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Philip Hersh: World Figure Skating Championships unlikely to produce a big haul for U.S.

January 31, 2011 |  4:17 pm

Men

One medal.

That's what the United States figures to get at the March World Figure Skating Championships.

That's all that the results -- and quality of skating -- from the U.S. Championships that ended  Sunday would augur.

One medal would be the same as last year, when the outlook was better, even if you don't include eventual Olympic champion Evan Lysacek  (who skipped worlds) in the equation.

It would be the fourth time in five years dating to 2007 that Team USA has won just one medal.  That lone bronze medal in 2007 had been the lowest U.S. total at worlds since 1994.

The difference is the one medal this year could be special, since Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who earned the sole prize (silver) in 2010,  have a shot at the first ice dance gold in U.S. history.

Whether they can get it should be clearer after next month's Four Continents Championship, where reigning world and Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada plan a season debut delayed by her injury.

Davis If Davis and White can't beat the Canadians at Four Continents , it's unlikely they will do it at worlds a month later in Tokyo.

And here is the outlook in the other three disciplines:

MEN -- The story here will be whether the United States can hold onto a third spot for the 2012 worlds.  To do that, the top two U.S. finishes have to add up to 13 or fewer points.

It doesn't look good.

Since he did not come out of retirement until October, new U.S. champion Ryan Bradley has not done any international events this season.  The last memory international judges have of Bradley is that of an injured skater who staggered to 18th at the 2010 worlds.  He was 15th at his other world appearance in 2007.

While Bradley's victory at nationals was deserved, his free skate was sloppy, and he skated much of it at about 2 miles per hour.  The two months between now and worlds should give him a chance to build stamina that was lacking because he began serious training so late.

The other two members of the team for Tokyo, world meet rookies Richard Dornbush and Ross Miner, could surprise if a) each feels as little pressure as he did as a podium longshot at nationals; and b) each skates an error-free program as he did at nationals.

Realistically, though, either would succeed by breaking into the top 10 at worlds.

After all, Dornbush still was on the Junior Grand Prix circuit this season, and Miner finished seventh and ninth in his two senior Grand Prix appearances, where each field included only about one-third of the world's top men.

WOMEN -- The U.S. medal drought in the women's event at worlds, four years, already is the longest since Hedy Stenuf's bronze in 1938 ended a seven-year shutout.

Don't figure on either Alissa Czisny or Rachael Flatt getting the U.S. off the podium schneid this year, although it would be wise to wait until after Four Continents, where both plan to compete, before writing off their chances of ending the three-year streak of Team USA earning just two women's spots at worlds.

Czisny's back-to-back fine performances in winning both nationals and the Grand Prix Final were  impressive and encouraging, since consistency had been among her many issues.

But the field at the Grand Prix Final lacked the world's top two skaters of the past three years, reigning Olympic champion Kim Yuna of South Korea and reigning world champion Mao Asada of Japan. It is hard to predict how either Kim or Mao will do at worlds.

For Kim, it will be a competitive season debut.  Asada staggered though the Grand Prix season as she reworked her jump technique under a new coach, but she finally got her act together in finishing second at last month's Japanese championships.

Czisny's two previous world appearances have been flops: 15th (2007) and 11th (2009). The latter, when she also was the new national champion, cost the USA a third 2010 Olympic spot, and no U.S. woman ever had done that poorly at worlds in the year when she was national champion.

Flatt made a strong world debut with a fifth in 2009 but dropped to ninth last year after a seventh at the Olympics.

Were Czisny to skate as well as she did at nationals, it could win her a medal. That would leave Flatt needing only to make the top 10 to get back the third spot.  If each skates at her best level of this season, there is no doubt they will earn that extra spot.

PAIRS -- Hopeless.

That didn't stop Mark Ladwig, who has teamed with Amanda Evora to finish second at nationals the past two years, from claiming at the post-event press conference last week that U.S. pairs were "close'' to making the world podium for the first time since 2002, when Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman won bronze.

Delusional.

John Coughlin, part of the new U.S. champions with Caitlin Yankowskas, said, "We're coming, and the world knows it.''

Chimerical.

"Medals are great,'' Ladwig said.  "Three teams is the next step.''

Make that a giant leap from the abyss into which U.S. pairs skating has fallen.

The facts:

--The leading U.S. pair at last year's worlds, seventh-place Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett, finished more than 30 points from a bronze medal.

--The year before, the leading U.S. team (ninth-place Denney and Barrett), was 29.55 points from a bronze.

--The gap between the top U.S. team and bronze was 35.58 in 2008 and 23.42 in 2007.

--At the 2010 Olympics, Evora and Ladwig's 10th was the worst finish by the leading U.S. team in Olympic history. (The previous worst was seventh.) Denney and Barrett's 13th made it the worst aggregate finish in the 11 Olympics the United States had two pairs teams.

--And Evora-Ladwig's Olympic score was almost 39 points from bronze.

Need I make my point(s) any clearer?

-- Philip Hersh in Greensboro, N.C.

Top photo: U.S. Championships medalists Ross Miner (bronze), Ryan Bradley (gold) and Richard Dornbush are unlikely to be draped in new glory at the world championships. Credit: Matthew Stockman / Getty Images

Lower photo: Dramatic U.S. ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White have a shot at a world title in their discipline. Credit: Bob Leverone / Associated Press

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