Russia, U.S. women on proving ground at World Figure Skating Championships

Gracie Gold, Evgenia Medvedeva, Satoko Miyahara
AP
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BOSTON — The question isn’t so much who will win the World title, but will she have the staying power to defend it and last through the 2018 Olympics?

A new Russian teen is favored to take the biggest prize in figure skating for a third straight year.

Yevgenia Medvedeva, a 16-year-old from Moscow, can become the first singles skater to win a senior World title one year after winning the World Junior crown and the youngest female World champ since Tara Lipinski in 1997.

Lipinski believes Medvedeva has the skills to avoid the fates of 2014 Olympic champion Adelina Sotnikova and 2015 World champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, who both failed to make Russia’s three-woman team for this week and may never return to this highest stage.

“The first thing you usually say when someone comes onto the scene, doing triple-triples [jump combinations], is whether their spins need work, their overall skating skills need work, their performance quality needs work or they need polishing in general,” Lipinski said. “[Medvedeva] stepped onto the scene as a senior [skater this season]. She improved so rapidly that she is polished. And she has a unique style that is iconic to her.”

Medvedeva swept all six programs in arguably the three most competitive events so far this season — the Grand Prix Final, Russian Championships and European Championships.

In her weakest of the three, the European Championships, her biggest rival and countrywoman Yelena Radionova skated clean. Medvedeva fell in her free skate and still prevailed by 5.46 points.

Russian women could go one-two at Worlds for the first time ever, but Japan and the U.S. have the talent to break them up.

Satoko Miyahara, an 18-year-old who is shy of 5 feet, took silver last year and won the Four Continents Championships in February with a personal-best score just .54 shy of Medvedeva’s total from the European Championships in January.

Mao Asada, 25, is the only woman in the field with a World title (she has three), an individual Olympic medal and a triple Axel. But she’s been inconsistent after taking last season off.

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Then there are the Americans. Ashley WagnerGracie Gold and Mirai Nagasu have all skated top-three programs at previous Worlds, but never back-to-back times to get on the podium.

Just last year, Gold and Wagner placed second and third in the Worlds free skate — after disastrous eighth- and 11th-place short programs. They finished fourth and fifth overall, extending the U.S. women’s medal drought to 10 years, the longest in the Winter Olympic era.

They’ve built more roller coasters this season.

Wagner totaled a personal best to win Skate Canada in October, then was last out of six skaters in December’s Grand Prix Final short program before a personal-best free skate moved her up to fourth.

Gold outscored Medvedeva and Miyahara in the Skate America free skate, then put up a personal-best short program at Trophée Bompard in her next event. But the wheels came off at the Grand Prix Final and Four Continents (fifth both times) with her second U.S. title sandwiched in between.

Nagasu, a late replacement for the injured Polina Edmunds, was an afterthought going into this season after her 10th-place finish at the 2015 U.S. Championships (with a knee injury).

Yet she came up with the goods at Four Continents with a personal-best total score for silver and is at Worlds for the first time since 2010, when she bettered Yuna Kim and Asada in the short program at age 16 but finished seventh overall.

Lipinski and Weir believe a U.S. woman will finish on the podium this week. Which one is the question.

“Gracie, skating clean, skating lights out, adding the emotion, selling a program,” Lipinski said. “A medal is not just a maybe, it should be.”

Here are Lipinski and Weir’s medal predictions from last week:

Lipinski
Gold: Medvedeva (RUS)
Silver: Radionova (RUS)
Bronze: Gold or Wagner (USA)

Weir
Gold: Medvedeva (RUS)
Silver: Radionova (RUS)
Bronze: Gold or Wagner (USA)

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