The final competition of the season takes place in Japan, where over 160 skaters will compete. Competition starts on Wednesday with the pairs and ladies short program. Mens’s short begins on Thursday, while ice dancers will start their competition on Friday. This is the 2nd time since 2014 the World Championships were held in Japan. Next year’s event will take place in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Men – (Full Lineup) “Quadfest” begins this weekend with a challenge to see who lands the most this weekend. Japanese skaters have the home ice advantage, as two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu returns to the ice after a long layoff due to injury. He was well on his way to the Grand Prix final, with wins in Helsinki and Rostelecom Cup when he was forced out of Japanese Nationals and 4CC. Teammate Shoma Uno had a successful season, winning his third straight Japanese National men’s title, Grand Prix wins at NHK Trophy and Skate Canada & a 4CC title. His only blemish was a 2nd place finish in the Grand Prix Final. That was won by American Nathan Chen, who has been on a tear all season long, going undefeated along the way. He won his 3rd US National championship, dominated at Skate America and Internationaux de France and repeated his win at the Grand Prix Final. He looks to go two-in-a-row as men’s champion this weekend.
Skaters to Watch – For the first time in many years, we won’t see the rivalry between Yuzuru Hanyu and two-time World Champion, Javier Fernandez. The Spaniard sailed off into retirement with a final win at Europeans, his record 7th straight victory. His loss means a new crop of skaters to take the mantle. If there’s a spoiler to make the podium, it could come from Italy’s Matteo Rizzo, who took 3rd at Europeans and also had a 3rd place finish at NHK Trophy. Another could be from American Vincent Zhou, who took 3rd at 4CC against a strong men’s lineup. Korea’s Junhwan Cha continues his upward move in the world standings with 3rd place podium spots at Skate Canada, Helsinki and the GP Final. Other contenders include China’s Boyang Jin, Israel’s Alexei Bychenko and American Jason Brown.
Smooth’s Pick – It will be a slug fest between, Chen, Uno and Hanyu. Home ice favors the Japanese skaters, but it will be tough to beat the current defending champion.
1. Nathan Chen (USA)
2. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN)
3. Shoma Uno (JPN)
Ladies – (Full Lineup) Probably the most elegant and accomplished field in years will make this a memorable competition. Japan’s chances at a sweep have been boosted by Rika Kihira’s stunning performance this season. In her first year in Senior competition, she dominated the field, winning at NHK, Internationaux de France, the Grand Prix Final and the 4CC title. However, her season wasn’t perfect, as she faltered at Japanese Nationals and had to settle for 2nd. The eventual winner, Kaori Sakamoto surprised everyone but herself. She took 2nd at Skate America and 3rd in Helsinki, but missed the podium in the GP Final, finishing 4th. Sakoto Miahara’s season up to now has been solid, winning Skate America and finishing 2nd at NHK Trophy. However, her performance in the GP Final was filled with mistakes, as she finished 6th. Japanese skaters will have their hands full with their Russian counterparts, led by Olympic champion, Alina Zagitova. Two wins at Rostelecom Cup and Helsinki put her into the GP Final, where she finished in 2nd behind Kihira. However, a shocking 5th place finish at Nationals nearly put all her work to waste. She was eventually selected to the world team, along with Olympic silver medalist, Evgenia Medvedeva, who had a rough season, culminating with a disastrous 7th place finish at Nationals. Still, her past international experience gives her a chance to make the podium this week.
Skaters to Watch – There are a number of skaters who could reach the top 5 this weekend. One is Loena Hendrickx of Belgium, who placed 5th in Helsinki before injuries ended her Grand Prix season and put her out of Europeans. Kazakhstan’s Elizabet Tursynbaeva is coming off a 2nd place finish at Winter Universiade a few weeks ago and a 2nd place finish at 4CC. American Bradie Tennell was upstaged at US Nationals and had to settle for 2nd, but she’s continued to skate strong during the season, including a 3rd place finish at Internationaux de France. Keep your eyes on Canadian Gabby Daleman, she was a last minute selection for this week. Even though she’s was off the ice during the Grand Prix season, she still almost managed a respectable 5th place finish at Nationals. Other skaters looking to finish the season strong include American Mariah Bell, Switzerland’s Alexia Pagani, Korea’s Eunsoo Lim and Russia’s Sofia Samodurova.
Smooth’s Picks – This could be a Japanese sweep of mammoth proportions and I wouldn’t be surprised. But I’m thinking 2 out of 3 wouldn’t surprise me, either.
1. Rika Kihira (JPN)
2. Alina Zagitova (RUS)
3. Kaori Sakamoto (JPN)
Pairs – (Full Lineup) Only 19 teams will skate for the podium this week. At the top of the list is Russia’s Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov. Their season has been dominating, with wins at Rostelecom Cup and Skate America. However, they suffered disappointment with a 3rd place finish at the Grand Prix Final. They’ll go for that elusive World pairs title for the 5th time, but their chance will be tough, as they’re up against Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres of France. The team finally had a breakthrough this season, winning Internationaux de France, Skate Canada and their first Grand Prix Final and European titles. That gives the James & Cipres a slight edge this week. China has two teams that could reach the podium. Cheng Peng and Yang Jin had three 2nd place finishes in Grand Prix competition. However, they dropped to 3rd at 4CC last month. Olympic pairs silver medalists Wenjing Sui and Cong Han returned to action after injury and promptly won the 4CC pairs title last month. Russia could also see a second team reach the podium with Natalia Zabiiako and Alexander Enbert. They won in Helsinki and NHK Trophy in GP competition, but just missed the podium in the Final. They also have a 3rd place finish at Europeans
Teams to Watch – The field will be tough and a fall in the short or the free could make the difference. There are a few teams that could take advantage. Canada’s Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro won their first Canadian title and were 2nd at 4CC. They look to improve on their 6th place finish at Worlds. Italy’s Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise reached their first Grand Prix Final this season, where they finished 5th. They barely missed the podium at Europeans in 4th place. It was a tough year for Americans Ashley Cain and Tim LeDuc, as a disastrous fall to Cain almost knocked them out of competition. But they persevered and won their first US pairs title. Other teams that could make an impact are Tae Ok Ryom and Ju Sik Kim of North Korea, Miriam Zegler and Severin Kiefer of Austria and Lana Petranovic and Antonio Souza-Kordeiru of Croatia.
Smooth’s Picks – This will be a battle between Russia, China and France, where the winners will have to bring their “A” game.
1. Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres (FRA)
2. Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov (RUS)
3. Wenjing Sui and Cong Han (CHN)
Ice Dance – (Full Lineup) This is a pivotal time in this division, where a number of teams skating could take control for supremacy. At the top of the list is France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron. This season had the team participate in one Grand Prix event, which they won (Internationaux de France). The rest of the season found them recovering from injury. When they did come back to the ice, they easily won their 5th ice dance title at Europeans. They go for their 4th World championship, but it won’t be a cakewalk. Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue have reason to be worried after their 4th place finish at 4CC. It was their first time off the podium in two years, but they should be ready this week. Teammates Madison Chock and Evan Bates had their best performance of the season, winning at 4CC and are in the mix for a podium spot. Canada’s Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje returned to the top of the podium at Canadian Nationals and took 2nd at 4CC. The top Russian team is Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin, who won at Helsinki and Rostelecom Cup to qualify for the GP Final, where they finished off the podium in 4th.
Teams to Watch – Russia’s Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov had their best season as a team, with three 2nd place Grand Prix finishes, including the Final. They also won their first Russian National title. Canada has two teams that could reach the top 10. Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier continue their consistent skating with two 3rd place Grand Prix finishes. Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sorensen will be in their 2nd competition as Canadians. Their best finish at Worlds was 7th for Denmark in 2017. Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker won their first Grand Prix competition this season at NHK Trophy. They also reach the Final, where they finished 6th. Other teams that will contend includes Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri of Italy, Marie-Jade Lauriault and Romain Le Gac of France and Allison Reed and Saulius Ambrulevicius of Lithuania.
Smooth’s Picks – This competition will be between the French and Americans, with Canadians fighting for third.
1. Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron (FRA)
2. Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue (USA)
3. Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje (CAN)