Thursday, March 13, 2008

Contenders for 2008 World Figure Skating Championships


MAO ASADA - A co-favorite after finishing second at worlds last year, Asada romped to victory at Grand Prix final in December. ... She's won two straight Japanese championships, a very difficult task, and won Four Continents this year. ... The graceful Asada has not finished below second in any significant event since Turin Olympics, which she missed because of age restrictions. ... Has trained with one of Michelle Kwan's former coaches, Rafael Arutunian.

MIKI ANDO - Defending champ has struggled this season and failed to qualify for the Grand Prix final. ... Was third at Four Continents after second straight runner-up finish behind Asada in Japanese nationals. ... Rallied from weak Olympics to have big 2006-07 season. ... Still only woman to land a quadruple jump in competition, but the last one was more than four years ago.

KIMMIE MEISSNER - The 2006 world champion is in a deep slump. ... Has struggled all season, with career-worst seventh-place finish at nationals, where she was defending champ. ... Dropped coach Pam Gregory for Richard Callaghan in February. ... Meissner has been plagued by falls all season, wound up last in Grand Prix final. ... She made team only because three skaters ahead of her at nationals were too young for worlds.

ASHLEY WAGNER - Third-place finisher at nationals then came in eighth at Four Continents, but fifth in free skate. ... At 17, makes her major international debut at worlds. ... Has a striking persona on ice, powerful and confident, with her ponytail bopping in perfect sync to the music. ... Bronze medalist at last year's junior world championships.

KIM YU-NA - The 2006 world junior champion has won two straight Grand Prix finals, including edging Asada this season. ... Hip injury forced her to skip Four Continents in her own country. ... First major contender from South Korea. ... Exciting skater with great spins and spirals, quick but precise jumps. ... Has won all her major competitions since finishing third at '07 worlds.

Others to watch: JOANNIE ROCHETTE, Canada's four-time national champ and Four Continents runner-up; Italy's CAROLINA KOSTNER, two-time European champion; Japan's YURI NAKANO, who beat out some formidable countrywomen to get to worlds; Swiss veteran SARAH MEIER.



DAISUKE TAKAHASHI - Reigning silver medalist has been the most consistent of world's best men this season. Won both of his Grand Prix events, Skate America and NHK Trophy, and last month's Four Continents. Was solid at Grand Prix final, losing title on performance marks. ... Looking to become first Japanese man to win world title. ... Spectacular jumper, but isn't quite as strong on spins and footwork. ... Short program is a hip-hop version of "Swan Lake."

STEPHANE LAMBIEL - Two-time world champion and Olympic silver medalist still trying to recapture championship form after skipping most of last season. ... Won Grand Prix final with dazzling flamenco number, but had to improvise after botching early jumps. ... Finished second at European championships after lackluster free skate. ... As good an artist as he is a jumper, his spins alone are worth price of admission. ... Surprise entrant at worlds last year after skipping Europeans, finished third.

BRIAN JOUBERT - Defending world champion, unbeaten last season, looked dominant again with win at Skate Canada, only to miss rest of Grand Prix season with strength-sapping virus. ... Clearly still recovering at Europeans, where he ran out of gas in second half of free skate and finished distant third. ... Did three quads in one program in November 2006, but hasn't come close to duplicating feat. ... Free skate is a medley of Metallica songs.

JOHNNY WEIR - Tied Evan Lysacek in final standings at U.S. championships, but wound up with silver medal because Lysacek won free skate. ... Lackluster results last season prompted big changes. Left longtime coach Priscilla Hill and now trains outside New York City with Galina Zmievskaya, who coached Olympic gold medalists Viktor Petrenko and Oksana Baiul. ... Most artistic and expressive skater around when he's on. ... Will try quad in free skate.

Others to watch: TOMAS VERNER - After coming oh, so close several times, Czech beat Lambiel and Joubert to win European title. Might that breakthrough lead to more appearances on podium? ... JEFFREY BUTTLE - Second-place finish at Four Continents might be start of comeback for Olympic bronze medalist, who has been hampered by back problems. ... STEPHEN CARRIERE - With Lysacek out, Americans will need a strong debut from last year's junior world champion to keep three spots at next year's world championships.

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