Takahashi would have been the home-nation star of the world championships, but the tragedy that struck Japan forced the event to be moved from Tokyo to Moscow. He's the reigning world champion and the only 2010 Olympic men's medalist competing this season, but he's far from a stand-alone favorite. Takahashi placed third at the Japanese championships and fourth at the Grand Prix Final.
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The two-time reigning world silver medalist added quadruple jumps to his repertoire this season. He landed three of them in winning his fourth straight Canadian title and also took the Grand Prix Final. Chan is extremely accomplished for his age (20) and likely hasn't peaked yet.
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The Frenchman, 26, looked to be falling into the twilight of his career at the 2010 Olympics, where he entered as a medal contender and exited in 16th place. But Joubert bounced back for bronze at the world championships, his sixth career worlds medal. This year, he won silver at the European Championships, his 10th medal at that event.
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No Evan Lysacek. No Johnny Weir. No Jeremy Abbott. What remains is an unheralded U.S. trio heading to Moscow. National champion Ryan Bradley leads them, finally breaking through after spending a decade fruitlessly chasing Lysacek and Weir. Worlds rookies Richard Dornbush and Ross Miner round out the U.S. men's team. None are expected to make the podium, which would make the U.S. men medal-less in back-to-back world championships for the first time since 1993 and 1994.
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Kim's life since her record-breaking Olympic victory: Silver to rival Mao Asada at the 2010 world championships. Splitting from coach Brian Orser. Skipping the 2010-11 Grand Prix season. She comes to Moscow without that aura of invincibility, but Kim's a strong contender (and still the favorite to many) for a second world title.
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Another reason why Kim is not assured gold is the presence of the reigning world champion. Asada is seen as Kim's chief competition but has yet to win a notable event this season and was second to 2007 world champion Miki Ando at the Japanese national championships. Like Kim Yu-Na, Asada can rack up points like few others if she's at her best. But also like Kim, she's no sure thing.
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It's fair to say Czisny is peaking at the advanced age of 23, but you never really know with her. She's won two of the last three U.S. championships, but Czisny also was a cringe-worthy 11th at her last worlds appearance in 2009 and didn't come close to making the 2010 U.S. Olympic team. Consistency may be coming. She notched her biggest international victory at December's Grand Prix Final, paving the way to this year's U.S. title.
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Flatt, 18, is five years younger than Czisny and at a very different point in her career. She plans on beginning classes at Stanford this fall but isn't ready to give up skating, either. Flatt, the most consistent U.S. woman in recent years, has worked to improve her international standing since finishing seventh at the Olympics, where she was downgraded on jumps. She even cut her hair at the suggestion of judges (only in figure skating). No U.S. woman has medaled at worlds since 2006. Flatt and Czisny aren't expected to break that drought.
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Aliona Savchenko/Robin Szolkowy
This pairs team entered the 2010 Olympics as the two-time reigning world champions but settled for bronze. A month later, they gave up the world title to Pang Qing and Tong Jian of China, getting silver. But it's been all gold this season, as Savchenko and Szolkowy have yet to lose a major competition, winning the Grand Prix Final and the European Championships.
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Pang Qing/Tong Jian
Pang and Tong surpassed the Germans in 2010, edging them for silver at the Olympics and then winning last year's world championship. They've skated together for nearly two decades and plan on marrying after worlds, which may signal the end of their competitive careers.
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Yuko Kavaguti/Alexander Smirnov
Kavaguti (born and raised in Japan) and Smirnov represent the best Russia has to offer, no better than the No. 3 pairs team in the world. They finished fourth at the 2010 Olympics, the first time a Russian pair didn't win gold, let alone medal, since the 1960 Games.
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Meryl Davis/Charlie White
Davis and White are the only Olympic or world medalists on the U.S. roster this week, having won silver in Vancouver. They're undefeated this Grand Prix season. They're also looking for history, to become the first U.S. ice dance team to win a world championship. But their competition is very real: Olympic champions (and training partners) Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.
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Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir
The Olympic champions have been significantly sidelined since Vancouver due to Virtue's October leg surgery and recent quad injury. With the world championships delayed from March, Virtue received precious healing time. She and Moir got up to speed after missing the entire Grand Prix season.
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Nathalie Péchalat/Fabian Bourzat
The ice-dance competition is seen as a two-team show, but Pechalat and Bourzat are clearly a medal favorite. The French team placed second at the Grand Prix Final and won the European Championships. Pechalat and Bourzat aim for their first worlds medal.
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