This could be the competition that cements the status of the current generation of pairs. The 2013 World Figure Skating Championships this week will feature two groups - the pre-Vancouver veteran pairs and the post-Vancouver new pairs.
Schedule: Universal Sports/CBC/Eurosport
For the past few years, the top pairs have generally been the veterans - even though Tatiana Volosozhar/Maxim Trankov are a relatively new pair, they had both been successful pre-Vancouver with their former partners. Perhaps last year's surprise bronze medalists, Narumi Takahashi/Mervin Tran, who split this season, were a sign of things to come.
With the exception of the two favorites, it seems likely that the other veteran pairs could slip a few slots and make way for the new generation to rise. Here are my predictions for the top ten this week.
GOLD Tatiana Volosozhar/Maxim Trankov RUS - It really wasn't easy to pick the gold medalists, to be honest. It would seem like Volosozhar/Trankov would be a no-brainer for their first World title, but as much success as they have had this season, this pair is still prone to uncharacteristic errors (see: last year's Worlds, this season's Grand Prix Final). But I went with the Russians, partly because their two programs have more life than those of the Germans this season and partly because their triple salchows are more consistent (see below).
SILVER Aliona Savchenko/Robin Szolkowy GER - After illness took Savchenko out of their second Grand prix event, their return to competition at Europeans was solid, even though they lost to the Russians. One of the main culprits was their side-by-side triple salchow, which has never been particularly consistent for them. What was surely alarming for them, though, was the fact that a clean short program wasn't good enough to beat the same from the Russians - and that's definitely a sign they didn't want to have two months before trying to win their fifth World title. I do think that a win this week will require help from Volosozhar/Trankov.
BRONZE Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford CAN - Their Four Continents victory showed that they are capable of very big scores. They are one of only four pairs to break 70 in the short program. Seventh two years ago, fifth last year, they've got podium potential written all over them, especially since they currently have the two most difficult programs on paper. Of course, with difficulty comes risk, and they will need to keep up their consistency as they try to give Canada its first pairs medal since 2008.
4. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Dylan Moscovitch CAN - Not to be outdone by their teammates, Moore-Towers/Moscovtich are one of only four pairs to break 130 in the free skate (Duhamel/Radford are not on that list). They have been building momentum all season, and their return to Worlds after not qualifying last season is looking to be a good one. They were eighth two years ago in their debut.
5. Vera Bazarova/Yuri Larionov RUS - Status uncertain - Bazarova/Larionov have not been in competition since taking silver at the Grand Prix Final - first it was boot problems for Larionov then it was a wrist injury that required surgery. To make things more complicated, they left their coach in February and come into Worlds without an official coach. Two clean programs can get them on the podium, but that will all depend on their level of preparation.
6. Qing Pang/Jian Tong CHN - It's been tough to see the two-time World champs in a slump this season. Tong's ailing knees have made it hard for them to compete with the top teams, and their withdrawal from Four Continents last month isn't a great sign. Difficulty-wise, they aren't planning programs that would rival the top teams in an era of throw flips/lutzes and multiple solo triple jumps. They are making one last push for next year's Olympics, and in their 15th appearance at Worlds, it would not be a surprise to see them finish out of the top five for the first time since 2001. But if they put it together, the podium is not out of the question.
7. Stefania Berton/Ondrej Hotarek ITA - The bronze at Europeans was a great breakthrough for the Berton/Hotarek and gave them the distinction of being the first Italian pair to stand on the podium at Europeans. It's kind of a surprise, frankly, that they have never been higher than tenth at Worlds - but that will certainly change this week.
8. Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres FRA - My pick for most improved in any discipline, James/Cipres skated very strongly at Europeans to finish fourth. France hasn't had a pairs team this strong since Sarah Abitbol/Stephane Bernadis dominated the French pairs scene for a decade starting in the mid-90s. Exciting team - they could surprise this week.
9. Yuko Kavaguti/Alexander Smirnov RUS - The two-time bronze medalists are trying to hang in there to make it to their home Olympics next season, but they have no doubt been trending downward. It's tough to see them breaking top five this week.
10. Marissa Castelli/Simon Shnapir USA - The biggest obstacle between Castelli/Shnapir and breaking the top ten, really, is their base value. For sure, they have moved a few steps up in the eyes of the international judges this season, but the fact that they will be doing the two easiest throws in the competition will not help their cause. Their throw triple axel and throw quad sal aren't ready for primetime yet, so they will have to make sure to be as clean as possible to keep themselves in the running.
Others to watch:
Cheng Peng/Hao Zhang CHN - For me, there's a certain sense of where-are-they-heading with Peng/Zhang. Yes, they got the tricks quickly (quad twist in their first competition, no less), but you don't really see much else yet with this team. The fact that Peng's solo jumps are shaky at best doesn't help.
Alexa Scimeca/Chris Knierim USA - The U.S. silver medalists got the call to go to Worlds after Caydee Denney/John Coughlin withdrew. They've got great potential, but it is only their first season competing together. But two clean programs could certainly get them on the edge of the top ten.
Wenjing Sui/Cong Han CHN - It's a mystery as to how prepared Sui/Han are after sitting out all season due to injury. (Yeah, they competed in TEN competitions last season - perhaps there's a correlation?) At their strongest, they've got some of the most difficult tricks in the world, but their status right now is a big question mark. I originally had them in the top ten, but that was based on an optimistic assumption of their readiness.