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Record number of skaters at worlds

203 skaters/couples from 48 ISU members compete at worlds

Miki Ando's secret weapon at worlds will be a quad-Salchow.
Miki Ando's secret weapon at worlds will be a quad-Salchow. (Michelle Harvath)

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(03/14/2008) - The 2008 ISU World Figure Skating Championships will open in the Scandinavium Arena in Gothenburg, Sweden, on March 18. A record number of 203 skaters/couples from 48 ISU members have been entered for the world championships. Puerto Rico is represented for the first time at world championships with one entry in the ladies division. Following a decision of the 51st Ordinary Congress of the ISU in June 2006, no qualifying rounds will be skated. All single skaters will compete in the short program, and the top 24 will proceed to the free skate. The world championships return to Sweden for the first time in 32 years. Gothenburg has hosted world championships once, in 1976. Overall, Sweden has hosted worlds seven times before, in Stockholm in 1947, 1934, 1922, 1909, 1905, 1901 and 1897.

Overview over the top contenders

Reigning world champion Brian Joubert (FRA) is keen on defending his title, but competition will be extremely tough. World silver medalist Daisuke Takahashi (JPN) has had a great season so far. He posted a new personal best and record score of 264.41 points at the ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships in Goyang, Korea, in February. His only defeat this season was handed to him by two-time world champion Stéphane Lambiel (SUI), who beat Takahashi at the ISU Grand Prix Final in December, where he also earned his new personal best of 239.10 points. Lambiel is the reigning world bronze medalist, and finished second at the 2008 European Championships . Joubert was third at the Europeans and scored a season's best of 219.45 points. The Frenchman had missed his second Grand Prix competition in November and subsequently didn't qualify for the Grand Prix Final as he was suffering from a virus.

Tomas Verner (CZE) upset both Lambiel and Joubert at Europeans to win the first European gold for a Czech man in 16 years. He achieved a new personal best of 232.67 points. Jeffrey Buttle (CAN) took the silver medal at the Four Continents Championships and wants to be back on the world podium (seasons and personal best 234.02 points). Other contenders are Johnny Weir (USA/seasons best 231.78), Canadian champion Patrick Chan (seasons best 214.94), Russian champion Sergei Voronov (seasons best 210.13) and 2007 world junior champion Stephen Carriere (USA/seasons best 218.30 points). Two-time world bronze medalist Evan Lysacek (USA) withdrew Thursday (March 13) due to a shoulder injury.

Reigning world champion Miki Ando (JPN) will face stiff competition from teammate and last year's runner up Mao Asada. So far, Ando hasn't won any competition this season, but is determined to defend her title. She plans to use her ultimate weapon -- the quadruple Salchow. Ando is the first and only lady to have landed a quadruple jump in competition (at the 2002 Junior Grand Prix Final). She earned her seasons best score of 177.66 points at the ISU Four Continents Championships, where she came in third. Asada won the event with a seasons best of 193.25 points. Defending world bronze medalist Yu-Na Kim missed Four Continents because of a hip/back injury but hoped to be back in full force for Gothenburg. The Korean posted the highest seasons best of any lady with 197.20 points at the Cup of Russia.

Top skaters from Europe and North America are ready to challenge the Asian stars. Joannie Rochette (CAN) comes off a second-place finish at the Four Continents Championships (seasons best 179.54 points). European champion and Grand Prix Final bronze medalist Carolina Kostner (ITA) is aiming for a second world medal after 2005. She achieved her seasons best of 178.93 points at the final in Torino. 2006 world champion Kimberly Meissner (USA) hopes for a comeback in Sweden (seasons best 163.23 points). Others to watch include Grand Prix finalist Yukari Nakano (JPN/seasons best 172.96 points), European silver medalist Sarah Meier (SUI/seasons best 169.44), European bronze medalist Laura Lepisto (FIN/seasons best 165.65).

The pairs event focuses on a battle between the Chinese and the Germans. Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy (GER) enter the world championships as the favorites, after cruising to gold at Europeans and winning the Grand Prix Final (seasons best 202.39 points). However, they were beaten once this season -- by Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang (CHN) at the Cup of Russia. The 2006 world and Olympic silver medalists come with a season's best score of 196.96 points to Sweden. 2006 world champions and reigning world silver medalists Qing Pang and Jian Tong (CHN) have improved from competition to competition this season, and won the ISU Four Continents Championships ahead of Zhang and Zhang last month, earning a seasonal best of 187.33 points.

Some other couples are waiting for their chance to shine as well: European silver medalists Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov (RUS/seasons best 179.82 points), European bronze medalists Yuko Kawaguchi and Alexander Smirnov (RUS/seasons best 181.71 points), Grand Prix finalists Jessica Dube and Bryce Davison (CAN/seasons best 174.20 points) and Tatiana Volosozhar and Stanislav Morozov (UKR/seasons best 163.43 points), who finished fourth at the 2007 world championships. Back in action are also Rena Inoue and John Baldwin (USA), who sat out the Grand Prix series earlier this season, but finished fourth at the Four Continents Championships (seasons best 156.00 points).

The ice dancing competition promises to be very interesting and close. Reigning world bronze medalists Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto and 2007 European champions Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder (FRA) finished second and third at the Grand Prix Final, separated by just 0.74 points. The French champions scored a seasons best of 205.92 points at Europeans, were they finished a close second to Oksana Domina and Maxim Shabalin (RUS). Belbin and Agosto's seasons best dates from the Cup of China with 195.11 points. Up-and-coming couples are eager to challenge the leaders in Gothenburg. Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir (CAN) won the ISU Four Continents Championships with a new season's best of 207.32 points. Meryl Davis and Charlie White (USA) were ranked second in Korea, and earned a season's best of 199.45 points. Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski (RUS) picked up a season's best of 197.06 points, when they took the bronze medal at the ISU European Championships in January.

Domnina and Shabalin withdrew from the world championships on March 12, citing injury. According to a press release from the Russian Figure Skating Federation, Shabalin re-injured his left knee in practice. He underwent meniscus surgery in December 2007.

Note that for the seasonal best total scores only ISU Championships and the ISU Grand Prix competitions are taken into consideration, not other international competitions or national championships. There is also no compulsory dance skated at the Grand Prix Final, so ice dancers didn't score a seasons best at this event.

Prize money and World Standings Bonus

The ISU awards a global prize money of US$ 710,000 at the World Figure Skating Championships to skaters/couples placed 1st to 12th. The prize money is awarded to winners and placed skaters/couples as follows:

Men and Ladies
1st place US$ 45,000
2nd place US$ 27,000
3rd place US$ 18,000
4th place US$ 13,000
5th place US$ 10,000
6th place US$ 7,000
7th place US$ 6,000
8th place US$ 5,000
9th place US$ 3,500
10th place US$ 3,000
11th place US$ 2,500
12th place US$ 2,000

Pairs and Dance (per couple)
1st place US$ 67,500
2nd place US$ 40,500
3rd place US$ 27,000
4th place US$ 19,500
5th place US$ 15,000
6th place US$ 10,500
7th place US$ 9,000
8th place US$ 7,500
9th place US$ 5,250
10th place US$ 4,500
11th place US$ 3,750
12th place US$ 3,000

By competing in the ISU World Figure Skating Championships the athletes earn points towards the world standings as well. The three skaters/couples per discipline having earned the most world standing points during the 2007/2008 season will be awarded with the world standings bonus. The following amounts will be awarded to the concerned skaters/couples:

Ladies & Men
1st: US$ 45,000
2nd: US$ 27,000
3rd: US$ 18,000

Pairs & Dance (per couple)
1st: US$ 67,500
2nd: US$ 40,500
3rd: US$ 27,000

So far, Daisuke Takahashi is leading the 2007/2008 standings for the men, 1,960 points ahead of Stéphane Lambiel (1,916 points) and Tomas Verner (1,889). The new world champion will receive 1,200 points, the silver medalist gets 1,150 points, and the bronze medalist 1,100 points.

In the ladies, Carolina Kostner tops the ranking with 2,341 points, followed by Mao Asada (1,960) and world junior silver medalist Caroline Zhang (USA/1,587 points), who will not compete in Gothenburg. Asada and Yu-Na Kim were tied in first place last year and both received the full prize money for the first place.

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy (GER) have accumulated 2,290 points this season, and are currently in the lead ahead of Qing Pang and Jian Tong (1,888 points) and Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang (1,876 points). Savchenko and Szolkowy and Zhang and Zhang were tied in second place last year. 2007 world champions Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao had won the world standing bonus.

The top ranked ice dancing team are Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder, who collected 2,054 points this season so far. Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin are currently standing in second place with 2,040 points, ahead of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir (1,823 points). Domnina and Shabalin were ranked third in the bonus race last year. The winners were Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski (BUL), who have retired from competition.

The schedule of the ISU World Figure Skating Championships 2008 is as follows:
Tuesday, March 18: Compulsory Dance, Pairs Short Program
Wednesday, March 19: Ladies Short Program, Pairs Free Skating
Thursday, March 20: Original Dance, Ladies Free Skating
Friday, March 21: Men Short Program, Free Dance
Saturday, March 22: Men Free Skating
Sunday, March 23: Exhibition Gala