Without Russia and China, other athletes ready to challenge for titles at figure skating worlds


Canadian skaters are in Montpellier, France this week for the world figure skating championship for what is sure to be one for the history books.

With Russian and Belarusian skaters barred from competing due to the invasion of Ukraine, and China not sending its athletes, this is one of the most paired down events figure skating has seen in years.

The competition, which begins with CBC Sports’ live streaming coverage of the women’s short program at 6:05 a.m. ET, will be without three of the four reigning Olympic champions. 

However, there are still plenty of talented skaters who will challenge for titles and podium results.

Here’s a breakdown of the four disciplines:

Pairs

The pairs event is arguably the most affected since Chinese and Russian skaters make up the top-five finishers from last month’s Olympics in Beijing. Most notably, reigning Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong will not be competing, nor will reigning world champions Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov of Russia.

As a result, competition for the podium is wide open and the U.S could take its first world championship pairs title in more than 40 years.

The duos of Alexa Knierim and Brendon Frazier, along with Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy Leduc, who finished sixth and eighth, respectively in China, will be battling for top spot. But Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara saw success on the Grand Prix circuit this season, and having finished seventh at the Olympic Games, will challenge the Americans.

There’s also potential for Canadians Vanessa James and Eric Radford to win a medal. This is Radford’s eighth world championship and James’ 10th, but their first together. The duo made a late Olympic push, officially announcing their partnership in the spring of 2021. The two finished 12th in Beijing, but had several fourth-place finishes throughout the season. So if they achieve their goal of putting together two clean programs, a spot on the podium isn’t out of the question. 

Canadians Evelyn Walsh and Trennt Michaud are also skating in France after the veteran team Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro decided not to compete after a long and difficult season. 

WATCH | Vanessa James, Eric Radford on absence of Russian, Chinese skaters:

Vanessa James and Eric Radford talk about absence of Russian, Chinese skaters at worlds

With many top athletes missing from the 2022 world figure skating championships, the Canadian pairs team speaks with Dylan Moscovitch and Asher Hill about how that affects the tone of the event. 5:23

Ice dance

All eyes will be on France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron as they go for their fourth world title at what is expected to be their last competitive event. The newly crowned Olympic champions have skated a perfect season, winning gold in each event they’ve competed in. This title is theirs to lose.

With Russian Olympic silver medallists Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov and their teammates Aleksandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin not competing, the fight is between silver and bronze.

This competition will likely be Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue’s last competitive performance and are favourites for a medal, as are their teammates Madison Chock and Evan Bates. 

But Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirer, who are the reigning world bronze medallists, will be fighting for a repeat podium appearance. The two came away disappointed with their seventh-place finish in Beijing and made changes in both programs, including replacing the lift that troubled them in their Olympic free dance. 

Gilles and Poirier will be joined by fellow Canadians Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sorensen, as well as the young team of Marjorie Lajoie and Zachary Lagha. 

France’s Gabriella Papadakis, left, and Guillaume Cizeron look to complete their dominant season on home soil. (Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

Men

The men’s event is relatively untouched by the Russian and Chinese skaters not being there, but is affected in a bigger way as two heavy hitters won’t be competing due to injury. 

Reigning world and Olympic champion Nathan Chen, from the U.S., withdrew because of a nagging injury. He was going for his fourth consecutive word title and is starting a break from competition early with plans to head back to Yale University. 

Two-time Olympic and world champion Yuzuru Hanyu from Japan also won’t be in France because of an ankle injury sustained at the Olympics. 

However, the Olympic silver and bronze medallists Yuma Kagiyama and Shoma Uno from Japan will definitely put on a show. Plus, there’s a redemption story that could come from American Vincent Zhou, who’s Olympic dreams ended early after contracting COVID-19 days before the men’s event.

Canadian skaters Keegan Messing and Roman Sadovsky will compete in France. Messing may replace his quad loop with a quad Lutz in his free program in hopes of racking up those technical points and hit his goal of a combined score of 280. He’ll make that decision when he’s in France.

Japan’s Yuma Kagiyama captured a silver medal at the 2022 Olympics. (Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

Women

Russia’s absence will definitely be felt in the women’s event. The last world championship podium was swept by Russian skaters, and it would have likely been reigning Olympic and world champion Anna Shcherbakkova, Olympic silver medallist Alexandra Trusova and Kamila Valieva who would have taken the top three spots. 

The three skaters all have quad jumps in their arsenals, typically blowing away the rest of the field who rely largely on triple axels for their technical scores.

So with the Russian women out, we’ll see a much different event with a new pace set by the Japanese skaters. Olympic bronze medallist Kaori Sakamoto is no doubt eyeing the gold medal with teammate Wakaba Higuchi also well-positioned to climb the podium.

With the women’s competition wide open, Olympic bronze medallist Kaori Sakamoto has the inside track for a gold medal. (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

The worlds will also be a big moment for Canada’s Madeline Schizas. The 18-year-old trains out of Milton, Ont., and her goal is to finish in the top 10 and secure Canada a second women’s quota spot for next year’s world championships, improving on the one spot Canada has in Montpellier.

Schizas is Canada’s best chance at continuing a storied line of skaters in the women’s event, following in the footsteps of Kaetlyn Osmond and Joannie Rochette. And her road to the 2026 Milano-Cortina Olympics starts in France.



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