist and Kanako Murakami finished in fifth at last year's Worlds.
The young Russian women can be considered formidable with European silver medallist Adelina Sotnikova, bronze medallist Elizaveta Tuktamysheva and reigning World silver medallist Alena Leonova all slated to compete.
I cannot mention spoilers without taking into account American champion Ashley Wagner who finished in fourth at last year's Worlds, won both her grand prix events this season and took the silver at the Grand Prix Final in Sochi.
Pj's Podium Picks
Javier FernandezIce Dance:
Tessa Virtue and Scott MoirWomen:
Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov
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