World Figure Skating Championships look wide open, with two U.S. sending two rookies

U.S. skater Richard Dornbush

I was so looking forward to the 2011 World Figure Skating Championships to be held in Tokyo this year, which were moved due to March 11 earthquake and tsunami. The Japanese fans are probably the most appreciative skating audience, cheering and clapping for everyone, not just their own. So for the Japanese people, I think I speak for the entire skating community when I say that your strength and calmness throughout the aftermath of the destruction to your country is so amazing.

The upcoming World Championships are now being held in in Moscow starting Monday. The Russian Federation is probably more than happy to host these championships, after their embarrassing showing at the 2010 Olympics.

Let’s have a look at my picks for the podium this year.

Men

The Americans are sending two possible future Olympic champions, and a veteran. Look for Ross Miner and current reigning Junior World champion Richard Dornbush to make impressions as they start their senior careers. I see Dornbush in the hunt for an Olympic Medal in Sochi in 2014. Ryan Bradley, 27, the surprise winner at the U.S. nationals is probably heading to his last World Championships, and it will be an accomplishment if he cracked the Top 10.

Canada’s Patrick Chan looks to be the frontrunner this year. The two- time defending World silver medalist, who could not shake off the pressure at the Vancouver Olympics, has taken all the lemons that were thrown at him last year and turned them into lemonade.

Chan has won every event he has entered this year, including the prestigious Grande Prix Final. To top that off, he got a world record points calculation at the Canadian National Championship. He has also added the Quad Toe to his already impressive resume of tricks. When you combine his artistry, speed, and the arsenal of jumps, if he skates clean in both the short and long programs it’s good-bye competition.

Japan is sending its own arsenal of threats to the podium. There is a defending champion who has not skated like a world champion this year, and another who defeated the world champion in their national championships, plus a veteran on any given day who could shake the entire medal podium.

Daisuke Takahashi had a thrilling season last year after having being derailed with a serious knee injury that required surgery. He showed up at the Olympics and with a strong free skate won a bronze medal. Later in the year, he became the first Japanese man to be crowned world champion. This year, however, he has not look strong, finishing and disappointing third at the Japanese championships. Takahashi has a complete package, but when he lacks confidence his jumps are often slow and have incomplete rotation. If he wants to defend, he needs to forget about every miscue he has had this year and skate clean.

Another serious threat to reach the podium is the new Japanese national champion, Takahiko Kozuka. I have waited patiently for for this skater to break out of the shadows of his more senior countrymen. But if he plans to get on the podium this week, he too will have to keep his nerves in check, and if he plans on doing a quad in the long, it must be clean. Another area where the judges may crucify him is the speed, and position of his spins. But I see him be a contender for silver or bronze.

Other possible contenders are Nobunari Oda of Japan; Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic and Brian Joubert (I know, blah) of France.

Women

Alissa Czisny thought her career was over. The 2009 U.S. national champion could not stay on top of things last year, and once again missed a spot on the Olympic Team. After some much-needed rest, Czisny changed her coaching team, and came back this year better than ever. Winning the Grande Prix Final, and the U.S. Championship, Czisny has revived her career and finally learned to have confidence in herself. Although she has top level spins and artistry, if Czisny plans to medal at this to be her rumored last competition, she was have to land every jump, because she still lacks a triple/triple to keep up with the Japanese skaters.

American silver medalist, Rachel Flatt, has not been a factor in any event this year. A nagging training injury has left her trademark consistency on the rink side. They judges’ have also shown her no favors when it come to her marks. If Flatt is going to contend, she will have to rely on others to make mistakes.

Miki Ando of Japan is the 2007 World Champion and the 2009 World Bronze Medalist. Last year, expecting to contend for Olympic and World medals, her skating lacked luster and she paid dearly for it. This year she looks like her old self on the ice, and could contend for the gold in Moscow.

The defending World champion Mao Asada of Japan has not had the season most world champions would hope for. After changing coaches’ and reworking her jump technique, Asada’s placements and performances left many wondering if she would be ready. But this was the same as last year, and then she showed up to her national championships looking like a new skater and beat out the heavily favored Ando.

All hail Queen Kim Yuna. Kim has sat out of the Grande Prix Circuit, the Korean championships, and the Four Continents, concentrating instead on her endorsement deals and appearing in ice shows.

But it’s her problems off the ice that make me think she will not contend for the gold medal. She fired her coach, Brian Orser, and relocated to California to work with a much less experienced coach. Last week, it was reported that she is suing her former agent for stealing. But she is still a force on the ice as we saw when she took Olympic gold in Vancouver. Will Queen Yuna live up to her name, or will she prove why skaters should retire after winning Olympic gold?

Chad Conley is a former elite Canadian skater. You can read his coming-out story here.

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