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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Ice dance: the future is (almost) now

Skate Canada and the USFSA have announced their entries for 2014 Worlds, and it's now confirmed that both Davis/White and Virtue/Moir will be sitting this one out. This means that for the first time since 2004 - when 6.0 was still in use! - there will be no Canton-based teams on the podium, and we will have our first brand-new World Champions since 2009. I think this is good news for skating fans.

Davis/White and Virtue/Moir have accomplished everything possible in ice dance: Olympic gold medals, world titles, world records, multiple wins in national and international competition... actually, Virtue/Moir are missing one major title - the Grand Prix Final - but going to Worlds wouldn't help them get it. So the stage is now set for some movement in the upper ranks, and the field seems wide open. Very exciting! So what happens now?

Ilinykh/Katsalapov are the only Olympic medalists in the field, but they have never medalled at Worlds (or even finished higher than fifth), and are known to be inconsistent, not to mention, Worlds will not be in Russia. Can they pull off another great performance as they did in Sochi, or will expectations and nerves do them in?

Bobrova/Soloviev may or may not be the second Russian team following the Olympics. But hey, they are Olympic champions! And the only returning medalists from last year's World Championships. Can they sort out their free dance issues? Will their federation lose interest now that Ilinykh/Katsalapov appear to have been anointed as the team of the future?

Péchalat/Bourzat are currently entered for Worlds, but are reportedly undecided if they should make this their final competitive event. They had some choice words regarding the judging after the Olympics, but they did score personal bests in both segments of the competition, and may fare better in neutral territory than they did in Sochi. They would be among three teams to have previously medalled at Worlds, and won't be aiming for another bronze if they go.

Weaver/Poje's marks have probably suffered some for being the second Canadian team. Well, no more of that! They came close in 2012 and skated a fantastic free dance at the Olympics. Personally, I would not be surprised to see them continue the Canadian podium streak and claim their first world medal.

Close, but not quite...

Cappellini/Lanotte are the European champions, but they appeared to be somewhat out of favor at the Olympics and moving into the medals could prove challenging. They were fourth in 2013, and third in the free dance, but the results last year were a bit skewed due to errors and injuries. Since they will reportedly continue at least for another year or two, I imagine a medal will be in the cards at some point.

It's hard to believe that the Shibutanis were world bronze medalists just three years ago, with a bright future ahead. Their programs haven't always showcased their skating to best advantage (they seem a lot more fun in real life) and they have been eclipsed (scoring-wise, at least) by Chock/Bates. On the other hand, they will be Marina Zoueva's top team, assuming Davis/White and Virtue/Moir are done. Hmm...

Chock/Bates will probably be moving on up in the future, maybe into the medals. If it happens this year, however, that will mean either many WDs or a subpar competition. Let's hope that won't happen.

Further down the rankings... Hurtado/Diaz had an amazing Olympics, overtaking many of the teams that finished ahead of them in recent years. Can they keep it up and set themselves up for future success? France's Papadakis/Cizeron will be making their Worlds debut with an interesting free dance, and he is super-talented. Where will they finish? And what will the judges make of Gilles/Poirier's Hitchcock free dance?

Cool stuff.

The next four years may well turn out to be the Ilinykh/Katsalapov era, or they could also give us a bunch of different winners and medalists, as was the case in 2007-2010. We should all have a better idea of what to expect in two and a half weeks' time.

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