Lack of competition the wild card in figure skating world championships
Pandemic restrictions has athletes coming into event with different levels of preparation
It's been two years since figure skaters have had a world championship, and one year without international competition at all.
But all that changes March 22 with the start of this year's figure skating world championships in Stockholm, Sweden.
The event is going ahead despite COVID-19 still being a major factor in many participating countries. And although there is no required quarantine upon arrival in Sweden, athletes will be tested before they leave, again upon arrival and will be in a bubble while continuing to be tested throughout the six days of competition.
COVID-19 protocols aren't the only thing making this world championship unique. Because each country was hit by the pandemic differently, skaters come into competition with different levels of preparation. For example, Russia saw fewer restrictions than most countries so skaters competed fairly regularly, albeit nationally, throughout the season. Compare that with Canadian skaters who saw multiple lockdowns and faced varying restrictions pending on their province, stopping them from training. Canadian Nationals were cancelled and the only competition in the past year was one held virtually.
Throw world titles and qualification spots for next year's Beijing Olympics into the mix and it's safe to say this world championship is unlike any other.
CBC Sports has complete coverage of the week's events, starting Wednesday with live streams of every event available on CBC.ca/Sports and the CBC Sports app. The full schedule is at cbc.ca/sports/broadcast. Coverage continues this weekend on Road to the Olympic Games with Brenda Irving and Kurt Browning providing commentary.
- That Figure Skating Show will be live on CBC Sports YouTube channel right after every #stockholm2021 short program. Join hosts Dylan & Asher & special guests as they react, provide insight and spill the tea on Worlds
WATCH | Preview of championships:
With reigning world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron from France opting out of this season to prepare for the Olympics, the chance for a world title has never been better for Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier. The duo, who train in Toronto, saw incredible success prior to the sports shutdown with a gold at Skate America and silver at both the Rostelecom Cup and Four Continents Championship. Plus, they're coming back with their 2019-20 programs — their freeskate to Joni Mitchell's Both Sides Now being a fan favourite — so expect an inspired performance no matter what. But depending on how slippery the ice is that day, the American and Russian teams could very well take up the podium. So expect a tight race.
Canadians to watch: Ice dance is Canada's best event and the country is sending three teams, with the second spot going to Laurence Fournier-Beaudry and Nikolaj Sorensen. The Montreal-pair haven't been seen internationally in over a year because of a knee injury Sorensen suffered back in 2019, which of course was followed by the pandemic hiatus. They'll be joined by Marjorie Lajoie and Zachary Lagha, who also train in Montreal and are in their second senior season and experiencing their first senior world championship.
It's a battle of the giants: Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu versus American Nathan Chen. These two are the most dominant male skaters in the world, each fantastic at both the artistic and technical side of the sport. Hanyu, 26, is an older skater who's conditioning and asthma sometimes holds him back, but the year off may have given him fresh legs. And since he didn't compete this season to avoid COVID-19, worlds will be the first look at him in over a year. On the other hand Chen, 21, is a young phenom who was world champion in 2018 and 2019, so no doubt he's looking to make it a three-peat.
Canadians to watch: Despite having multiple talented skaters like Nam Nguyen and Roman Sadovsky who could be competitive at worlds, Canada had only one quota spot which went to Keegan Messing. The 29-year-old lives and trains in Alaska and this will be the veteran's third world championship and he no doubt hopes to win his first worlds medal. But the technical elements are becoming harder and more common, so Messing will have to land all his quads and triples to be competitive.
It looks like Russia could sweep the podium, even with 2020 Grand Prix final champion Alena Kostornaia unable to compete due to injury and sickness. But Anna Shcherbakova, Alexandra Trusova and Elizaveta Tuktamysheva are all on deck and have the technical skills to sweep the event. However, Japan's Rika Kihira and South Korea's Young You could sneak onto the podium. Expect to see lots of quads and triple axels as the women's event is more technical than ever before.
Canadians to watch: Canada's women's skating program is in a building phase. This will be Madeline Schizas and Emily Bausback's first senior world championships. Schizas, who is 18 and trains in Milton, Ont., won the recent Skate Canada Virtual Challenge and wants to skate two, personal best programs in Sweden. Bausback, also 18, trains in Burnaby, B.C and will try to recreate the fire that helped her become national champion back in 2019. So worlds will be a glimpse at the next chapter of Canadian women's skating.
A Canadian pair could get their first world medal. Kirsten Moore-Towers (28) and Michael Marinaro (29) train in Oakville, Ont., and have skated together since 2014. They head to worlds with two very solid programs but they'll have to skate their best to beat the Russian teams and the gold-medal favourites Sui Wenjing and Han Cong from China. This will be easier said than done considering their lack of competition opportunities this year, however, the duo said they've never trained harder in their careers and are feeling confident.
Canadians to watch: Evelyn Walsh (19) and Trennt Michaud (24) will join Moore-Towers and Marinaro representing Canada. The pair trains in Brantford, Ont., and this is their first senior worlds. Moore-Towers mentioned she'd love to place well in worlds to help Canada's chances at two quota spots for Beijing 2022, in hopes Marsh and Michaud will get the opportunity to go to their first Games next year.