Saturday, March 21, 2015

What 2015 Junior Worlds Can Tell Us About 2015 (Senior) Worlds

World figure skating championships are not for the faint of heart. All that early rising, working hard all day, staying up late, staying hydrated, stretching, waiting for scores, waiting to see if the unknown athlete in front of you is skating to Carmen or Phantom so you can be sure to activate your MUTE button...

Oh, wait... did you think I was talking about the competitors?

There certainly are enough of them to talk about at Worlds: 30 men, 36 ladies, 19 pairs, and 31 dance teams—wait, make that 30 because Coomes/Buckland have scratched due to illness on Coomes' part (sigh!!).All those numbers are down, by the way, from 10 years ago when there were over 40 “preliminary” programs to witness in each singles division (before prelims and SPs whittled the finals down to 24, just as they are now).

If you really miss those 40+ days, you need look no further than Junior Worlds (held earlier in the month). Plenty of teenagers were there, trying to make a name for themselves ahead of joining the international senior circuit. And while it doesn’t quite equate with its most elite counterpart—how could it?—there are plenty of parallels to draw; performances and patterns that could very well tell the tale when competition begins next week in Shanghai:

For the MEN: Bring your ENTIRE FS, and please tell me you’ve done your endurance training. Most of the Junior Worlds guys that did well in the SP made major tumbles in the standings after the FS (e.g. Russians Aidan Pitkeev and Alexander Petrov; South Korea’s Kim Jin-seo), while SP 5th place-er Boyang Jin (of China) won the FS... and shot to silver with a quad-heavy but passionless skate. (Japan’s Shoma Uno did well enough to win overall, but his FS was some 20 points lower than that which he’d turned in at 4CC a couple weeks earlier.) In a time where the guys are often subjecting their bodies to quad punishment before they’re even old enough to drive themselves to the ice rink, the boys-to-men difference should at least be visible in terms of the complete-ness.

For the LADIES: Stopping a Russian podium sweep this year is tough... mighty tough... but do-able. Attribute it to the overall quality of Anna Pogorilaya’s skating, or the resurgence of Ashley Wagner... or maybe a bit of both... but a similar thing happened at Junior Worlds when Japan’s Wakaba Higuchi found herself sharing podium space with gold medalist Evgenia Medvedeva and silver medalist Serafima Sakhanovich ... and Russia’s Maria Sotskova settled for 5th behind Kazakhstan’s newest rising star Elizabet Tursynbayeva (in 4th).

For PAIRS: It’s about Canada and China this time, folks—Juniors and Seniors alike.  Russia’s still a player, as Kavaguti/Smirnov and reigning OSMs Stolbova/Klimov have demonstrated. But maybe the best way to rationalize the mystery of S/K’s absence at Worlds is to treat it as symbolic...

Yu/Jin of China took gold at Junior Worlds, with Canadians Seguin/Bilodeau in the silver slot and Russians Fedorova/Miroshkin getting bronze... but while the top two teams skated clean, F/M did not. Of course I’m not saying Duhamel/Radford and Peng/Zhang (or Sui/Han, for that matter) are a lock for skating clean. But they’re all looking better than at any other time in recent memory. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Pang/Tong, who’ve probably inspired many a Chinese pair team, as they compete (one last time??) in Shanghai themselves.

For ICE DANCE: Junior dance may have a dominating team right now (in Yanoskaya/Mozgov of Russia); but senior dance sure doesn’t.  Those duties were handed back and forth between two North American teams for four years; from the moment we knew both those teams were skipping last year’s Worlds, speculation ran rampant. And in a season where last year’s World Champs haven’t lived up to form... and the top Russian team has split and re-paired with some truly mixed results... it’s a young French team that has emerged from nearly nowhere as The Ones To Watch. And through it all we still have Weaver/Poje and Chock/Bates, both so very eager to step out of the V/M and D/W shadows. Will Shanghai be the start of a whole new blueprint? To me, this could prove to be the most exciting outcome of all... without a quad or triple jump to be seen!

If you need to see the full schedule for next week’s Worlds, check this out...

Look for my pairs and dance predictions early on Tuesday! 

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