Russian, American women square off at figure skating worlds
SHANGHAI (AP) Men's world figure skating champion Yuzuru Hanyu had a late costume change the last time he competed in Shanghai. After a scary collision with another skater in warm-ups at the Cup of China in November, he took to the ice for his long program with gauze wrapped around his head and a bandage on his chin.
It's been that kind of year for the 20-year-old Hanyu, who will attempt to become the first Japanese male skater to successfully defend his title when the world championships begin Wednesday.
''He's had quite a challenging season with a number of obstacles,'' his coach, Brian Orser, told The Associated Press on Tuesday. ''But each time he seems to bounce back.''
On the women's side, Russian teenager Elizaveta Tuktamysheva is aiming to cap a dominant season with her first world title, while Gracie Gold and Ashley Wagner will try to bring home a medal for the American women for the first time in a nearly a decade.
Hanyu's season debut was delayed due to a back injury and then came the dramatic crash with Chinese skater Yan Han at the Cup of China. Bloodied and dazed, he struggled through his performance and still managed to finish second.
He made a quick recovery in time to capture the Grand Prix Finals a month later, but then had to undergo surgery on his bladder to alleviate abdominal pain in late December, keeping him off the ice for weeks.
''He's had some time to properly train - not as much time as the other gentlemen, but he's had some time - and he's young and so I'm expecting good things from him,'' Orser said.
In Hanyu's absence, Spain's Javier Fernandez and Kazakhstan's Denis Ten emerged as serious threats to take the gold at the worlds, with Fernandez winning his third straight European title and Ten taking the gold at the Four Continents Championships.
Also in the field are Russian Maxim Kovtun, who has two quads in his short program and is the only man to win two Grand Prix events this season, as well as Americans Joshua Farris, second at Four Continents, and Jason Brown, the reigning U.S. champion.
Tuktamysheva is the heavy favorite in the women's competition after sweeping to victory at the European Championships and Grand Prix Finals. Overall, she has won seven of nine events this season - a year after failing to make the Russian team for the Sochi Winter Olympics.
Besides being fatigued at the end of a long season, the main question for the 18-year-old is whether she decides to attempt a triple axel she's been working on in practice.
''I hope that after the European championships, I've managed to recharge my batteries,'' she told Russia's R-Sport agency.
Her chief competition could come from 16-year-old countrywoman Elena Radionova, who handed Tuktamysheva her only two defeats this season at Skate America and the Russian championships.
Gold and Wagner head a strong American squad that will be looking for its first worlds medal since Kimmie Meissner and Sasha Cohen finished first and third, respectively, in 2006.
Gold has struggled with her form since a stress fracture in her foot caused her to withdraw from the Grand Prix Finals in December. She failed to defend her title at the U.S. Championships, finishing second to Wagner, and then turned in a poor performance at Four Continents, placing fourth at a competition she was favored to win.
''It was a disappointment, just because I set high expectations for myself,'' the 19-year-old Gold told reporters on a conference call before departing for Shanghai. ''I just kind of crumbled under my own pressure.''
''I've just been sort of all over the place this year,'' she added. ''I just need to finish the season on a really good note at the world championships.''
Wagner, the 23-year-old veteran of the team, is coming off a career-rejuvenating performance at the U.S. nationals, where she skated a flawless long program to capture her third title. She believes the U.S. is in good position to get back on the podium.
''It's just a natural process for different countries to be stronger at different times,'' she said. ''For the U.S., it's uncommon to have such a long drought, but I think we now finally have a very talented field we are sending to worlds.''
Canada is favored in both the pairs and ice dancing events.
In the pairs, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Redford are undefeated this season, having captured titles at the Grand Prix Finals and Four Continents.
In ice dancing, Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje also come to Shanghai undefeated, with five titles in five international events this season.