Yuzuru Hanyu the only clear favourite at world figure skating championships
BOSTON - Take your pick. The world figure skating championships, which start here Wednesday, is perhaps the most unpredictable in many years.
Ice dancing is in a dither, and the same goes for pair skating. The women’s title seems to be a contest between a never-ending flood of young Russians and some high-flying Japanese. To help figure it out, here are seven things to watch this week.
1. If there is any clear favourite in any event, it would be Olympic men’s champion Yuzuru Hanyu, who blitzed all world records during the first half of the season. His short program is more than eight points better than the second-highest score this season from Spaniard Javier Fernandez; his long program has outpointed Patrick Chan’s best by 15.49 points and he’s ahead of Fernandez in total score by 27.66 points. However, we haven’t seen Hanyu since his rather dismal win at Japanese nationals about three months ago, when he missed his second quad in the free and fell on a triple Axel. He’s been hinting that he intends to add more quads to the free skate for worlds, but a little pre-worlds injury to his instep has probably scuttled that. He was stunning in practice on Monday.
2. No world champion has flown as far under the radar as Fernandez has this year. He defeated Hanyu at worlds last year, and he plans five quads between the short and long programs. Can he defend his world title? He was sharp in practice Monday, too.
3. Three-time world champion and Olympic silver medalist Patrick Chan is coming into worlds with momentum, although he says he’s not here to win and this season is only a stepping-stone to the future. Chan’s skating skills are unparalleled. Will they help him climb? He defeated Hanyu at his first competition back this season. The rust wasn’t that bad.
4. The meldonium drug controversy hangs its head over these world championships because Russia’s top female ice dancer, Ekaterina Bobrova (who skates with Dmitri Soloviev) tested positive for the drug after finishing third at the European championships this season. In fact, Bobrova and Soloviev had the second-highest score in the free skate. Russia used to dominate this event. Now its top team is Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov, whose best score is only eighth best in the world. What will happen to Russian dancers here?
5. Who knows which way the ice dancing event will go? Reigning world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France won the European title after Papadakis overcame a concussion. The French team’s highest score this season is only .05 more than that of Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, who defeated them soundly at the Grand Prix Final. But American champions Maia and Alex Shibutani have momentum, having won the Four Continents Championships over Weaver and Poje, who did not skate their best. Who is going to win this scramble?
6. Eugenia Medvedeva was the women’s world junior champion last season, but this year, has swept almost every senior event she entered. Her only loss this season was to countrymate Elena Radionova. So tough is the competition among the Russians that last year’s world champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva did not even qualify for it out of her country. Can Medvedeva hold them all off?
7. Tatiana Volosozhar and husband Maxim Trankov, the exquisite Olympic pair champions, missed last season and are back, but haven’t kept pace with all of the quads being done now. Still, reigning world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, who started the quad craze, are coming in as underdogs, with only the fourth-highest score this year. After a troubled post-Olympic career, Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov came roaring back to win the Grand Prix Final. The skaters who pose the biggest threat are Wenjing Sui and Cong Han of China with quad twists and quad throws. And keep your eye on Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot.. Savchencho was a five-time world champion with previous partner Robin Szolkowy and had to wait a season for Massot to be released from France so they could skate for Germany.