The final International event of the season begins this week, where a number of Olympic champions will head to Milan, Italy to pad their medal cases. There have been some discussion about whether the competition should take place during an Olympic year. A number of withdrawals have been announced over the last few weeks stemming from the end of the Winter Olympics. The World Championships is still a vital indicator for next season’s ISU rankings as far as positioning. Three spots in each division is still at stake for countries participating.
Men – The drop-off from Pyeongchang is pretty dramatic, with two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan and two-time World, 2014 Olympic silver medalist Patrick Chan of Canada and Olympic bronze medalist Javier Fernandez of Spain sitting out this weekend’s competition. That leaves teammate and Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno being the favorite for this weekend. He finished second at Worlds last year and looks to grab his first ever World title. Competition isn’t by all means sparse. Uno should expect a challenge from 2017 World bronze medalist Boyang Jin of China. Jin just missed the podium in Pyeongchang, finishing 4th. American Nathan Chen looks to better his disappointing 5th place showing last month. Still, he completed five clean quadruple jumps in the Free Skate and if he skates clean this weekend, he’ll be in medal contention. Russian skater Milkhail Kolyada’s best finish at Worlds was fourth in 2016. He looks to improve from his 8th place finish at the Olympics.
Skaters to Watch –American Vincent Zhou won a World Junior Championship in 2017. A surprise 6th place finish in Pyeongchang last month puts him in the mix this weekend. Dmitri Aliev of Russia finished 2nd behind Zhou at World Juniors in 2017 and has a 2nd place finish at Europeans this season. American Max Aaron takes over for Adam Rippon, who declined after his Olympic assignment. Aaron’s best finish international was 3rd at Cup of China. Israel’s Alexei Bychenko finished outside the top 10 at Pyeongchang and will look for a better finish this time around.
Smooth’s Pick – This is Nathan’s chance to right the wrong from last month’s Olympic disaster.
1. Nathan Chen (USA)
2. Shoma Uno (JPN)
3. Boyang Jin (CHN)
Ladies – Russia’s Alina Zagitova’s meteoric rise to the top of the ladies division culminated into gold at Pyeongchang last month. With teammate and Olympic silver medalist Evgenia Medvedeva sitting out due to injury, Zagitova has the chance to claim glory by herself this weekend. Her main competition will be from Olympic bronze medalist Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond, who finished 2nd past season and is on pace for another appearance on the podium. Japan’s Satoko Miyahara barely missed the podium in Pyeongchang by percentage points and will look to claim her spot this weekend. Italy’s Carolina Kostner wasn’t able to duplicate her Olympic success last month, but she still can look for a return to the podium where she took the top spot in 2012. This also could be her “”swan song” and what better way to end her skating career than in her home country.
Skaters to Watch – Maria Sotskova wasn’t able to do a Russian sweep last month, finishing 8th in Pyeongchang. She was also 8th at last year’s worlds, with two 2nd place finishes at Europeans. Canadian Gabby Daleman looks to move on from her disastrous free skate at the Olympics. She was third at worlds last season. Jitters may have placed American Bradie Tennell 8th at the Olympics last month, but she’ll get another chance to prove she belongs on the podium. Teammate Mirai Nagasu is just a triple-axel and a clean program away from the podium and is still a threat. Karen Chen has withdrawn from World, so Mariah Bell gets the chance to skate this weekend. Her best finish internationally was 2nd at Skate America in 2016. Other skaters to look out for includes Korea’s Dabin Choi, Kazakhstan’s Elizabet Tursynbaeva and Japan’s Wakaba Higuchi.
Smooth’s Picks – A logjam for 2nd and 3rd may make it interesting, but this is Zagitova’s to lose.
1. Alina Zagitova (RUS)
2. Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN)
3. Carolina Kostner (ITA)
Pairs – The top two teams from the Olympics won’t be participating this weekend. Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford took Gold and Bronze last month and will retire from the competitive ranks. China’s Wenjing Sui and Cong Han who took silver at the Olympics are out due to injury. That leaves Olympic gold medalists Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot of Germany as the favorites to win in Milan. Russia’s Evgenia Tarasova & Vladimir Morozov are their main rivals this weekend. They missed the podium at the Olympics, finishing 4th. But they’ve beaten Savchenko and Massot twice at Europeans and are capable of beating them this time around. Teammates Natalia Zabiiako & Alexander Enbert had a personal best at the Olympics and finished 7th. They have a chance at a top 5 or more finish. France’s Vanessa James & Morgan Cipres also have a chance for a top 5 finish. They were 5th in Pyeongchang last month.
Skaters to Watch – The retirement of Duhamel and Radford opens the door to new beginnings in Canadian pairs skating. Julianne Seguin & Charlie Bilodeau are expected to take over as the leaders in pairs. They finished 9th at the Olympics and were 2nd at nationals. The Canadian spot opens for Camile Ruest & Andrew Wolfe, who make their Worlds debut. Their best finish internationally was 4th at the Autumn Classic International in 2016. The Americans also gained another spot at worlds. Deanna Stellato & Nathan Bartholomay will join US champs, Alexa & Chris Knierim in Milan. The Knierims almost singlehandedly won bronze in the team event for the US. They also finished 15th in Pyeongchang. Stellato & Bartholomay finished 5th most recently at the Four Continents Championships in January. The Italians have two teams who could make a move to the top 5. Valentina Marchei & Ondrej Hotarek (6th at Olympics) and Nicole Della Monica & Matteo Guarise (10th at Olympics) are ranked 9th and 11th in the ISU World Standings. China’s best hopes for the podium are with Xiaoyu Yu & Hao Zhang (8th at Olympics) and Cheng Peng & Yang Jin (17th at Olympics).
Smooth’s Picks – This will be a battle between Germany and Russia for 1st and 2nd.
1. Evgenia Tarasova & Vladimir Morozov (RUS)
2. Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot (GER)
3. Vanessa James & Morgan Cipres (FRA)
Ice Dance – Two of the three Olympic medal winners, Canadian gold medalists Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir and American bronze medalists Maia & Alex Shibutani won’t be participating this weekend. Russia also loses a spot, as Ekaterina Boborva and Dimitri Soloviev withdrew. This leaves to door open for France’s Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron to mend their bitter heartbreak of missing out on gold in Pyeongchang. They will be the favorites in this competition, but will have a challenge from the Americans and the Canadians. Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue made a fatal error in their free skate and left the door open for the “ShibSibs” to gain bronze last month. Teammates Madison Hubbell and Evan Bates had a disappointing free skate in their Olympic performance to finish 9th overall. Both teams will look to make the podium for the US. Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje finished 7th and Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier finished 8th in Pyeongchang. Both teams will be in contention.
Skaters to Watch – Italy’s Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte haven’t won a world title since 2014. Their journey to another title may be too far off after finishing 6th at the Olympics last month. Americans Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker take the place of the Shibutanis in Milan this weekend. This season saw the team win their first senior international championship at Four Continents. They also won the World Juniors title in 2014. The withdraw of Boborva and Soloviev leaves Russia with two chances at the podium. Tiffani Zagorski & Jonathan Guerreiro were 13th at the Olympics, while Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin were not even allowed to participate in Pyeongchang because of a directive from the International Olympic Committee. Don’t be surprised if Stepanova & Bukin have a chip on their shoulder.
Smooth’s Picks – French Ice Dance will be redeemed this weekend along with Russian Ice Dance.
1. Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron (FRA)
2. Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin (RUS)
3. Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue (USA)