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World title up for grabs in Moscow after long delay

by Jack Gallagher

Staff Writer

After a one-month wait following the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, the 2011 world championships originally scheduled for Tokyo are under way in Moscow.

Prior to the catastrophe, Miki Ando looked like the favorite to win her second world title, having enjoyed an outstanding season that saw her win both Grand Prix events she entered as well as the national championships and Four Continents crowns.

Usually when an event is postponed, it favors the competitors who have been lagging in training or results, as it provides them with more time to prepare. So the conventional wisdom would say that both 2010 Olympic gold medalist Kim Yu Na and defending world champion Mao Asada might benefit the most by the delay.

Just the fact that Mao and Kim are taking part in the same competition is certain to generate an enormous amount of electricity among the viewing public and the media.

Kim has not competed since last year’s worlds (where she finished second to Mao). The extra month gave her more time to polish her short and long programs under the guidance of new coach Peter Oppegard.

Mao, who struggled with poor results during the Grand Prix season, rebounded to finish second at both the nationals and Four Continents.

However, the two-time world champion and her training partner, Takahiko Kozuka, had their training schedule interrupted after the disaster, when the Shin-Yokohama Skate Center closed down for several weeks.

The pair returned home to Nagoya, where they have been training with coach Nobuo Sato.

So at the end of the day, questions abound in the ladies’ singles event:

Will Kim make a dramatic return and retake the spotlight?

Can Mao win a third world title?

Will Ando complete her comeback with a second world championship?

Could Kanako Murakami (also known as “mini-Mao”) surprise and top the podium?

Is everyone underestimating Grand Prix Final and U.S. champion Alissa Czisny?

Perhaps the biggest question of all, is how the Japanese skaters will react on the world stage in the first international competition following the Tokohu disaster?

Whatever happens, it will be great theater. It’s just a pity that it won’t be in Tokyo.

The men’s singles will also boast a talented field led by defending world champion Daisuke Takahashi. He will compete with the likes of Kozuka, Nobunari Oda, Grand Prix Final and Canadian champion Patrick Chan, and up-and-coming European champion Florent Amodio.

Takahashi and Chan are the favorites entering the contest, but there could still be an unexpected winner.

Blast from the past: Midori Ito, the 1989 world champion and 1992 Olympic silver medalist, is making a comeback of sorts. She has entered the adult world skating championships to be held in Germany in June.

Ito has not skated competitively since her short-lived comeback in 1997, when she attempted to make a run at the Nagano Olympics.

News of her return quickly circulated around the skating world, with inquiries made as to whether the story was legitimate. Indeed it is.

A skating insider told Ice Time: “Midori will go to Oberstdorf. She is skating twice a week. The only issue is old pain in her right knee that is bothering her. She is trying to fight through it.”

Close call: Sendai native Yuzuru Hanyu, the 2010 world junior champion, was training on the ice in his hometown when the 9.0 earthquake hit on March 11. Like many who felt the massive jolt, he headed for nearest exit.

“I could not do anything,” he told goldenskate.com. “What I could do at that time was just try to stay on my feet. As soon as the big quake stopped, I ran out of the building in my skating boots. I had no time to put on the blade covers, so my blades were damaged. I was terrified of the natural disaster.”

Hanyu saw his training seriously disrupted by the titanic tremor.

“It was 10 days after the earthquake before I could start skating again,” he told the website. “I went to Hachinohe City, Aomori Prefecture, with my coach and our club members, and now I am practicing at the Kanagawa Skating Rink in Yokohama City.”

Olympic news: The IOC approved a team figure skating event for the 2014 Sochi Games at a meeting in London last month. The competition will be similar to the World Team Trophy, which was scheduled to be held this month in Yokohama but canceled after the earthquake and tsunami.

Teams will consist of two men, two women, and one pair and one ice dance duo. The United States won the inaugural World Team Trophy in Tokyo two years ago, with Canada placing second and Japan third.