For the first time since 1981, the World Figure Skating Championships include zero women’s singles skaters who previously won an Olympic or World Championships individual medal.
Three new medalists will stand on the podium in Shanghai, China, on Saturday. Really, the competition is between two countries. And in the end, one nation may sweep the podium for the first time since 1991.
“It’s definitely a possibility,” NBC Olympics figure skating analyst Johnny Weir said.
“It’s a very strong possibility,” said Weir’s cohort, 1998 Olympic champion Tara Lipinski.
Weir and Lipinski agree that Russians Elizaveta Tuktamysheva and Yelena Radionova are likely to go one-two.
Tuktamysheva, 18, placed 10th at the 2013 World Championships but fell flat at the following season’s Russian Championships, finishing 10th among her countrywomen and missing the Sochi Olympic team by a mile.
But Tuktamysheva, a pupil of venerable coach Alexei Mishin, is in the midst of one of the greatest bounce-back seasons in the sport’s history.
She’s won seven international competitions, including her two biggest — the Grand Prix Final in December and the European Championships in January — and has shown she’s capable of landing a triple Axel. No other elite woman can boast that.
“My bets are on Tuktamysheva,” Lipinski said. “She’s found that secret potion that works for competition this year. She’s been on a roll.”
Radionova, a wispy 16-year-old, relegated Tuktamysheva to silver at Skate America in October and the Russian Championships in December.
She came into this season with perhaps the most promise of any skater, as the two-time reigning World junior champion.
“She’s right on [Tuktamysheva’s] tail,” Lipinski said. “If Liza makes any mistakes, Yelena brings so much consistency. There still could be a good fight between the both of them.”
The third Russian is less reliable. That’s Anna Pogorilaya, who finished fourth at the 2014 World Championships and won Skate Canada in November.
But Japan’s Rika Hongo topped her at a competition in Moscow later in November, and American Ashley Wagner kept Pogorilaya off the podium at the Grand Prix Final in December.
“On a good day, [Pogorilaya] can outjump the best in the world,” Weir said. “Her jumps are a bit more aesthetically pleasing than the other two Russians.”
Tuktamysheva, Radionova and Pogorilaya hope to give Russia a women’s podium sweep, a feat seen once before at a Worlds. In 1991, Americans Kristi Yamaguchi, Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan shared the podium in Munich, where unprepared organizers reportedly did not have three U.S. flags ready for the medal ceremony.
In Shanghai, a U.S. trio is out to spoil the sweep and win the first American women’s medal at a Worlds or Olympics since 2006.
“The momentum is with Ashley,” Weir said.
Wagner, 23, feels more confident going into this competition than any of her four previous World Championships or the Sochi Olympics.
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She kept Russia from a podium sweep at the Grand Prix Final in December, jumping from last place out of six after the short program to earn bronze. A month later, Wagner won her third U.S. title, breaking scoring records and taking the crown back from Gracie Gold.
At this time last year, Gold was the top U.S. hope going into Worlds (and she finished fifth, best of the Americans). But now she’s a question mark after missing the podium at her most recent event in February (without Wagner or Russians in the field).
“I watch her in practice, and I am amazed by her, the way that she can throw these triple-triples [jump combinations],” Lipinski said. “I’m always so baffled and confused that when she steps on the ice [in competition], the impression we get of her is she’s either going to fall apart, or she’s going to nail it.”
The third American is Polina Edmunds, who was the youngest U.S. competitor across all sports in Sochi. She struggled through the fall Grand Prix season and finished fourth at the U.S. Championships in January.
But the 16-year-old put it all together at the Four Continents Championships in Seoul in February, notching the biggest victory of her young senior career.
“Polina should be aiming for the podium, although I think stylistically she’s a little bit weaker than a lot of the top skaters at the moment,” Weir said. “So I think another year of development, and she will be one of the girls fighting for the podium next year.”
In ice dance, two U.S. couples are fighting for the podium. Neither is Meryl Davis and Charlie White, the Olympic champions who took this season off from competition and may not return.
Madison Chock and Evan Bates, who were eighth in Sochi and fifth at the 2014 Worlds, could win gold in Shanghai. They led Canadian rivals Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje after the Four Continents short program in February, but squandered it in the free dance and finished second.
“It really could be a toss-up,” Lipinski said. “Chock and Bates, they have so many differences, but at the same time they are like one. I feel that Charlie and Meryl have that, they skated as one, but they each looked different, had a different vibe going on, that it was interesting to watch.”
Siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani are the only members of the 16-skater U.S. team in Shanghai who own World Championships medals. The 2011 bronze medalists also finished third at Four Continents, but that competition did not include any European couples.
Enter the reigning World champions, Italians Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte. But they were beaten at the European Championships in January by France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron.