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Wellman's fantasy skating preview: 2013 worlds

Asada, Hanyu look strong for Japan; Davis, White have slight upper hand

Tara Wellman likes Japan's Mao Asada to emerge from a crowded ladies field.
Tara Wellman likes Japan's Mao Asada to emerge from a crowded ladies field. (Getty Images)

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By Tara Wellman, special to icenetwork.com
(03/11/2013) - If this skating season has reaffirmed anything, it's that numbers, spreadsheets, statistics and expectations don't mean a thing once the blades hit the ice. That unpredictability is amplified by the building pressure ... and there's no greater pressure than the world championships!

And that makes fantasy picks all the more complicated. Here's how I see it:

LADIES

Group A -- Mao Asada, Yu-Na Kim, Carolina Kostner, Akiko Suzuki, Ashley Wagner

The returns of Kim and Kostner spice up this group. It also makes for a tough podium battle. While it's hard -- and dangerous! -- to ever bet against Queen Yu-Na, and Kostner is a determined reigning champ, Suzuki, Asada and Wagner have been this season's best.

I believe, though, that if Asada is going to win another world title, this is the year to do it. Kim is rusty. Kostner is inconsistent. Suzuki is underscored. And Wagner is risking it all on an unproven triple-triple.

I see this as Asada's crown to win.

Group B -- Elene Gedevanishvilli, Elena Glebova, Gracie Gold, Viktoria Helgesson, Alena Leonova, Zijun Li, Valentina Marchei, Jenna McCorkell, Maé Bérénice Méité, Kanako Murakami, Kaetlyn Osmond, Adelina Sotnikova, Elizaveta Tuktamisheva, Juulia Turkkila, Nathalie Weinzierl, Kexin Zhang

What a battle this could be! The Russian phenoms vs. the North American superstars, plus the other top Japanese lady who has come into her own this season.

Based on season best scores, Sotnikova wins by a mile, but Gold and Tuktamisheva have yet to skate their best. Murakami has had scattered flaws throughout, and Osmond is the ultimate newbie.

While some "beginner's luck" wouldn't surprise me, I suspect Sotnikova's silver -- less than a point from gold -- at the 2013 European Championships was a breakthrough. She has everything she needs to win this group.

Group C -- Carol Bressanuitti, Kaat van Daele, Alina Fjodorova, Kerstin Frank, Anne Line Gjersem, Patricia Glescic, Brooklee Han, Inga Januleviciute, Sonia Lafuente, Anita Madsen, Natalia Popova, Monika Simancikova, Isadora Williams

Even in the wild-card group, there are plenty of options here. Frank and Lafuente have comparable season best scores. Lafuente, though, is coming off of a strong competition at Europeans; she broke the 150 mark overall, and that makes her the "on paper" leader of this group. Of course, "on paper" doesn't always translate to "on ice," but she's my "C" pick, nonetheless.

MEN

Group A -- Florent Amodio, Patrick Chan, Yuzuru Hanyu, Javier Fernández, Daisuke Takahashi

I've envisioned Hanyu as the 2013 world champ since Skate America. He is spectacular, but he's also erratic, which tempers expectations.

I also believe Fernández is a man on a mission. If he can hold his emotions in check, he can -- and will -- rival anyone in the world. He owns the highest total score for the season, thanks to his sensational skates for European gold.

I'm sticking with Hanyu as my fantasy pick, but I'm also calling for Fernández to play spoiler. If anyone can, he will.

Group B -- Max Aaron, Michal Březina, Brian Joubert, Maxim Kovtun, Peter Libers, Misha Ge, Alexander Majorov, Ross Miner, Takahito Mura, Kevin Reynolds, Andrei Rogozine, Nan Song, Denis Ten, Tomáš Verner

After Reynolds' quad clinic at the 2013 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships, it's impossible to leave him out of the conversation. But he's another volatile competitor.

After watching Aaron at the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, and then at Four Continents, it's hard to bet against him, but I've felt Miner was on the verge of a breakthrough, too.

I don't often take the unproven rookie, but in this case I'm making an exception. Aaron it is.

Group C -- Paolo Bacchini, Alexei Bychenko, Christopher Caluza, Maciej Cieplucha, Yakov Godorozha, Jorik Hendrickx, Pavel Ignatenko, Zoltan Kelemen, Jin Seo Kim, Ronald Lam, Kim Lucine, Paul Bonifacio Parkinson, Viktor Pfeifer, Abzal Rakimgaliev, Viktor Romanenkov, Justus Strid

Caluza, Lucine and Pfeifer represent last year's 21-23 places at the world championships. Their scores this season have been similar as well. If Caluza can put together a clean short program, he has a good chance of finishing atop this group for a second year.

Watch out for Pfeifer -- he has the highest season score in this group. But, again, he's plagued by inconsistency. I'm taking Caluza.

PAIRS

Group A -- Qing Pang and Jian Tong, Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov

By now, I'm quite certain that whichever team I pick, the other will win!

Volosozhar and Trankov have, in my mind, better programs, but Savchenko and Szolkowy rise to the occasion when their world title is on the line. The Russians handily bested the Germans at Euros, and I'm taking them in London, on the chance that they can repeat -- if not improve -- that performance.

Group B -- Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek, Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès, Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov, Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch, Wenjing Sui and Cong Han

This should come down to the Canadians against the Russians. There's no doubt that Canadian champs Duhamel and Radoford will have the home-country support, and it's possible they take that all the way to the podium. But bettering their season's-best mark by just more than a point are Bazarova and Larionov.

It's a tough call, but in Canada I'm taking the Canadians.

Group C -- Nicole della Monica and Matteo Guarise, Stacey Kemp and David King, Magdalena Klatka and Radoslaw Chruscinski, Cheng Peng and Hao Zhang, Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim, Mari Vartmann and Aaron Van Cleave

This could be close between Peng and Zhang and U.S. silver medalists Scimeca and Knierim. The Americans are skating with nothing to lose after being added to the team in the absence of Caydee Denney and John Coughlin. They have huge firepower but microscopic experience. Peng and Zhang aren't exactly veterans (together), but they know how to compete on a world stage.

The Americans could be the spoilers in this group, but I'm sticking with Peng and Zhang this time around.

ICE DANCE

Group A -- Meryl Davis and Charlie White, Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir

Four Continents wasn't the cleanest of comparisons between the world's top two teams. That said, the season scores don't lie -- judges like Davis and White's free dance best.

No doubt, the Canadian duo will have the audience support, and they will have made improvements since Four Continents, but it's the Americans who have the momentum. As long as they get the intended level calls in the step sequences, they should stand atop this group.

Group B -- Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev, Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte, Pernelle Carron and Lloyd Jones, Madison Chock and Evan Bates, Penny Coomes and Nicholas Buckland, Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri, Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov, Ekaterina Riazanova and Ilia Tkachenko, Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, Isabella Tobias and Deividas Stagniunas, Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, Nelli Zhiganshina and Alexander Gazsi, Julia Zlobina and Alexei Sitnikov

Any number of teams could steal this pick. The Russians, the Italians, the Canadians, the Americans ...

Weaver and Poje are coming back from an injury. That makes them a wild card. Bobrova and Soloviev have been the heir-apparent for Russia, and yet this season, it's Ilinykh and Katsalapov who have pushed them. Personally, I like the Italians, but based on results (including past worlds performances), I'm taking Ilinykh and Katsalapov -- but not by much.

Group C -- Alisa Agafonova and Alper Ucar, Siobhan Heekin-Canedy and Dmitri Dun, Sara Hurtado and Adria Diaz, Olesia Karmi and Max Lindholm, Viktoria Kavaliova and Yurii Bieliaiev, Lucie Mysliveckova and Neil Brown, Zsuzsanna Nagy and Mate Fejes, Justyna Plutowska and Peter Gerber, Cathy Reed and Chris Reed, Allison Reed and Vasili Rogov, Irina Shtork and Taavi Rand, Federica Testa and Lukáš Csölley

We haven't seen much of the Reeds this season, but what we have seen has been pleasantly positive. No, they're not shocking anyone with complicated choreography, but their polish is improved, and their seventh-place finish at Four Continents (with a 131+) is proof of that.

They'll be fighting it out with Heekin-Canedy and Dun, Hurtado and Diaz, and Shtork and Rand, who have shared similar season (and worlds) success. But, I like what Reed and Reed showed just a few weeks back, so I'm making them my final "C" pick.