Ready or not? Figure skating worlds will reveal Olympic contenders
Pyeongchang hopefuls show their stuff this week in Helsinki
What everyone looks for at the final World Figure Skating Championships before the Olympics are hints about who the front-runners might be for next year's Winter Games.
At these world championships, which begin Wednesday in Helsinki, Finland, I'll be watching for athletes who show they could be in the mix for gold in Pyeongchang — even if they don't look quite ready at the moment.
Before I break down each competition at worlds, a reminder that you can watch live streams of every short and free skate on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Sports' YouTube channel, beginning with the ladies' short on Wednesday at 3:40 a.m. ET. You can also watch daily action on CBC Television. For a full streaming and broadcast schedule, click here.
Men: Chan, 'King of Quads' need time
One of those athletes who doesn't seem Olympic-ready right now is Canadian champion Patrick Chan, who is still finding his footing in his second season back from a brief hiatus. Chan is a skater who takes his time to figure things out, and even at his best he always seemed to perform better later in the season.
Another skater who will be a bigger threat next season than at these worlds is American champion Nathan Chen. The "King of Quads" and recent Four Continents winner has everything he needs to contend for the top step of the Olympic podium. But, for now, he needs to catch his breath after a whirlwind season and the incredible amount of energy he must have burned to get this far.
The skating of defending champion Javier Fernandez is like a breath of fresh air. He's so engaging and entertaining. But, despite winning his fifth European title, I'm not sure Fernandez has the momentum to carry him through to a third consecutive world title in Helsinki.
Yuzuru Hanyu, on the other hand, appeared to me as if he woke up in the free program at the Four Continents last month in Korea. Until then, he seemed as if he was wandering somewhat aimlessly through the season. Not being in the lead after the short program seemed to bring Hanyu's attention back into sharp focus. This clarity is what will allow him to reclaim the world title he has only won once, in 2014.
Dance: Virtue & Moir put win streak on the line
The contest with the most at stake is the ice dance, with two-time and defending world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France taking on Canadian legends Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who have also won two world titles.
All things being equal, the team to beat is Virtue and Moir, who are undefeated since their return to competition this season, beating the French team both times they met. The things to watch for are the margin by which Virtue and Moir take the title and which team rounds out the podium.
Ladies: Marvelous Medvedeva looks unbeatable
The women will be lead by Russia's Evgenia Medvedeva, who is a marvel.
Apart from one event last season, Medvedeva is undefeated. Her streak includes the 2014 Junior Grand Prix Final title, the 2015 world junior title, the 2016 world title and the last two European and Grand Prix Final titles.
Realistically, if anyone is going to take her down, it will have to be a person with experience, but only on their best day. The possibilities are American Ashley Wagner, the 2016 world silver medallist, or 2012 world champion Carolina Kostner of Italy.
Pairs: Junior champs arrive on big stage
I'm looking forward to seeing how newly crowned junior world champions Ekaterina Alexandrovskaya and Harley Windsor fare after their historic outing as the first Australians to win an ISU championship title.
They'll be facing some tough competition. Two-time and reigning world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada are in the hunt, but have been performing uncharacteristically under par this season. Radford revealed before the start of worlds that he's battling a hip injury he suffered last week.
That leaves the door open for two-time world silver medallists Wenjing Sui and Cong Han of China to walk through.
The other team to watch out for is Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, the European and Grand Prix Final gold medallists from Russia.
Pj's gold-medal picks
Men: Yuzuru Hanyu (Japan)
Ladies: Evgenia Medvedeva (Russia)
Pairs: Wenjing Sui and Cong Han (China)
Dance: Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir (Canada)