World Championships Ready to Kick Off in Tokyo
Photo by Michelle Harvath
(3/19/07) - The 2007 World Figure Skating Championships begin Tuesday as the world's best figure skaters converge on Tokyo, Japan, to lay claim to four World titles: ladies, men's, pairs and ice dancing. Among them are 16 of the U.S.'s best skaters, including reigning World champion Kimmie Meissner, reigning World bronze medalist Evan Lysacek and reigning World ice dancing bronze medalists Tanith Belbin & Ben Agosto.
The event takes place March 20-25 at the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium. Nearly 200 athletes from 46 countries will compete for podium spots and $710,000 in ISU prize money. This year marks the first time that there will be no qualifying rounds in the ladies and men's events. All skaters will compete in the short program, with the top 24 advancing to the free skate. For the full list of skaters, please visit www.worlds2007.jp.
As the reigning champion, Kimmie Meissner is one of the favorites in Tokyo. At just 16, her victory last year made her the seventh-youngest ladies World champion in history. Though she qualified for the event in 2005, at 15, she was too young to compete. She won her first U.S. title this year, beating U.S. silver medalist Emily Hughes by less than a point. Two weeks later Meissner won her first Four Continents title, coming back from sixth after the short program. She has landed at least one triple-triple jump combination in four events this year. Hughes finished eighth at the 2006 World Championships in her first appearance at the event, and won the silver medal at the 2007 Four Continents Championships. U.S. teammate Alissa Czisny is competing in her first World Championships. She burst onto the senior scene in 2005, when she won silver at Skate America and gold at Skate Canada. She returned to form this year, winning the free skate at the State Farm U.S. Figure Skating Championships and finishing third overall. She placed fifth at the Four Continents Championships.
M Two-time World bronze medalist Evan Lysacek is looking for a three-peat on the podium this year. His season started with a second-place finish at Skate America, and he has finished first in his three successive events. He won his first U.S. title in January, and in doing so landed his first clean quad-triple in competition. He won the Four Continents Championships two weeks later, again landing the quad-triple and setting his personal best under the international judging system. Three-time U.S. champion Johnny Weir finished third at the 2007 U.S. Championships and looks to secure his first World medal this year. He's competed at the event three times, finishing fifth in 2004, fourth in 2005 and seventh in 2006. New to the World Championships is U.S. silver medalist Ryan Bradley. His last U.S. medal before that came in 1999 when he was crowned the U.S. junior champion. He's competed at the World Junior Championships three times, finishing a career-best fifth in 2000. Bradley's 2006-2007 season includes a fourth-place finish at the Four Continents Championships.
Rena Inoue & John Baldwin had the best Grand Prix Series of their career, collecting a gold and two silvers in their assignments and finishing fourth at the ISU Grand Prix Final. They had their strongest finish at the World Championships last year, placing fourth and taking third in the free skate. They won their sixth U.S. Championships medal in January, taking the silver. Brooke Castile & Ben Okolski, the 2006 Nebelhorn Trophy champions, won their first U.S. title this year after finishing eighth at the 2006 U.S. Championships. A coaching change and new training environment propelled them to their new level of success, which included a standing ovation after their near-flawless free skate in Spokane. At the Four Continents Championships, Inoue & Baldwin took third while Castile & Okolski took fifth.
Tanith Belbin & Ben Agosto make up the most successful U.S. ice dancing team in history. The four-time U.S. champions won the silver medal at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games and have won two medals at the World Championships: silver in 2005 and bronze in 2006. Right behind them at the U.S. Championships have been four-time U.S. silver medalists Melissa Gregory & Denis Petukhov. Gregory & Petukhov finished ninth at the 2006 World Championships, their highest placement at the event. They qualified for the Grand Prix Final for the first time this season, finishing sixth. Meryl Davis & Charlie White, the 2006 World Junior bronze medalists, finished fourth in their two Grand Prix events in their first year on the senior level, and at the NHK Trophy they earned the distinction of being one of only a handful of teams in the world to earn level fours on all of their elements. They placed third at the 2007 U.S. Championships and fourth at the 2007 Four Continents Championships.
The ladies competition promises to be fierce. Medal contenders include 2006 Grand Prix Final champion Yu-Na Kim of Korea, 2005 Grand Prix Final champion Mao Asada of Japan and 2006 Skate America champion Miki Ando of Japan. In men's, reigning World champion Stephane Lambiel of Switzerland is back after sitting out part of the season. Other top athletes include World silver medalist Brian Joubert of France, 2006 World fourth-place finisher Nobunari Oda of Japan and 2006 Grand Prix Final silver medalist Daisuke Takahashi of Japan. In pairs, defending World champions Qing Pang & Jian Tong of China will battle their teammates Xue Shen & Hongbo Zhao, the 2002 and 2003 World champions, and Dan Zhang & Hao Zhang, who placed second at the 2006 World Championships. In ice dancing, reigning World champions Albena Denkova & Maxim Staviski of Bulgaria will contend with 2007 European champions Isabelle Delobel & Olivier Schoenfelder of France and Grand Prix Final bronze medalists Oksana Domnina & Maxim Shabalin of Russia. Four Continents champions Marie-France Dubreuil & Patrice Lauzon of Canada will also be in the mix.