In its five incarnations, World Team Trophy has been won by either Team Japan or Team United States. The last time it took place two years ago, it was Japan who took its second Trophy. As we’ve seen in figure skating team competitions, little momentum shifts can make a huge difference in the final outcomes - just ask Team Italy at the Olympics, who, at one point, looked like they could be in line to pull off an upset bronze medal. But before predictions, a few things to note about this team format:
The keys to victory
There are a few very specific things about how World Team Trophy is scored that change the way that the scoring leans. A few notes for viewers that may change the way you root for your favorite team(s):
Team scores are based on placements - Each team's total score is based on placements (in singles, 12 points for 1st through 1 point for 12th; in pairs/dance, 12 points for 1st through 7 points for 6th), so it doesn't matter how large your margin of victory is; it only matters that you finish ahead of other skaters.
Short and free are separate - There is no combined total for skaters, so if a skater/team bombs one program, he/she/they can still contribute greatly to the team score in the other program.
Pairs/dance provide a different dynamic - You'll notice that there are six pairs and six dance teams, as opposed to 12 men and 12 women. Why is that important? Well, the scoring is that the pairs and dance teams finishing lowest still get SEVEN points, whereas the single skaters who finish lowest only get ONE point. In that way, teams with less prowess in pairs and dance have less of a disadvantage than teams with less prowess in singles.
2019 World Team Trophy predictions
Official hashtag: #WTTFigure
1. Team United States
2. Team Japan
3. Team Russia
4. Team France
5. Team Canada
6. Team Italy
With Yuzuru Hanyu not here while trying to get his ankle in better shape for next season, Team Japan’s chances for the title take a pretty big dip, especially since their singles skaters are the ones who provide the biggest boost to their competitiveness in this event. So if Japan is to win its third Trophy, they will absolutely need Keiji Tanaka to skate to his potential. At his best, Tanaka is very much a top five skater here, which changes the calculus of the entire event. But he has been inconsistent the past couple of seasons, which makes him a liability to teammate Shoma Uno’s steadiness.
Likewise, for Team Russia, their men’s placements here could say a lot about their chances at their first win here. Mikhail Kolyada withdrew with more sinusitis issues, leaving them with Alexander Samarin and Andrei Lazukin, both solid skaters who can sneak in there. The US comes in with the World champion and the World bronze medalist and looks to be potentially strongest in this discipline, Nathan Chen and Vincent Zhou will want to be at the top of their game again.
The X-factor(s) comes with the skaters from the other three teams that may not have the strongest all-around teams in the field. They might not finish on the podium, but the likes of Keegan Messing, Matteo Rizzo, and Kevin Aymoz could really turn the standings around if they finish near the top.
Much like the US in the men’s event, Russia had two medalists on the ladies’ podium at Worlds just a few weeks ago. But neither World champion Alina Zagitova nor World bronze medalist Evgenia Medvedeva will be in Fukuoka for World Team Trophy. That said, Russia’s ladies are so deep that they still sending two of the best in the world in European champ Sofia Samodurova and Grand Prix Final bronze medalist Elizaveta Tuktamysheva.
Their biggest competition will come from the home team, with Rika Kihira and Kaori Sakamoto - fourth and fifth at Worlds - looking to do a lot of the work to potentially carry Team Japan. And for the US, both top ten at Worlds a few weeks ago, Bradie Tennell and Mariah Bell will be solid scorers for the team - overperforming expectations here will go a long ways for them to potentially widen the gap between them and the rest of the field.
For Team Japan to have a chance at the title here, Kihira and Sakamoto will both be looking for top three finishes - this is their strongest discipline. For Team United States to win, Tennell and Bell will need to skate the way that they did at Worlds. Once again, Canada has an X-factor in the mix, with Gabrielle Daleman having the potential to throw a wrench in the top teams’ plans. Team Canada may not be a medal favorite here, but they have the individual scoring potential to really mix things up.
As usual, Team Japan’s weakest discipline won’t be as huge of a disadvantage as it otherwise would have been because the minimum score you can get here per program is seven points. Barring big, huge surprises, Riku Miura/Shoya Ichichashi will be that number six team. But here is where things get potentially advantageous for a team like Russia. If Natalia Zabiiako/Alexander Enbert can put some space between them and Ashley Cain/Timothy LeDuc in both programs, the outlook for Team USA takes a dip in favor of Team Russia. And there are enough top pairs in this group that Cain/LeDuc could very well finish anywhere from third to fifth. No time like the present to prove that they belong in the 70+ and 140+ clubs.
The same prognosis goes for Team Japan in dance. Though Misato Komatsubara/Tim Koleto are a solid dance team, the other five here are five of the top eight finishers at Worlds. So once again, in the bigger scheme of the title fight, the relative difference in standings between Victoria Sinitsina/Nikita Katsalapov and Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue will determine a lot.
But in a lot of ways, the almost guaranteed first place of Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron means that if there is to be a lead for Sinitsina/Katasalapov over Hubbell/Donohue, it is capped to a maximum of a second-place to fifth-place difference. That said, Hubbell/Donohue will be looking to reverse the standings that they had at Worlds, where they finished behind Sinitsina/Katsalapov. Much like in the ladies’ event, the presence of Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje from Team Canada can shake things up a bit for those title hopes.