Get ready for a bizarre figure skating world championships

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The figure skating world championships in an Olympic year are always tough. This year’s are tougher.

Three quarters of the time, the world championships are the biggest event of the figure skating season. But once every four years they’re upstaged by the Winter Olympics. After peaking physically and emotionally to compete on the sport’s biggest stage, it’s common for some top skaters to be too exhausted and/or disinterested to suit up for the worlds just a month or so later. This can result in depleted competitions and, frankly, some dubious world champions.

This year’s world championships, which begin Wednesday in southern France, are taking the post-Olympic hangover to a new level. Seven of the 12 medallists—including three of the four gold medallists—from the traditional figure skating events in Beijing are missing for various reasons.

Men’s gold medalist (and reigning world champ) Nathan Chen of the US withdrew due to a self-described “nagging injury.” Pairs gold medallists Sui Wenjing and Han Cong are out because China opted to not send anyone to worlds. The decision to ban Russian skaters after the invasion of Ukraine removed five more 2022 Olympic podium finishers, including women’s gold medallist (and reigning world champ) Anna Shcherbakova and silver medallist Alexandra Trusova.

Fifteen-year-old Russian star Kamila Valieva, who was favored to win both the Olympic and world women’s titles this year before her failed doping test and subsequent meltdown knocked her off the podium in Beijing, is also out due to the ban. Two-time Olympic men’s champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan withdrew due to an ankle injury after placing fourth in Beijing, sapping the singles events of even more star power.

So, who is competing this week in France? The main attraction (and crowd favourite) will be the French ice dance duo of Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron. Fresh off their first Olympic gold medal, the former Virtue and Moir rivals are looking to capture their fifth world title in what could be their last dance. They’re expected to retire after worlds.

Papadakis and Cizeron are undefeated this season and competing on home ice, so it’s very likely they go out in style here. Hoping to spoil their potential farewell is the American duo of Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, who took bronze at the Beijing Olympics and are retiring after worlds. Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier — the lone Canadian medallists at last year’s worlds, where they took bronze — hope to rebound from their seventh-place finish at the Olympics. They’re undecided on whether they’ll continue skating beyond this season.

The absence of Chen and Hanyu from the men’s event opens the door for Japan’s Yuma Kagiyama and Shoma Uno, who took silver and bronze in Beijing. Canada’s Keegan Messing will try to build on his sixth-place finish at last year’s worlds. He placed 11th at the Olympics after a positive COVID-19 test prevented him from arriving until the last minute.

With the Russian ban taking out the three best women’s singles skaters in the world, Olympic bronze medallist Kaori Sakamoto of Japan can now eye a higher spot on the podium. Canadian teenager Madeline Schizas finished 19th in Beijing but performed better in the team event, so she might improve on her 13th-place showing in her world championships debut last year.

The other biggest beneficiaries of the Russian ban and the Chinese withdrawal from worlds are everyone else in the pairs event. With the top five finishers from the Olympics out, there’s at least hope for a medal by Canada’s Vanessa James and Eric Radford, who were 12th in Beijing. The other Canadian pairs entry at the Olympics, 10th-place finishers Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro, are not competing.

The world championships kick off Wednesday with the women’s short program at 6:10 am ET and the pairs short at 1:30 pm ET. Watch those and every other segment this week live on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem. See the full streaming schedule here. Read an event-by-event preview here.

Previewing the world figure skating championships

That Figure Skating Show breaks down all the big names competing (and not competing) at the 2022 world figure skating championships in Montpellier, France from March 21-27. 8:23

Quickly…

Tomorrow could be a big day for women’s pro hockey. The NHL will reportedly meet with the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association and the Premier Hockey Federation (formerly the NWHL) in an attempt to bring the rivals together. The PWHPA includes most of the world’s best players — pretty much the entire Canadian and US national teams — but its members don’t want to join the PHF because they feel its salaries and working conditions are sub-standard. Instead, they’ve been staging the barnstorming Dream Gap tours for the last few years. The PHF, notwithstanding last year’s name change, is an established league that has promised to increase pay and benefits—but it lacks star power. The NHL has indicated that it would help support a women’s pro hockey league — but not until there’s only one league. It seems like there’s a deal space here, and recent reports suggested that the PWHPA and PHF have made progress toward launching a new league together. But talks between the two sides have broken down before over their differing visions, so everyone is wary of getting their hopes up this time. Read more about what’s at stake and what might happen in Wednesday’s meeting with the NHL here.

Canada will try to stay above .500 at the women’s curling world championship. Kerri Einarson’s team improved to 3-2 yesterday by beating Denmark for its first win against a team that currently does not have a losing record. A tougher test comes today at 5 pm ET vs. Japan (4-1), which is Canada’s only matchup of the day. South Korea and Switzerland (both 5-0) top the round robin, which was cut from 14 teams to 13 when Scotland withdrew due to positive COVID-19 tests. Canada will get an automatic win for its scheduled matchup with the Scots on Wednesday. The top six teams advance to the playoffs, with the top two receiving byes to the semifinals.

And finally…

Someone skated over 100 km/h. Similar to the recent Nike-sponsored attempt to get someone to run a sub-2-hour marathon by any means necessary, a certain energy-drink company funded Dutchman Kjeld Nuis’ bid to break his own speed skating world record on a straight 3km of natural ice covering a lake in Norway. Skating inside a large, tent-like wind shield attached to a truck driven by a professional rally racer, the three-time Olympic gold medallist topped out at 103 km/h — beating his old mark by 10 km/h. See what it looked like here.

You’re up to speed. Talk to you tomorrow.

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