by Klaus Reinhold Kany
(28 March 2017) The Finnish capital of Helsinki has organized many skating competitions. The last time Senior Worlds was held here was in 1999 when the huge Hartwall Arena was brand new and Russian skaters won all four gold medals (Butyrskaya, Yagudin, Berezhnaia & Sikharudidze and Krylova & Ovsyannikov). This time it will be in the same arena plus in the practice rink which was built into the granite rock right under the main rink. The winners will certainly come from several countries because no federation is as dominant any more. All world champions from 2016 are competing again. This pre-Olympic championship has a double importance because the majority of the Olympic country spots for Pyeongchang in 2018 will be decided according to the Helsinki results. 24 ladies spots, 24 spots for men, 19 for ice dancing and 16 for pairs will be fixed. Countries who do not win any spot in a discipline in Helsinki get a second chance at Nebelhorn Trophy in September where the remaining six spots for ladies, six for men, five for ice dance and four for pairs will be decided.
The recent development of men’s figure skating has been dominated by more and more quad jumps. So there will be a hot battle for medals between the best and cleanest quad jumpers. Those who get high components because of their excellent style certainly have an advantage. Olympic gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu from Japan is certainly one of the medal favorites, but the final result is unpredictable because every fall (which happens to all skaters) might cost the title or even a medal. As around 5,000 Japanese spectators are expected in Helsinki, Hanyu has a kind of home advantage.
But he will face stiff competition from his Toronto training mate and 2015 and 2016 World Champion Javier Fernandez, although the Spaniard, like Hanyu, has not been in top shape this season up to now The youngest medal candidate is American skater Nathan Chen who excelled at U.S. Nationals and Four Continents with five quads in the free program, more than anybody else before. The second Japanese skater Shoma Uno also should not be neglected when the run for the medals begins. The Chinese skater Boyang Jin has several quads in his arsenal as well, but his components and his nerves are less brilliant. The second Chinese skater Han Yan had to withdraw some days before the competition because he dislocated his shoulder three times in practice, trying more and more quads. Outsider chances for medals because of his superior style has former world champion Patrick Chan from Canada.
The second U.S. skater is Jason Brown but it is unlikely that he will win a medal because he has only one quad (the toe loop) which he has rarely landed in a clean manner. Other men who hope at least for the top six or top eight are the two Russians Maxim Kovtun and Mikhail Kolyada and Denis Ten from Kazakhstan who has not been in good shape this season, but at Worlds he often is at his best.
The clear favorite in the ladies competition is reigning World Champion Evgenia Medvedeva from Russia. If she does not make several mistakes she seems unbeatable. She has no more jumps than the others, but can interpret much more maturely than her age of 17 would imagine. There are several ladies who have an eye to the other medals: The second Russian skater Anna Pogorilaya is one of them, because she is more consistent than before. U.S. skater Ashley Wagner, who had won a silver medal behind Medvedeva last year, is another one.
If Kaetlyn Osmond is as strong as during the Grand Prix season, she may also win a medal, but if she is as weak as at Four Continents, certainly not. Carolina Kostner from Italy is back and won a bronze medal at Europeans. This might let her hope to be as successful in Helsinki. The best Japanese skater Satoko Miyahara, fifth last year, had to withdraw, because a stress facture in her hip has not healed yet completely. Her teammates Mai Mihara, Rika Hongo and Wakaba Higuchiro have to show their best to gain three spots for the Olympics. Other ladies for top positions if they skate well, are the new American champion Karen Chen and her teammate Mariah Bell, the Canadian Gabrielle Daleman, Maria Sotskova from Russia and Elizabet Tursynbaeva from Kazakhstan.
In ice dancing, the favorites for gold and silver are the 2010 Olympic gold medalists and 2014 Olympic silver medalists Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir as well as the 2015 and 2016 world champions Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron from France These two couples were first and second at the ISU Grand Prix Final in December 2016. The two U.S. teams Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibinai and Madison Chock & Evan Bates should be able to fight for the third and fourth place. Other couples for top positions are Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte from Italy and Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev from Russia. More couples for the Top Ten are Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje from Canada, Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue from the USA and Canadians Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier.
In the pair competition, 29 teams are entered, more than ever because several small countries have a pair now and the required ISU minimum in pairs is easier to get than the minimum in the other disciplines. There is no clear gold medal favorite. The best team in this season were the Chinese Wenjing Sui & Cong Han at the Four Continents which was their first international competition after her surgery at both feet in June. At Europeans, the Russian pair of Evgenia Tarasova & Vladimir Morozov dominated with strong performances and they are also gold medal candidates. The reigning world champions Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford have never been as good this season as in the last two years before. Therefore it would be a little surprise it they can defend their title. Aliona Savchenko & Bruno Massot from Germany, European silver medalists in January, are a stylish pair and also hope for a medal if they can avoid mistakes. Savchenko’s foot injury from the fall is gone, but Massot had some back pain.
Ksenia Stolbova & Fedor Klimov were not too strong in this season, but had time to train quietly since Europeans in January. Perhaps they are the dark horse at Worlds. The French team Vanessa James & Morgan Ciprès showed a lot of improvement since they went to train to the USA and won the bronze medal at Europeans. A team for the Top Ten are Alexa Scimeca-Knierim & Chris Knierim of Colorado Springs who have recovered from Alexa’s belly surgery in the summer. Other Top Ten teams might be the two Canadian pairs Julianne Séguin & Charlie Bilodeau and Liubov Iliushechkina & Dylan Moscovitch, Natalia Zabijako & Alexander Enbert from Russia, the two Italian pairs Valentina Marchei & Ondrej Hotarek as well as Nicole Della Monica & Matteo Guarise and the Chinese pair Xiaoyu Yu & Hao Zhang.