This week in Nice, France, the best skaters on the planet will compete in the 2012 ISU World Figure Skating Championships. With only two years until the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, both the skaters competing and the countries they represent are lining up their top skaters to establish pre-Olympic dominance. For Team USA, the stakes are high, having qualified only two athletes in the Men, Women, and Pairs events. The skaters must finish high enough in the competition to qualify a full roster of three skaters for next years critical pre-Olympic year Worlds in 2013.
With the 2014 Sochi Russia Olympics nearing, the Russian figure skaters are lined up in the Junior division and set to make their Senior debuts in 2013. The "wunderkids" as they are referred to include World Junior Champion Julia Lipnitskaia, who isn't competing in Nice because she isn't age eligible. Next year she, along with several other top Russian teens including Elizaveta Tuktamisheva, are set to take the international skating world by storm with their incredible flexibility and triple-triple jump combinations.
For skaters like US National Champion Ashley Wagner and former US Champion Alissa Czisny, both in their 20's, this presents a possible "now or never" approach to this year's Worlds. Neither have consistent triple-triples and each are nearing the end of long careers in the senior division. The same can be said for Italy's Carolina Kostner, now 25 and competing in her 10th Senior Worlds. If Wagner and Czisny can earn a total placement of 13, Team USA will get to send 3 athletes to London, Ontario for next years 2013 World Figure Skating Championships. However, if they don't, next years Worlds could be filled with so many top Russian contenders that making the podium could be next to impossible. Additionally, with US Junior Champion Gracie Gold set to enter the Seniors next year, either Czisny or Wagner could get shut out of competing on the US World team without a third spot available.
Picks: 1st: Asada, 2nd: Wagner, 3rd: Kostner (wild card: Akiko Suzuki)
On the Men's side, last years decision of United States Figure Skating not to send then two-time National Champion and Senior Grand Prix Finals Champion, Jeremy Abbott, turned into a disaster for the team and ended with only two qualifiers for this year's competition. This year Abbott dominated the US Nationals, winning his third title and a consistent Adam Rippon will also compete. The Men's field is completely wide open with any number of possible medalists. Reigning World Champ Patrick Chan is my pick to win with Japan's Daisuke Takahashi or Yuzuru Hanyu battling Abbott for the podium.
Picks: 1st: Chan, 2nd: Takahashi, 3rd: Abbott (wild card: Hanyu or Javier Fernandez)
Last year, the US Ice Dance team of Meryl Davis and Charlie White won the first ever World Championship for the USA. This year the team will be head-to-head with 2010 World Champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir in what is arguably the most competitive rivalry in ice dance history. Each of these teams are vying for domination as they head to Sochi.
Picks: 1st: Virtue/Moir, 2nd: Davis/White, 3rd: Pechalat/Bourzat (wild card: The Shibutani's)
Team USA pairs...sigh. Well, there will be no medal hopes for either the teams of Caydee Denney and John Coughlin or Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker. The best team to watch of these two is Marley/Brubaker as this team will be the future of USA pairs.
Picks: 1st: Savchenko/Szolkowy, 2nd: Pang/Tong, 3rd: Volosozhar/Trankov (wild card: Zhang/Zhang)
These are just my 2-cents of picks for this year's Worlds. Feel free to leave your comments on who you think could dominate the competitions or follow me on Twitter @anbrittstengele or on Google+ Google