by Klaus Reinhold Kany
(18 March 2019) Five years after being held in Saitama, the World Championships 2019 will take place in the same marvelous “Super Arena“ in this large Japanese suburb of Toyko, about 45 minutes north of downtown. All skaters, coaches and officials stay in a Tokyo hotel and come to the arena every day by shuttle bus. For about ten years, Japan is the country with the biggest and most enthusiastic figure skating public. Their stars are as popular as top baseball or football players in the USA and earn millions of dollars with commercials. Two of the four 2018 World Champions try to defend their titles: Nathan Chen and French ice dancers Papadakis & Cizeron. The other two 2018 World Champions Kaetlyn Osmond and the German pair Savchenko & Massot do not compete this season.
In the ladies competition, a hard fight for the medals between the Japanese and the Russian skaters may be expected. The favorite is Rika Kihara from Japan who won the Grand Prix Final and the Four Continents Championships in Anaheim, USA and is the only lady in Saitama with a triple Axel, but she was only second at Japanese Nationals. The new Japanese Champion Kaori Sakamoto has no triple Axel, but her other triple jumps are often very clean. Satoko Miyahara is the most elegant of the three Japanese ladies, but her jumps are relatively small.
Olympic Champion Alina Zagitova and the 2016 and 2017 World champion Evgenia Medvedeva also want the title or at least a medal, as well as the third Russian Sofia Samodurova. Skaters of other countries seem to have only chances if the Japanese and Russian ladies make several mistakes. U.S. champion Bradie Tennell of the Chicago area as well as Mariah Bell of California hope at least to be in the top six or eight. Elizabet Tursynbaeva from Kazakhstan has also high ambitions after winning silver at the Four Continents as well as Loena Hendrickx from Belgium and Eunsoo Lim from South Korea.
Full time student and U.S. Champion Nathan Chen is „on Spring Break in Japan“ and therefore has time to compete at Worlds. He and Japanese superstars Yuzuru Hanyu and Shoma Uno are the favorites in the men’s competition. For Hanyu, it is the first competition after the Cup of Russia in the fall where he injured his ankle. Uno also has some problems but at least he won Four Continents. Other medal candidates are Junhwan Cha from South Korea, the two Russian skaters Mikhail Kolyada and Alexander Samarin and the Chinese man Boyang Jin. Hopeful for a Top Ten position are also the two U.S. skaters Jason Brown and Vincent Zhou, the third Japanese skater Keiji Tanaka, the Czech skater Michal Brezina and the Italian Matteo Rizzo.
The big favorites in ice dancing are French World Champions Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron. Two U.S. dance teams can hope for a medal as well: Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue were silver medalists last year, Madison Chock and Evan Bates beat them at Four Continents. Other dance couples who may hope for a medal are Italians Charlène Guignard & Marco Fabbri as well as the two Russian teams of Victoria Sinitsina & Nikita Katsalapov as well as Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin. Two of Canada’s couples aspire a top position: Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje as well as Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier.
In pairs skating one team from France, two from Russia and two from China might be the best in Saitama. Vanessa James & Morgan Ciprès from France won the Grand Prix Final in December and the European Championships in January. They are kind of favorites if they do not make mistakes. Wenjing Sui & Cong Han, runner-ups at Worlds in 2018, would be the favorites, but Sui still suffers from several injuries she had in the last 12 months. So we have to wait and see in which shape she is. The other Chinese pair of Cheng Peng & Yang Jin also has high ambitions.
Evgenia Tarasova & Vladimir Morozov from Russia also hope for a gold medal, but they were not so excellent at Europeans. Their team mates Natalia Zabiiako & Alexander Enbert are back. They had to leave out Europeans because Enbert had to undergo some mysterious medical examination. The Canadian pair of Kirsten Moore-Towers & Michael Marinaro as well as the new U.S. champions Ashley Cain & Timothy LeDuc as well as the Italians Nicole della Monica & Matteo Guarise also hope for a good position in the top eight.