Tuesday, March 25, 2014

One More Time: 2014 World Figure Skating Championship Predictions

I was thinking about what I just wrote the other day about unexpected outcomes in post-Olympic World Championships, and that’s why you’ll see a special category among these 2014 Worlds predictions. Full-out Radar Buster (FoRB) means someone who has been “flying under the radar”, as we say, during the course of the 2013-14 season... not skating up to their potential, be it a physical thing, mental thing, or something we fans never quite understand for sure. I might not have pegged them correctly—why get shockingly accurate with my predictions this late in the year, right?—but be on the lookout for FoRBs in all the disciplines. This could be their time.


GOLD: Javier Fernandez, ESP
SILVER: Yuzuru Hanyu, JPN
BRONZE: Tatsuki Machida, JPN

Dark Horse: Maxim Kovtun, RUS
Full-out Radar-Buster: Takahiko Kozuka, JPN

Hanyu is the only OGM showing up at Worlds this time, but I don’t necessarily think a World title will be easy for him to get... even with his fellow medalists out of the picture (as they’ll be this week). Enter Fernandez, who was a mere 1.18 points from earning bronze in Sochi. Last year he became the first Spaniard to win any World figure skating medal. Maybe this year he’ll be the first to win gold.

My dark horse, Kovtun, is the Russian teen who won his Nationals, but was left behind on the Sochi bus as Evgeni Plushenko was the Olympics rep, not to mention the attention grabber (first for how he could skate and then for how he couldn’t). Kovtun proved at Europeans to be fallible under intense pressure; here, he might be able and ready to prove something else... and win back a 2nd Russian men’s spot at Worlds in the process.

And my FoRB is Kozuka because he’s had a so-so year to date, but pulled it together in time to make the podium at Japanese Nats... only to be passed over for Sochi by 5th place Takahashi. Two years ago he won silver at this event. I’d love to think anything’s possible for this guy.


GOLD: Carolina Kostner, ITA
SILVER: Julia Lipnitskaia, RUS
BRONZE: Mao Asada, JPN

Dark Horse: Gracie Gold, USA
Full-out Radar-Buster: Kaetlyn Osmond, CAN

Ideally, Asada would win this one more time (with both triple axels intact, on home ice) and retire on that high note... but that may be too much to ask of her at this point. So instead, I’m hoping Kostner can ride the wave of confidence that buoyed her to Olympic bronze and net her second World title. I suspect Lipnitskaia will rebound from her time in the Sochi pressure cooker and return to form.

If Gold hits her 3/3 she should have a shot at bronze... especially if others at the top fumble. FoRB pick Osmond was chosen just because of a little feeling I have :-)... maybe her first top 5 finish, if not a medal?


GOLD: Savchenko/Szolkowy, GER
SILVER: Stolbova/Klimov, RUS
BRONZE: Moore-Towers/Moscovitch, CAN

Dark Horse: Peng/Zhang, CHN
Full-out Radar-Buster: Sui/Han, CHN

I’m going traditional with this one, mostly because I’m not sure what to expect with Stolbova/Klimov. They lit up Sochi, but Saitama? They DO seem to be on a roll, which is why I’m predicting the podium for them... just not THAT much of a roll. (But as you know by my Oly predictions alone, you might want to bet on the opposite outcome!)

I know I don’t have Duhamel/Radford up here... I guess I think they’ve already peaked this season (maybe with the Olympic team event in particular). I could be wrong, as M-T/M are the ones that finished higher in the pairs event and maybe they’ve already turned in their best, but it just feels like M-T/M’s turn right now. But look for both Chinese teams to crash the Canadian party...


GOLD: Ilinykh/Katsalapov, RUS
SILVER: Pechalat/Bourzat, FRA
BRONZE: Bobrova/Soloviev, RUS

Dark Horse: Weaver/Poje, CAN
Full-out Radar-Buster: Cappellini/Lanotte, ITA

I want to be wrong on this one in particular. It’s closing time for the veteran French team; they apparently wanted to wrap it all up last month, but popular demand pushed them to give it one more go. With both of the top North American teams out, this might be the most interesting discipline of the whole week... and I’d enjoy seeing Pech/Bour counterbalance their Sochi disappointment with a victory here. But I feel like the momentum is tipping the scales in I/K’s favor. Unless they have a glaring error, like they did at Euros (and the GP Final I think?)... then a spot-on P/B might get a chance.

And my Dark Horse and FoRB candidates might be interchangeable here... with dance having less placement fluctuation than singles, I don’t really think an “off-the-radar” team could suddenly leap into the medals. But there’s a tight race between five teams (who finished 3rd-7th in Sochi). One bummer stretch of twizzles amongst any of them could make the difference between victory and 4th place!

Everything gets started Tuesday night at 9PM Eastern Time—join me on Twitter for as much live-tweeting as I can manage @KLBSt8ofSk8!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Living in a Post-Olympic World(s)

It’s such a kettle of mixed emotions when it comes to World Figure Skating Championships in an Olympic year. For some athletes, it’s a stab at redemption following disappointment at the Games. For others, it’s the swan song that takes them into Olympic-eligible retirement. For a few, it’s both. For a few more, it’s neither—as they were either not part of the Olympic team, or were, but found satisfaction with their work there and see Worlds as simply the next logical step in their journey. Oh, and every single competitor at the event is likely to be feeling the fatigue (and sometimes, consequential illness) that comes with the final event of a longer-and-more-stressful-than-usual season.

Feelings vary for skating fans too. There are those that, noting all the A-listers that often skip the event for whatever reasons, think of post-Olympic Worlds as something less than a “real” championship. Then there are those that see it as rife with opportunity for overlooked and/or underappreciated skaters, old and new alike.

Whatever your take is, there’s no denying the mass of storylines that emerged the last time this all went down...

Previously... at the 2010 Post-Olympic Worlds, in Torino...

-- Daisuke Takahashi became the first Japanese man to win a World title... Patrick Chan converted his Olympics disappointment into Worlds Silver... likewise, Brian Joubert rebounded from a poor Olympics with the bronze medal (last time he was on the Worlds podium, incidentally).

-- Jeremy Abbott and Adam Rippon finished 5th and 6th, respectively—not only their best finishes to date, but also the most recent time the U.S. men earned three spots for the following year.

-- Crazy inconsistencies took place in the ladies event: Mirai Nagasu was 1st after the SP but 11th in the FS (finishing 7th overall)... Kim Yuna skipped an entire element in the SP, if I recall, and was down in 7th before a FS win vaulted her to 2nd overall. Akiko Suzuki was 20th in the SP and 7th in the FS (11th overall). Miki Ando was 11th in the SP and 3rd in the FS (4th overall). All these ups and downs allowed for a few surprises for less accomplished but more “steady” competitors, such as Cynthia Phaneuf of Canada managing her highest Worlds finish ever (5th)... and Laura Lepisto of Finland winning bronze (first-ever World medal for a Finnish lady)!

-- Pang/Tong won the pairs title... it was the 2nd time they won, and 2nd time they won directly after the Olympics. Savchenko/Szolkowy collected silver, while Olympic 4th-placers Kavaguti/Smirnov moved up to win bronze.

-- Worlds 2010 turned out to be the last major competition for the Canadian team of Dube/Davison (2008 World Bronze Medalists), as well as the Russian team of Mukhortova/Trankov... the latter of which would go on to be much better known for an amazing pair of yellow pants and an even more amazing Olympic Gold Medal.

-- Worlds 2010 also marked the final time compulsory and original dances were competed at that championship. As for the competitors: Virtue/Moir won the dance title, with Davis/White finishing less than 2 points behind them for silver. Bronze went to veterans Faiella/Scali of Italy; it was their first (and only) world medal... Pechalat/Bourzat were in that all-too-familiar 4th slot. Then-rising stars Bobrova/Soloviev of Russia and Cappillini/Lanotte of Italy took 8th/11th, respectively.

SO... that was four years ago. What storylines are looming on the 2014 Worlds horizon?

n      Only one reigning OGM will be there (Yuzuru Hanyu). Will he claim his first Worlds title as well... especially in the absence of reigning World Champ Chan?
n      How will Jeremy Abbott fare in his final competition? And can he and Max Aaron get a third spot back for the U.S. as the ladies did last year?
n      Can Carolina Kostner or Mao Asada reclaim the World title they’ve each held in the past? Or will it be Julia Lipnitskaia’s time?
n      Can Gracie Gold find her way to her first World podium?
n      Can Ashley Wagner get her 3/3 groove back?
n      Can  Florent Amodio F get ANY groove back?
n      Will Pechalat/Bourzat close out their competitive careers with another World medal? And will a Russian team reclaim ice dance gold in the absence of the dueling North Americans?
n      Will Maxim Kovtun show the world why HE should’ve been at the Olympics instead of that one guy... what’s his name... oh, never mind, it’s not important.
n      Will Savchenko/Szolkowy be glad they stuck around for one more event?
n      Can Stolbova/Klimov recapture their “surprise” Olympic magic?
n      Will the U.S. hold on to all three ice dance spots?
n      Can we get through an entire major competitive event this season without crying FOUL when we see the results?
n      And most importantly... what color will Misha Ge’s hair be this time??

We’ll know the answers to these, and so many more questions, by month’s end. Check this schedule for daily event times. Things get underway Tuesday, March 25.

Who will I predict for the podium? I’ll post my guesses late Monday/early Tuesday. Hit the comments to leave your own Worlds prediction thoughts!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Where I've Been, and Four Other Less Than Important Questions

FIVE QUESTIONS TO ME, FIVE ANSWERS... So brief that that's the whole introduction :-)


A1: Busy writing... just not for this blog (Sorry!). The freelance gods kept my schedule relatively clear during the Olympics window, which allowed me to blog and live-Tweet to my heart's content! But, sadly, it doesn't pay the bills... and consequently falls a bit on the priorities list when my clients come a'calling. 


A2: You mean besides this one? (Oh... I guess you do.) I'll say later this week. No promises, but that's my goal.


A3: Well, let's see: Ladies' OGM scandal? Check. The IOC post with the made-up Kim Yu-Na quotes? Check. Ashley Wagner's a sore loser/No she's not, she just tells it like it is? Check/check. Who's in and who's out at Worlds? Check, check, check... and yep, Junior Worlds is about to start and I'm keeping tabs on that as well. What should we talk about first when I post later this week? Give me a suggestion and I just might run with it. SO much to talk about...


A4: Um, don't think so. Do you follow me on Twitter? I RT a lot of this stuff when I'm otherwise kind of silent...


A5: Of course!! But that's all things dancing...