So, it’s time: The World Championships start this week in Helsinki! And, while all World championships are important, this is the big one: The pre-Olympic Worlds. The final Worlds before Pyeongchang. What happens in Helsinki will help set the stage for the Olympics.
How important is the pre-Olympic Worlds? Well, let’s look back at the last one: 2013 Worlds in London, Ontario. Of the 12 medalists in London, 8 reached the podium in Sochi. Of the 4 gold-medal winners in London, 2 were also gold medalists in Sochi. So yeah … This event is pretty important!
While some skaters will battle for medals in Helsinki, others will seek simply to qualify their country for one or more Olympic spots. For the pairs, 16 of 20 available Olympic berths will be decided in Helsinki.
Perhaps due to Olympic qualification, this year’s Worlds has attracted one of the largest pairs fields in recent memory: 28 pairs are entered. Of those, only the top 16 will move on to the long program. With so much at stake, the pressure will be intense. But hopefully, the potential rewards will motivate the pairs to deliver some great performances!
Here are my pairs predictions for Worlds. I want to note that these are predictions … not a personal wish list! (In fact, I’d love to be proved wrong on some of these!) I’ve arranged my picks in tiers, to try to give a sense of which teams are in close competition. To arrive at the predictions, I looked in detail at ISU season’s-best score lists, competition results, video of performances, and my own compilation of average scores throughout the season.
Tier 1: Potential Medalists
I consider all 6 pairs in this top tier to be potential medalists in Helsinki. They have the top 6 ISU season’s-best total scores and LP scores; all have won important medals or titles. There’s so much talent and success in this group that I find it really hard to predict who will come out on top! What makes it even more harder is that two teams (Sui/Han, Stolbova/Klimov) have only competed once internationally this season. Plus, we don’t know the exact jump layout some of the teams will use (Savchenko/Massot, in particular). Below are my medal picks; but I fully expect some surprises.
GOLD Sui/Han I feel Sui/Han are the team most likely to stand on top of the podium. Sui/Han enter the event as two-time and reigning World silver medalists. And, although they’re coming back from surgery (Sui), they just won Four Continents in stunning style, setting new personal-best scores in the LP/overall, and followed with a solid performance at a domestic competition in China. Of all the pairs right now, I think Sui/Han have the best combination of strong technical elements + great performance quality. Sui/Han are a formidable team technically because their elements are both consistent and high-quality; they typically get outstanding GOE marks (e.g., +24.18 points GOE at Four Continents). Last year, Sui/Han struggled in the long program because they were attempting the throw quad Salchow, an element they could only hit about half the time. This season, they’re going for throw triple Salchow– which substantially raises their consistency. As long as Sui/Han stick with their current jump layout, I think their odds of winning are excellent. In the long program at Worlds, I expect they will hit 3 out of 4 jumping passes cleanly and with positive GOE. They’ll also have a fine quad twist and excellent lifts. The sole weakness in their technical package is the side-by-side (SBS) triple Salchow. But I believe they’ll go for full rotation on the Salchow at Worlds and, if they stay vertical, will likely win. Not only are Sui/Han very strong technically, they’re also superb performers. Their charisma and magnetism is a major weapon, and their programs are very good. It’s been a long wait for Sui/Han, but I think their time may have finally come.
SILVER Tarasova/Morozov What a season it’s been for the young Russians! Coming into Worlds, they have 2 major titles (GP Final, Europeans), plus the highest overall score (227.58) and SP score (80.82) of the season. On paper, they appear to be the likely gold medalists. However, my instinct is they won’t quite get there in Helsinki. The quality of their programs and artistry simply isn’t as strong as the other top teams, and I think ultimately it will keep them from the top step. And, although they’re very good technically, there are some weak points in their arsenal. The biggest issue is lifts: Tarasova/Morozov’s lifts just aren’t as fast, smooth, or secure as some of their competitors’. Tarasova/Morozov are also vulnerable on the SBS jumps, where they often have minor errors. On the other hand, their skating skills, speed, and amplitude are among the best in the field (second only to Stolbova/Klimov), and this will help greatly. Plus, they should have strong crowd support from Russians traveling to nearby Finland for the event. My sense is that Tarasova/Morozov will probably have another excellent SP; and that will be enough to put them on the podium. But they’ll be outshone in the LP by Sui/Han and fall short of the title.
BRONZE Savchenko/Massot I feel like Savchenko/Massot are the biggest wild cards in this event. We saw what they’re capable of at Europeans: They set the highest LP score of the season among all pairs; they had the highest PCS LP score of any team (1.5-pt advantage). If everyone were to skate clean, I think Savchenko/Massot would probably win. But, skating clean is the issue for Savchenko/Massot. Although their programs and non-jump elements are superb, Savchenko/Massot have significant weaknesses on the technical side. They haven’t been able to settle on a LP jump layout this season; their SBS jumps have been on-and-off; and they struggled with throw jumps until Europeans. However, their biggest hurdle is the short program. They have yet to skate a clean short program this season—which is a big problem, considering they’re facing 2 teams (Sui/Han and Tarasova/Morozov) who excel in the short program. That’s why I have Savchenko/Massot in bronze position. Given their record, it just seems likely that Aliona/Bruno will wind up behind S/H and T/M in the SP. That, plus technical inconsistency in the LP, will likely make it difficult to win overall. You always hear skaters say that their biggest competition is themselves. I think that’s particularly the case for Savchenko/Massot this year. The judges respect them immensely, and they could very will win this title in Helsinki. But to do so, they have to get out of their own way. They tend to reach for the stars in their skating–which is exactly what makes them so special. But in this case, they just need to reach for 2 clean programs. 🙂
4th Stolbova/Klimov It’s really hard to guess where this team will end up. They’ve only been able to compete twice this year; yet they were right back in the mix competitively at Europeans. Despite flawed performances, Stolbova/Klimov’s total PCS at Europeans was very close to T/M’s and S/M’s. Their GOE marks were also quite strong—making it clear the judges will amply reward clean skating from them, when it comes. Will it come at Helsinki? The odds are against it. Stolbova/Klimov lost probably 6 months of training time in 2016; as a result, they were far from their best technically at Russian Nationals and Europeans. This past year, they’ve dealt with 3 lingering, chronic-type injuries that have been difficult to diagnose and treat effectively (Fedor: shoulder, wrist; Ksenia: foot). There were real concerns that these injuries could end their career. My head tells me that it will be hard for Stolbova/Klimov to overcome the lost training time and that they’ll place 4th, 5th, or even 6th at Worlds. My heart tells me that Stolbova/Klimov didn’t come back from all this just to place off the podium again. Which is right? I don’t know. For now, I have them in 4th place.
5th Duhamel/Radford Their numbers and results this season suggest that Duhamel/Radford will not make it to the podium. They retain a significant average base-value advantage (3+ pts) relative to the field, due largely to the SBS 3Lz. However, they just haven’t been skating their best this season, making a lot of uncharacteristic errors. And although their PCS/programs are good (average PCS 4th overall), this is still not their strong suit relative to the other top teams. To medal or win at Helsinki, they’ll have to skate pretty clean technically and put the errors behind them. And it’s very possible, and even likely, that Duhamel/Radford will do just that. Because–who can forget their spectacular comeback at Worlds last year? Duhamel/Radford have been on the World podium for 4 consecutive years; if anyone knows how to deal with the pressure and rise to the occasion, it’s them. They’ve recently made a lot of choreographic changes that they feel have reinvigorated their programs. Plus, knowing it’s the last big competition of the season may help, and they’ll have nice support from the crowd, due to Meagan’s Finnish heritage. I’ve put Duhamel/Radford in 5th place simply because of their numbers and results this season. But I won’t be the least surprised if they prove me wrong and again stand on the podium.
6th James/Cipres It’s actually a huge victory for James/Cipres to even be considered among this group. This was the breakthrough year they’ve been hoping for since Sochi. Their scores at Europeans, particularly their technical scores, have brought them to a new level. With the 3rd-best LP score of the season (145.84), and an ever-improving throw quad Salchow in their arsenal, James/Cipres must be considered a legitimate medal threat at Worlds. But the question is, will they be able to maintain that level at Worlds? James/Cipres’s total score at Europeans was 20 points higher than their previous personal-best this season. James/Cipres’s strong point is their base value, rather than GOE or PCS. At Worlds, they’ll need to focus on rotating their SBS jumps and throw quad Salchow in order to keep that base value high.
Tier 2: Close to the Top
There are quite a few pairs challenging the top group this year and working hard to break into the medals. The pairs in this tier are all within the top 11 on the ISU season’s-best list. All won Grand Prix events or medals this season; several made it to the Grand Prix Final; and one won a major ISU championship medal.
7th Yu/Zhang This new pair had a fantastic season, winning 3 Grand Prix medals in all. And although they faltered a bit at Four Continents, they quickly got back on form at the Asian Winter Games. Yu/Zhang have made a big impression on the judges this season with the quality of their technical elements. Their twist and throws are huge; their SBS jumps are strong as well. Their average GOE scores are among the highest of all pairs. And their average PCS score is also in the top 10 (although their programs are more adequate than inspired). In their first Worlds, the only question is their lack of experience together. But Yu/Zhang should lead this group easily. And if any of the top 6 teams falter, they’ll be the ones to move up the standings.
8th Ilyushechkina/Moscovitch The current Canadian #2 team is heading into Worlds with strong momentum. They had a fine showing at Canadian Nationals in January and won bronze at Four Continents in February. Their average PCS and GOE marks are in the top 8, indicating the judges regard them highly. Lubov’s SBS jumps were inconsistent on the Grand Prix–but she landed them when it really mattered at Four Continents. The SBS jumps are the only area of concern for Lubov/Dylan. The rest of their skating is looking terrific right now.
9th Zabijako/Enbert The #3 Russians have been so consistent this year. They’re performing technical content they’re comfortable with and can reliably complete. Their base value, although not the highest, has been very consistent from event to event. Because they’re so secure with their content, I expect continued success for them at Worlds. Their PCS lags a bit behind the rest of this group, but is still good. I think the only variable is nerves—it’s the first Worlds for both partners. However, they’ll be with very experienced teammates and coaches, which should help.
10th Seguin/Bilodeau It’s been an odd year for Seguin/Bilodeau. They started with a great win at Autumn Classic, where they earned their highest scores of the season. But at Skate America, they started having problems with their SBS jumps (after trying to add triple loops to the short program). They managed to make the Grand Prix Final but came in only 5th, and their total (186.85) was 20+ points off their season’s-best. Then Julianne sustained a concussion, and they missed Canadian Nationals. With all this, it’s hard to know how Seguin/Bilodeau will do at Worlds. Much of their success has been based on technical consistency, especially on the SBS jumps. Without that consistency, their scores drop more toward the middle of the pack. And with this year’s LP receiving mixed reviews, I don’t see Seguin/Bilodeau getting big PCS scores at Worlds (unless they do hit their jumps).
Tier 3: Rounding Out the Top 15
The pairs in this group all had solid, respectable results this season: Three won Challenger Series or Junior Grand Prix events; another won a senior Grand Prix medal. However, they’re not quite ready to challenge for medals at Worlds. They will be looking to place as high as possible in this group and, in a best-case scenario, break into the top 10.
11th Knierims After missing the Grand Prix season, Alexa/Chris had a successful (and emotional) return to competition at Four Continents. Although they had some technical issues, they received quite strong GOE and PCS marks, indicating the judges still see them as a top team. That’s a very encouraging sign for Worlds. However, I feel Worlds may not be easy for Alexa/Chris. In only their second competition back, they’ll be carrying the weight of U.S. Olympic qualification hopes—plus trying to overcome some bad mojo from last year’s Worlds, which was a disappointing event for them. Combine this with the fact that Alexa/Chris aren’t the most consistent competitors, and it could be a bit of a nail-biter in Helsinki. On the other hand, if Alexa/Chris keep those nerves in check and hit most of their elements, they definitely have potential to move into the top 10.
12th Marchei/Hotarek The Italians are on the upswing heading into Worlds; their scores and placements have steadily improved the last few months, and they were 6th at Europeans. Marchei/Hotarek’s strong point is their base value; they’ve been completing and rotating enough elements to keep their base value high. Their quality/GOE marks aren’t particularly great, though, and I feel like their PCS potential has been held down this season by mediocre programs (particularly the LP), as well as unison/coordination issues. However, if they continue on their current trajectory, they should place fairly high in this group.
13th Duskova/Bidar Last year’s Junior World champions had an excellent showing at Europeans, their first major senior competition. Duskova/Bidar showed few nerves at Europeans and executed their technical elements well. As you would expect, their presentation/programs lack the maturity and interest of the more senior teams; however, their technical scores kept them competitive. I think we’ll see more of the same at Worlds: Strong TES, average PCS, a top 16 finish, and a possible Olympic berth. Normally with such a young team, I’d be worried about nerves. However, Duskova/Bidar have a lot of experience competing in big events (Euros, Junior Worlds, JGP Final), so I don’t expect them to be too overawed.
14th Della Monica/Guarise It’s been a fairly strong season for the Italian champions; they won 2 Challenger Series events, continue to improve artistically, and have good programs. However, they’re coming off a quite disappointing performance at Europeans. Plus, they’ve been struggling with jump errors. Their base value tends to be strong, but their average GOE is low, due to mistakes. I just don’t see much indication they’ll be able to place higher than this.
15th Denney/Frazier I’m a big fan of this team, and wish I could put them higher in my predictions. However, Haven/Brandon have struggled since Skate America and Skate Canada. Although their lifts and twist are going fairly well, their SBS jumps are a major area of concern. Since her injury, Haven hasn’t been able to reliably get full rotation on the SBS double Axel and triple Salchow. Spin levels have also been a problem, and their lack of confidence on the SBS jumps seems to be affecting the throw jumps. As a result, Denney/Frazier’s average base value is rather low. Although Denney/Frazier’s season’s-best total score from Skate America (192.65) is 12th among all pairs competing at Worlds, their more recent international scores have been significantly lower. Denney/Frazier did say in their pre-Worlds press call that they’ve recently worked on their jumps with Alex Ouriashev. Hopefully, that will help them at Worlds.
Tier 4: Fighting for the 16th Spot
The pairs in this group show some potential but have not yet achieved strong results in the senior ranks. One of the teams has won a Challenger Series medal; another just won the World Junior Championships; a third won a Senior B event this season. All will be fighting to claim the final spot in the top 16, make the long program, and possibly clinch an Olympic berth for their country.
16th Ryom/Kim This North Korean pair has only participated in 3 international competitions, to my knowledge (2 last season, 1 this season). Yet despite their lack of experience, they are a surprisingly skilled team and have made a big impression on fans. Ryom/Kim have nice speed, good unison and partnering, charming programs, and some quality technical elements. At their only international event this season (Asian Winter Games), Ryom/Kim earned 65.22 points in the short program. If they skate to the same level in Helsinki (and are not overwhelmed at their first Worlds), they should claim the final 16th spot in the free skate.
17th Alexandrovskaya/Windsor The young Australian team is coming off a historic (and unexpected) victory at Junior Worlds, where they became the first Australians to ever win a major ISU championship. Their Junior Worlds win should give them momentum and confidence heading into senior Worlds. But, it’s also a lot for such a young team to process and handle. With just 2 weeks between the events, I fear it may be tough for Alexandrovskaya/Windsor to reset themselves mentally in time. How will they do in Helsinki? The key for them will be the short program. Right now, their top SP score (59.82), earned at Junior Worlds, places them 17th on the season’s-best list among pairs competing at Worlds. To move into the top 16, they will likely need two things to happen: 1) A new personal-best SP score and 2) Significant mistakes from at least one of the 16 teams ahead of them on the season’s-best list. It’s quite possible that both those situations will occur. One factor working against them: Their “Skyfall” SP is one of the least sophisticated short programs in this field. My feeling is that Alexandrovskaya/Windsor will probably just miss the cut.
18th Ziegler/Kiefer Arguably, this Austrian team should have made the final 16 at Worlds in both 2015 and 2016. However, both times, Ziegler/Kiefer skated poorly in the short program and found themselves out of the picture for the LP. Can they do better this year? Their scores have been rising in the latter half of the season. However, I think they’ll fall short in Helsinki. Despite their improvement, the competition above them is just too strong. By my calculation, their average scores this season for TES, GOE, PCS, and total score all fall outside the top 16. And although they recently had a great short program (60.70) at Cup of Tyrol (a senior B), their highest SP score at a Challenger Series, Grand Prix, or ISU event is only 57.14.
19th Suto/Boudreau Audet The Japanese pair has been quietly, but steadily, improving all year. They started the season with very low scores/placement at U.S. International Classic, but by the end of the season, won the Mentor Cup Senior B. They also had respectable performances at Four Continents. They have some nice aspects to their skating, especially their lifts and skating skills. I think it’s unlikely they will make the final 16, but their season’s-best SP score (58.14) keeps them in the conversation.
Tier 5: Trying to Make Their Mark
All the teams in this tier have been skating in the lower levels of senior competition this season. None have broken through or gained much recognition. All will be hoping to do their best in the short program and make an unlikely jump into the top 16.
20th Hase/Seegert This will be the first Worlds for the #2 German team, and they’re coming in with momentum: They had their best performances of the season at Cup of Tyrol a few weeks ago. Hase/Seegert have nice lines and decent base value scores. They’ve already competed internationally 6 times this season, so they should be ready. Season’s-best SP: 51.27.
21st Danilova/Kamianchuk The Belarusans also have momentum, coming to Helsinki off a 10th-place finish at Europeans. Their packaging is better than most of the teams in this group. Season’s-best SP score: 53.27.
22nd Petranovic/Souza-Kordyeru The Croatian team is in only their first season together, but show promise technically. They have the highest average base value and TES scores within this group, but their presentation/PCS scores are not as good. Season’s-best SP: 53.14.
23rd Butkute/Ermolaev The Lithuanians have had a disappointing season and were rumored to have split, but apparently decided against it. They’ve struggled with jump problems, but their average PCS is among the strongest in this group. They placed 18th at Europeans. Season’s-best SP: 54.06.
24th Esbrat/Novoselov The #2 French team unexpectedly broke into the top 16 at last year’s Worlds in Boston; I don’t see that happening again this year. Esbrat/Novoselov managed to place 13th at Europeans, but generally didn’t look very strong. Season’s-best SP: 52.51.
25th Jones/Boyadji This new British team has had a decent first season. Their strength is their base value; they go for their technical elements and don’t hold back. There’s quite a bit of work to do on the presentation/PCS side, though. Season’s-best SP: 52.32.
Tier 6: Happy to Be Here
The teams in this tier are either very new or lack the technical ability to break into the top 16. They’ll just be looking to skate their best in Finland.
26th Chtchetinina/Scherer The Swiss team are in their second season together. They competed at Europeans but did not make the long program. Season’s-best SP: 47.52.
27th Simonen/Penasse A new Finnish pair who will be competing at home.
28th Beklemisheva/Magyar A new Hungarian pair. (Beklemisheva previously competed in junior pairs for Russia.)
So those are my predictions for Worlds; but, as I said before, I’m sure there will be some surprises. That’s what makes competition so exciting, after all. Good luck to all the pairs in Helsinki—I look forward to watching the event! 🙂
Note: If you’re enjoying the articles on The Divine Sport, please take just a moment to “like” the site’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/adivinesport/. You can also follow me on Twitter to get updates of new posts: @ClaireCloutier on https://twitter.com.