We thought last year's pairs' event at Worlds was insane, but this year's is proving to be even more incredible. There are something like ten pairs who have a legitimate shot at the podium this week in Helsinki for the World Championships. Might this be the deepest, most competitive pairs lineup ever? I'd say so.
With this lineup, just qualifying for the free skate will be a feat in itself. These pairs know that they absolutely will need to be on their game in the short program, because a slip up or two could drop them outside the top 16. And speaking of top 16, I'll make a top 16 prediction for the very first time. Here goes nothing.
2017 World Championships predictions
Official hashtag: #WorldFigure #helsinki2017
GOLD Wenjing Sui/Cong Han CHN - Six weeks ago, I would've thought I went out of my mind if I thought I would have Sui/Han at the top of the podium here in Helsinki. But their Four Continents performances showed that they were already in great shape with more still training time to go. But it's not only the elements coming back that has made the difference, it's the fact that they have dialed it up another notch in their performances and their commitment to their choreography that make them my pick for the title. They need their quad twist in the free, but if they can get through the side-by-sides, the title will be theirs.
SILVER Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot GER - Coming back from an injury of their own, Savchenko/Massot are here after Savchenko was out for a few weeks with an ankle injury on a wonky landing on the throw triple axel. They proved at Europeans that they could put up huge scores even without the throw triple axel or the throw quad salchow. And in a lot of ways, their podium chances this week will probably hinge on how ambitious they feel. Given clean skates from everyone, they can't win without one of those tricks (or at least bringing back the throw triple flip). But their more difficult throws have also proven to not be consistent enough yet, which could very much keep them from the podium altogether.
BRONZE Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford CAN - The two-time and reigning champs have had an up-and-down season, and they have gone back to the drawing board with their programs since Four Continents to refine their skating and regain their motivation heading into Helsinki. We saw last year that they are capable of producing magic with their performances, and it will likely take a similar effort for them to go three in a row. That said, what they have over the other teams still is difficulty, and the question will be whether or not the consistency is back this week.
4. Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres FRA - I'm going for it. James/Cipres is going to shake up this competition like they shook up the European Championships two months ago. Of all the teams here, they are the ones who have really transformed themselves this season - this is very much an instance where a coaching switch gave skaters a completely fresh perspective on skating. Their programs this season, especially the free skate, are top notch, and they may just reach heights that they never thought were possible until this year.
5. Evgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov RUS - On a two-competition winning streak internationally, Tarasova/Morozov have shown that they are truly contenders this season. It's the sheer brilliance in the execution of their elements that have propelled them up this season. But it's a question of whether or not they can sustain their consistency through the entire competition - and whether or not they are bringing back the quad twist after taking it out at Euros, which actually has proven to be detrimental to their scores because of its execution relative to their triple twist. They trail the top teams just a tad in components, and that could be the difference.
6. Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov RUS - Fourth at Europeans was likely not what Stolbova/Klimov were hoping for. But their throw flip abandoned them there, and they sometimes lack the dynamism in their big tricks that their competitors have. Components-wise, they are very much one of the best - two clean programs get them to the podium, but that said, you still have to factor in her injury that took them out of competition for the first half of the season.
7. Xiaoyu Yu/Hao Zhang CHN - Four Continents proved to be a bit off for Yu/Zhang, who had been looking so strong all season. They even upgraded their difficulty there with a quad twist, but other mistakes took them off the podium. They came back a week later, though, and absolutely destroyed the competition. So which pair is going to show up this week?
8. Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Chris Knierim USA - 2016 was life-changing for Knierim/Knierim. They were coming off their best season and had gotten married when Alexa became seriously ill and had to have multiple surgeries just to stay alive. It's quite the story that they have been able to work their way back to being a world-class pair team in just a few months. They skate this week with very different priorities than they ever have, and it may very well be this change that will help them reach new heights in their skating.
9. Lubov Ilyushechkina/Dylan Moscovitch CAN - The bronze at Four Continents proved that Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch could break through to compete with the top pairs. Though they were able to squeak through their side-by-sides at Four Continents, it's still the inconsistency in those jumps that could be the liability here this week.
10. Natalja Zabiiako/Alexander Enbert RUS - The third Russian pair here are elegant with fantastic elements. They make their Worlds debut this week and could be dark horses for a top six finish.
11. Valentina Marchei/Ondrej Hotarek ITA - There have been some breakthroughs this season with Marchei/Hotarek, who have really gelled as a pair this season. Their commitment to putting on a good show for the audience is as good as any of the other pairs here, and that will serve them well as they try to break into the top 10 at Worlds for the first time. Two clean programs could do it, but they have not brought the side-by-side lutzes back into their repertoire since earlier in the season. And that advantage in base value could mean a lot for their chances.
12. Julianne Seguin/Charlie Bilodeau CAN - This is very much a question mark pair. We haven't seen Seguin/Bilodeau in action since the Grand Prix Final. They withdrew from Canadians due to her concussion just days before the competition, and it remains to be seen how well they have recovered from that injury.
13. Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier USA - 12th in their Worlds debut two years ago, Denney/Frazier, like many of the other teams, are coming back from major injury and surgery. And that recovery has kept Denney from being at her best in her solo jumps, which will be key to their success this week.
14. Anna Duskova/Martin Bidar CZE - They thrilled the home crowd with a seventh-place finish in their very first Europeans two months ago. The World junior champions will be making their senior Worlds debut and should prove that they are ones to watch for the future.
15. Nicole Della Monica/Matteo Guarise ITA - The two-time Italian champs have been more inconsistent than they would like this season. Their elements and components have grown tons over the past season, and they have top 10 potential.
16. Miriam Ziegler/Severin Kiefer AUT - After a couple of tough outings earlier in the season, they seem to have found their stride again, finishing ninth at Europeans. But with the level of this competition, it will require them to skate a clean short to get into the free skate for the first time. It's very possible, especially given the base value advantage from their side-by-side triple lutzes.
Others to watch:
Ekaterina Alexandrovskaya/Harley Windsor AUS - They just came off making history two weeks ago by being the first Australian skaters to ever win a World title, junior or senior. But they enter Helsinki facing a very different level of competition and will need to be clean to have a shot at getting into the free skate.
Zoe Jones/Christopher Boyadji GBR - The British champs have a very outside chance at qualifying for the free skate, but you can't not talk about the inspiration that they have been in their first season together. Jones is 37 years old and competing in her first Worlds since 2001, when she was a singles skater. To top that off, she skated at her first Worlds in 1997. What a story.
Tae Ok Ryom/Ju Sik Kim PRK - Bronze at the Asian Winter Games, Ryom/Kim will be making their debut at Worlds. And after taking great strides with their skating this season, they could put North Korean pair skating on the map.
Sumire Suto/Francis Boudreau-Audet JPN - A clean short program will give the Japanese champs a strong chance at getting into the free skate. They have made massive improvements in their skating this season, but they have to watch out for those side-by-sides.