- 4/1 Pairs short: 10:15 a.m. PT / 1:15 p.m. ET / 8:15 p.m Moscow / 2:15 a.m. Tokyo (4/2)
- 4/2 Pairs free: 9:55 a.m. PT / 12:55 p.m. ET / 7:55 p.m. Moscow / 1:55 a.m. Tokyo (4/3)
It's like we went back in time this week in the pairs event at the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships. Names like Savchenko, Volosozhar, Trankov, Stolbova, and Klimov were not even in the field last year, whether it was a break or injury or waiting for permission to compete again (as it was in Savchenko's case).
This week's pairs event in Boston represents the deepest, most talented field of pairs I've ever witnessed, and it's likely that many other observers feel the same way as well. I celebrated the depth of pairs skating this season last November, and it's certainly Out of the 22 pairs in the field, 15 pairs have top 10 potential, and at least five pairs see a clear path to gold in their future. Pairs may not be the marquee event at Worlds, but it's going to be quite an incredible competition this week. Don't even think about missing it.
Rocker Predictions: 2016 Worlds
GOLD Wenjing Sui/Cong Han CHN - They are absolutely roaring into Worlds with their best scores ever at Four Continents. And what their advantage is over a few of the other top teams here is their repertoire of quads. With a consistent quad twist already, they reintroduced the quad salchow at Four Continents, which will do a lot to differentiate them from the best of the best in Boston. Sui/Han came into Worlds last year with the international panel not really giving them their due, but they were seeing upper-8s and lower-9s for their components at Four Continents, which will go a long way to getting them up there with the Volosozhar/Trankovs of the world. China has not won a World title since 2010, when Qing Pang/Jian Tong won their second. Can Sui/Han add a World gold to their three Junior World titles?
SILVER Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot GER - I seem to be on a streak of unexpected predictions this week, and that's exactly where I continue to be with this podium. If you look at the numbers at Europeans, they are grabbing similar component scores as Volosozhar/Trankov, which is absolutely unheard of for a pair in their debut season. Their free skate at Europeans was an absolute mess, and to put it into perspective, Massot had never been in that kind of high-pressure situation before with the best of the world. And so with that experience behind him (and a bit more training under their belts), the time is right and I am seeing quite the phenomenal Worlds debut for Savchenko/Massot.
BRONZE Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov RUS - There are so many unknowns with Stolbova/Klimov this week. We haven't seen them since their exceptional win at the Grand Prix Final, where they just blew everyone out of the water with their free skate. But they missed Russian Nationals and then Europeans with injury. As we saw last year though, when they cut their season short because they didn't feel like they were going to be competitive there, they won't go into a competition as meaningful as Worlds is without being prepared. So even with the question marks, I get the sense that they are ready to go. And while I see clean programs getting them to the top of the podium, it may be a tall order.
4. Tatiana Volosozhar/Maxim Trankov RUS - I doubted their consistency for Europeans (and they proved me wrong), but I'll doubt their consistency again here in Boston. Of the top pairs, the Olympic champs have the lowest technical repertoire - no quads and also no triple-triple sequence or combos for the side-by-sides - but they make up for it in GOEs and components. That throw flip, which is in both programs, is crucial, and it's just not been as steady as they would like it to be. But their short program is what will keep them up high, and they will need to be flawless in the free skate to win their second World title. Side note - I love their Bollywood short program. Watch for that one.
5. Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford CAN - The defending World champions have had a rocky season. The big tricks have been a bit elusive, their trusty lutzes have been inconsistent (the throw in particular, partly due to their early-season focus on the quad lutz), and they had to deal with Duhamel's illness at Four Continents, which zapped her energy so much that they withdrew before the free skate. Getting to this point in the season has not been easy for them, and I get the feeling that they won't feel the pressure of defending the World title. Rather, they are looking to skate their best, which could be the key to them getting back on the podium for a fourth year in a row.
6. Alexa Scimeca/Chris Knierim USA - We've seen this season that Scimeca/Knierim are capable of 70-point short programs and 140-point free skates, which really make them dangerous. Last year, they became the highest-placing American pair at Worlds since 2011, when Caitlin Yankowskas/John Coughlin were sixth. And they are an outside shot at top five, but they really should be looking at these Worlds Championships as a stepping stone. Two clean programs, and perhaps some mistakes from their competitors, could really set them up well not only for a top-five finish but also for component marks that will make them competitive with the best in the world next season. Four Continents was a breakthrough for them, but Worlds could be an even bigger turning point in their career.
7. Cheng Peng/Hao Zhang CHN - Originally not on the roster for Team China here, Peng/Zhang replaced Yu/Jin last week after a final domestic test skate. (WATCH: Test skate SP | Test skate FS) Like Sui/Han, Peng/Zhang also have a throw quad sal and a quad twist planned for their free skate, though they have never landed the sal in international competition. They were fourth here last season.
8. Evgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov RUS - Europeans was not a great competition for them, with inconsistency that we've seen bits and pieces of this season in their free skate. But they have to be inspired by their performances at Russian Nationals, where they debuted a quad twist for the first time but narrowly lost the silver to Yuko Kavaguti/Alexander Smirnov.
9. Tarah Kayne/Daniel O'Shea USA - The U.S. champs are making their Worlds debut this week with a bit of a dark horse status. Their performances at Nationals were phenomenal, but they couldn't repeat it at Four Continents, where they finished fourth. But their status on the international scene has been moving upward all season. Two clean programs could get them up there, perhaps with an outside chance to get three spots for the U.S. for the first time since 2003.
10. Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres FRA - The French champs have been in the top ten at Worlds for the past three seasons, but they will certainly be fighting for it even more this year with the talent in this field. They have upgraded their technical elements in the free skate to a throw quad salchow and side-by-side triple toe-triple toes, so a strong showing in the technical department could move them up.
Others of note
Nicole Della Monica/Matteo Guarise ITA - This season has been absolutely a breakthrough one for them. They are getting component marks like they have never gotten before, thanks to great improvements in their skating as a pair. They were sixth at Europeans and 14th last season at Worlds.
Lubov Iliushechkina/Dylan Moscovitch CAN - Fifth at Four Continents, Iliushechkina/Moscovitch have been a bit inconsistent this season, but their performances at Canadians were tremendous and put them on this World team.
Valentina Marchei/Ondrej Hotarek ITA - Fifth at Europeans, Marchei/Hotarek skated their best free skate of the season there. And they will be looking to crack the top ten after last year's 11th place. They are one of three pairs in the competition (Duhamel/Radford and Miriam Ziegler/Severin Kiefer being the others) with side-by-side triple lutzes, the most difficult side-by-sides in the world.
Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro CAN - A scary fall in the short program at Canadians left Moore-Towers/Marinaro reeling and eventually off the podium again. But with Seguin/Bilodeau's withdrawal a few weeks back, Moore-Towers/Marinaro got a second chance to redeem their season. They will be making their Worlds debut as a team (Moore-Towers has been to Worlds three other times with Moscovitch).
Xuehan Wang/Lei Wang CHN - If there were to be any pair that you think would get axed in favor of Peng/Zhang, you would think it would be Wang/Wang, who has been solidly the fourth-ranked pair from China all season. But they skated strongly at the test skate, which helped bump Yu/Jin off the team. They will be making their Worlds debut.