If you think the men's field at the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships is something else, the ladies' competition is even more intense when you look at who has the potential to win it all. At their best, there are at least seven skaters who are all-around enough to get to the top of the podium. And if you look beyond that, there are over 15 skaters who are capable of finishing in the top ten. That's kind of my way of saying that you should really take these predictions with a grain of salt. Anything can happen with the amount of talent we have in Boston next week. But hey, it's still fun to predict, right?
And if you haven't been following the skating season until now, you'll notice that the defending World champion, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, didn't even qualify for Worlds after a season of inconsistencies. That leaves us with only one skater who has won Worlds, Mao Asada.
But for many in the audience at TD Garden next week, the storyline will be all about that American "drought." It has been seven years since any American singles skater has won a medal at Worlds (Evan Lysacek's gold in 2009 in LA) and exactly a decade since any American woman has won a medal at Worlds (Kimmie Meissner and Sasha Cohen took gold and bronze in 2006). Boston will be the best look that Gracie Gold, Mirai Nagasu, and Ashley Wagner will have - their jumps and components have never been better, and they will have home crowd support. All three of them are looking for the magic of two clean programs to propel them to the podium. Will it finally be the time for it?
- Ladies short: 9:10 a.m. PT / 12:10 p.m. ET / 7:10 p.m. Moscow / 1:10 a.m. Tokyo (4/1)
- Ladies free: 4:00 p.m. PT / 7:00 p.m. ET / 2:00 a.m. Moscow / 8:00 a.m. Tokyo (4/3)
Rocker Predictions: 2016 Worlds
GOLD Evgenia Medvedeva RUS - Fact: Only one Junior World champion has ever won Senior Worlds the following year, and that was Ekaterina Gordeeva/Sergei Grinkov (1985 Junior World champions, 1986 World champions). Medvedeva is gunning to become the first singles skater to have that honor, and she's set up well for it. Why can she do it and not, say, Elena Radionova last year? Or Yuna Kim in 2007? Or Irina Slutskaya in 1996? She's proven this season that she's got both the technical and the components to get there. Kim and Slutskaya took a few more years to get to their first World title, but they weren't the all-around skater that Medvedeva is during their first Worlds - just look at the near World record scores she got at Grand Prix Final. Is Medvedeva a lock? Not at all. But odds are just slightly in her favor among the co-favorites.
But really, let's look at those other co-favorites ... it's quite a doozy of a preview.
SILVER Ashley Wagner USA
BRONZE Satoko Miyahara JPN
4. Gracie Gold USA
5. Elena Radionova RUS
6. Mirai Nagasu USA
7. Mao Asada JPN
Chances for Gold and Wagner
Some will declare their love for me and want to shower me with gifts and kisses. Some will tell me it's a stretch but they can see it. Some will be ok with this. Some will say this is a pipe dream. Some will tell me to get a life because I'm too Ameri-centric. Some might even call me names. Anyway you look at it, what I'm predicting beyond 1-2 will be heavily debated in the Twitterverse and beyond. But whichever camp you're in, hear me out.
It would be disingenuous of me to discount the home ice factor here. Worlds hasn't been on American ice since 2009, and the crowd in Boston next week will be a push that can very much favor the Americans. Where it will be a factor most is in situations where the jumps and components are close calls and one little thing can tip the scales. And so it's more than feasible to see one of either Gracie Gold or Ashley Wagner get on the podium. After all, look at their record at Worlds coming in.
And because of that, the prospects of a World medal for the American ladies are higher than they've been in a decade. If they skate clean programs, their components will most certainly get that home-ice boost, which will be the difference between where they've been the past few years and where they could end up next week in Boston.
Among the three American entries, Wagner and Gold have the best chances for that World medal. Wagner's personal bests this season point to a momentum that she has continued to gain since last season. Gold has had personal bests of her own, which also point positively toward medal contention. But they both come in with some question marks. Gold's is perhaps the most disappointing - with her last performances being a fifth at Four Continents, where she was favored for at least silver but looked out of sorts. Wagner hasn't skated a clean short since Skate Canada last fall, which cost her a Grand Prix Final medal and her fourth National title. And both have to watch out for the possibility of edge calls, which could spell trouble for them.
The short program will absolutely be crucial for both Gold and Wagner. Their past few Worlds have been all about free skate comebacks, and so short program blunders have very much been the reason they haven't been able to convert for that elusive medal. Both of them need to hit perfect short programs to have a shot. Beyond that, though, Gold holds the American record for the short and Wagner holds the American record for the free. Four clean programs could even get them both on the podium. But first thing's first - get that short program done.
The incumbents - Miyahara and Radionova
But if you want to be risk averse, defending silver medalist Satoko Miyahara is the best probabilities-based bet for the podium. She's been holding her own this season after a surprise podium finish last year. Her respect from the international panel has sky-rocketed, and she's finally getting the recognition for her performance abilities. What she's got is consistent jumps; what she doesn't have relative to the other co-favorites is big jumps, and that may be the thing that keeps her from getting the World title.
Last year's bronze medalist, Elena Radionova, has been a breath of fresh air this season - not because she is consistently delivering like she was last year, but because she has had some growing pains this season but has persevered. And in the process, she's pushed more personality and emotion into her programs, which has endeared a lot of people as the season has gone on.
The Asada factor
It has certainly been a puzzling (and likely frustrating) season for Mao Asada. She started strongly at Japan Open, only to struggle with inconsistencies and illness, culminating in a sixth-place at Grand Prix Final and a bronze at Japan Nationals. And so we haven't seen her in competition since December, since she opted to skip Four Continents in favor of regrouping and training. We could see a rejuvenated Asada next week, but it sure seems like her confidence just hasn't been where it needs to be.
With U.S. silver medalist Polina Edmunds' withdrawal earlier this week, Mirai Nagasu gets yet another chance to extend her return-to-glory season. Her silver at Four Continents was a bit of a surprise, but it was more so a validation of her place in the figure skating world. She is a stronger jumper and a better skater than in 2010, when she was fourth at the Olympics and seventh at her first and only Worlds so far. And this second chance could really be her springboard to a new, more glorious chapter of her career. Count Nagasu in as a dark horse for the podium. But the question is how prepared will she be as the alternate-turned-competitor for Worlds?
8. Anna Pogorilaya RUS - The Russian bronze medalist's falls are well-documented. But she has battled back to be at Worlds for a third consecutive season. The last time we saw Pogorilaya was at Europeans, where she took a couple more of those out-of-control falls. Confidence will be an important factor for her, and two clean programs can certainly put her in the top five, with an outside shot at the podium.
9. Rika Hongo JPN - Hongo may have peaked too early this season. She came out guns-blazing at Finlandia Trophy and Cup of China, only to make more mistakes than we are used to from her in later competitions. I was pretty bullish on Hongo's chances in the early fall, but it's tough to see her really breaking through this week. She just doesn't have the momentum or the clout for it.
10. Elizabet Tursynbaeva KAZ - A nosebleed during her short program took her out of the running last week at Junior Worlds, but the way she fought back in the free skate was exactly what she wanted to have coming into Worlds. I'll say it again, though - it's tough to imagine that she isn't having competition fatigue after competing in over 12 events already this season.
Others to watch for
Alaine Chartrand CAN - Chartrand has the technical goods to get her into the top ten, but it's been tough for her to put together clean performances internationally. The short is her strength, and she will be looking to put herself in fighting chance with a clean one.
Da Bin Choi KOR - The Korean silver medalist won't challenge for the very top, but she's got some super jumps and will be someone to keep an eye on for future seasons.
Gabrielle Daleman CAN - Like her teammate, Daleman struggles with putting together clean skates internationally, though she had a couple of mini-breakthroughs this season and will be looking to crack the top ten for the first time.
Angelina Kuchvalska LAT - Seventh at Junior Worlds after a surprise fourth at Europeans, Kuchvalska has had a solid sophomore season. But she's had very inconsistent results, which makes her a bit of a tough bet for this week.
Roberta Rodeghiero ITA - Fifth at Europeans, Rodeghiero is having her strongest season ever. She will certainly be looking for a career-high finish after a 20th last season. Two strong skates will set her up well as she looks to continue moving up on the international scene.