by Liz Leamy
(29 March 2016) This year’s talented contingent of 2016 U.S. World team members are as geared up and ready to go as ever as they prepare to take on the sport’s best in Boston this week.
This World Championships, scheduled to be held March 28th through April 3rd at the TD Garden, is particularly exciting since it marks the first time ever this event has been staged in this city, with the Skating Club of Boston serving as the host organization.
This year’s World Championships, the main competitive event for elite skaters, will feature a roster of more than 172 contenders representing 38 total countries with 24 skaters in each of the men’s and ladies singles divisions, 16 entries in pairs and 20 teams in ice dance, all of whom ought to stage a memorable show as they pursue a spot on this celebrated international podium.
“Everyone is going to put out their best,” said Tara Lipinski, the 1998 U.S. Olympic gold medalist and NBC Sports Group figure skating commentator, with Johnny Weir, the 2008 World bronze medalist and three-time U.S. champion in a pre-Worlds teleconference last week.
Weir agreed and also said the fact that the U.S. team is competing on their home turf is also something that should work to their benefit.
“I think a great advantage for the American team is that this [World] Championship is taking place in the U.S.,” said Weir. “There are opportunities for American skaters to do well because they will have that fan favoritism and I think that can lead to surprises in all of the disciplines.”
Weir also pointed out that Massachusetts is an avid figure skating state, which should be a major factor in the overall energy level among the crowd at the TD Garden this week.
“There are so many wonderful skating clubs in the area and Massachusetts really is a skating state,” said Weir. “It’s really exciting and the crowd is always so boisterous and everyone comes together to support the sport.”
Adam Rippon, the reigning U.S. titlist known for his superb skating and technical skills and Max Aaron, the 2013 U.S. champion and 2016 U.S. silver medalist whose calling card is his impressive collection of high-flying quads, are both strong contenders who could certainly rack up high placements in the men’s event, said to be one of the most exciting disciplines of the sport today.
Rippon and Aaron will be joined by Grant Hochstein, the 2016 U.S. pewter medalist who has amazing jump, edge and spin ability and who ought to be dependable for putting out some excellent programs.
Helming the men’s event is the top-seed Japanese contender, Yuzuru Hanyu, the 2014 Olympic champion and 2015/2016 International Skating Union Grand Prix Final titlist who made history last December in the latter event with a record-breaking score.
“Yuzuru has raised the bar so high and it comes from the work ethic,” said Weir, who skated with Hanyu during the winter when he had been performing in a show overseas in Japan. “He’s pushing himself in every direction which is why he’s a champion of this level.”
Other top-seeded men include Javier Fernandez of Spain, the reigning World champion known for his soaring quads as well as Patrick Chan, the esteemed 2014 Canadian Olympic silver medalist who clinched gold at the 2016 Four Continents Championship last February.
At the end of the day, many of the contenders will also be seeking to put out strong performances in order to help their countries secure the maximum number of spots at the 2017 World Championships next season.
“It is an international competition and everyone is fighting for spots for next season,” said Weir, when he was discussing the U.S. men’s team.
Specifically, for Aaron, Worlds represents an important steppingstone in regard to his development and growth as both a skater and competitor.
“I’ve enjoyed every minute of this season so far,” said Aaron. “My goal is to just go in there (to the World Championships) and skate clean. That’s all I care about.”
The ladies event should be chock full of excitement, as top contenders from the U.S., Russia and Japan will go up against one another in hopes of clinching a medal or even a coveted World Championship title.
Gracie Gold, the 2016 and 2014 U.S. champion, ought to be good for a strong finish as long as she skates with the same fire that she did at the 2016 U.S. Championships in Saint Paul in January.
Ashley Wagner, the three-time U.S. champion, is also a top contender, as she is known for putting out top-grade performances, particularly under extreme pressure.
Gold and Wagner will be joined by Mirai Nagasu, the 2008 U.S. champion and 2016 U.S. pewter medalist who will be stepping in for Polina Edmunds, the 2016 U.S bronze medalist who withdrew from Worlds last week due to an ankle injury.
Nagasu, notably, had placed second at the Four Continents Championship last February.
The American team, meanwhile, will be facing some formidable competition from Evgenia Medvedeva of Russia, the 2016 European titlist, Satoko Miyahara of Japan, the 2016 World silver medalist and Mao Asada, the three-time Japanese World champion, among others.
Still, they are all fierce competitors who step up when the situation arises, as it inevitably will in Boston.
The pairs, always dependable for putting on an exciting competition, should be as amazing as ever with their series of soaring lifts, throw triples and dramatic death spirals, among other things.
Leading the pack are Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford of Canada, the 2015 World champions, who will defend their title against Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov of Russia, the 2014 Olympic gold medalists and Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov of Russia, winners of the 2015/2016 ISU Grand Prix Finals, among other talented teams.
Danny O’Shea & Tarah Kayne, the 2016 U.S. Champions who scored gold in Saint Paul with a fantastic free skate last January, ought to represent their country well here, as they are known to skate with terrific strength, elegance and spirit.
This team, who trains with Jim Peterson and Amanda Evora in Ellenton, Florida, has been together since April 2012. Last year, they placed third at the U.S. Championships.
Chris Knierim & Alexa Scimeca, the 2015 U.S. Champions and 2016 U.S. silver medalists, should also skate some outstanding performances here at this event.
This duo, who train with Delilah Sappenfield and Larry Ibarra in Colorado Springs, are known to light up a crowd with their wonderful energy and electricity out on the ice.
The dance event ought to be one of the best of the entire competition as America’s top teams, Maia and Alex Shibutani, the 2016 U.S. Champions and Madison Chock & Evan Bates, the 2015 U.S. titlists, go head to head against Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron of France, the 2015 World gold-medal winners and Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje, the two-time Canadian World medalists.
Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue, the 2016 U.S. bronze medalists, are formidable contenders as well.
For the Shibutanis, who clinched their first-ever Championship title at Nationals last January, skating at the TD Garden in Boston is something they are very much looking forward to.
“The energy in the Garden is going to be phenomenal,” said Alex. “Worlds is a celebration [because it is] the last competition of the season.”
Maia, meanwhile, elaborated on the team’s mindset going into Boston.
“If we skate our very best in Boston, we’ll be so satisfied and happy,” said Maia.
For Hubbell and Donohue, their season leading up to Worlds has been all about paying close attention to the details.
“The difference [for us] this year is how much attention we’re paying to all of the details,” said Hubbell. “From the emotional connection to our free legs and arms we’re striving for perfection and quality.”
Hubbell also expounded on the inspirational theme of the duo’s free dance.
“[It is about] the transformation from an angel
of darkness into an angel who helps someone through struggles,” said
Hubbell, who will be wearing a newly designed costume for their free
dance in Boston. “[The costume] highlights the sensitivity of lines
and makes the program more visible.”