Hanyu, Medvedeva favored for figure skating gold

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Boston (AFP) - Mao Asada and Patrick Chan are the most decorated athletes slated to compete at the the World Figure Skating Championships this week, but both are considered underdogs in their comeback season.

The sport's landscape has changed markedly since the three-time world champions stepped away from competition in 2014 to ponder their respective futures.

On the men's scene, Japan's 2014 Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu and Spain's Javier Fernandez, the 2015 world titleholder, raised the technical bar by adding a second quadruple jump in their short programmes and a third in the long.

With that firepower, they broke through the 300-point ceiling this season, Hanyu smashing it with a jaw-dropping 330.43 at the Grand Prix Final.

"I think it will be hard to beat Yuzu, but the only one who can achieve a score like that will be Javi," said Brian Orser, who coaches both Hanyu and Fernandez in Toronto.

In mounting her comeback last fall, Asada found three new podium rivals to contend with -- fellow Japanese Satoko Miyahara and Russians Evgenia Medvedeva and Elena Radionova.

Fresh from the world junior podium, the teenage trio established themselves as senior level frontrunners with impressive technical ability and performance consistency.

Asada won gold at her last world meet in 2014 as did Canada's Chan in 2013, but regaining their competitive footing has proved a challenge.

Unless the big-money tricks elude his archrivals in Boston, Chan concedes he cannot close the technical points gap at these Worlds given he's out-matched five to three in the quad department.

"I am a bit of an underdog, one could say, so it's kind of exciting for me. It's a very different world championship than any other I competed at."

Typically, champions find defending a title daunting, but Fernandez insists he won't be stressing over holding onto his world crown when competition begins on Wednesday.

"I will try to perform well and defend my title but, then again, it's not the end of the world for me if I'm not the world champion again," the Spaniard said.

Fernandez was treated in February and March for an inflammation of the fascia around a pelvic muscle. It was an annoyance, but not an impediment to training, he said.

Hanyu, however, did stop training toe-loop jumps for two months through mid-March to allow an irritated tendon in his left (take-off) foot to heal.

Among the women's frontrunners, 2015 world junior titleholder Medvedeva has the edge after winning Grand Prix and European gold, but Miyahara, senior world silver medallist last year, is not far off her pace.

- Triple Axel the 'wild card' -

Choreographer Tom Dickson, who has worked six years with Miyahara, said: "When you look at bodyline, carriage, flow, musicality, it's hard to beat Satoko.

"The Russians are good, but they don't quite have that same carriage. I hope that will shine through if everyone skates perfect (technically)."

Dickson suggests that Asada "doesn't have the wind in her sails" going into Boston, but notes "the triple Axel is always the wild card."

As the only woman in the event to land the high-scoring jump in competition, Asada could upset the favourites with it.

Talented but inconsistent US veterans Gracie Gold and Ashley Wagner also could factor into the medal mix, especially with home-crowd support.

In pairs competition, Canadian Meagan Duhamel said she’ll be "ecstatic" if she and partner Eric Radford can repeat as world champions.

Three other pairs have equal podium potential -- Russia's returning 2014 Olympic gold and silver medallists, Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov and Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, and Chinese Sui Wenjing and Han Cong.

Ice dance appears to be a three-way race for gold among surprise 2015 world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, of France, Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje and US siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani.