by Laura Flagg | Photos by Daphne Backman & Robin Ritoss

The World Championships will take place next week, bringing an end to the 2015-16 competitive season.  Only the Kose Team Challenge Cup, which takes place in April, remains.  30 teams from 24 countries will head to Boston to compete for one of the highest achievements in ice dance.  

While there may be no one clear favorite to win, if there was one team that was least likely to miss out on a medal entirely, it would be reigning World Champions Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron of France.  While they missed the entire Grand Prix Series due to her concussion, they won Europeans, with a solid performance in the short dance and a dominating one in the free with their new program “To Build a Home.”

Maia & Alex Shibutani of the United States will look to make it to the podium again for the first time since 2011, when they won the bronze.  They’ve been gaining momentum all season, culminating with victories at U. S. National and Four Continents Championships.  Their free dance to “Fix You” by Coldplay has captured the attention of audiences around the world, and they hope to do the same to the judges in hopes of winning a medal, perhaps even gold.

Fellow Americans, Madison Chock & Evan Bates, placed just behind the Shibutanis at both U.S. Nationals and Four Continents.  As the reigning Grand Prix Final and World silver medalists, their recent experience at the biggest events could aid them.  However, neither of their two programs stands out especially well in this field.

Reigning Grand Prix Final champions, Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje of Canada, are looking to rebound from their third place finish at Four Continents.  While they have the abilities to put it all together, which is especially well-highlighted in their fabulous short dance to music by Johan Strauss, a repeat of the Four Continents free dance performance will likely leave them off the podium completely.  They have won silver and bronze at the past two worlds; a gold would complete their collection.

2014 World Champions, Italy’s Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte, are looking to return to the podium after just missing last season.  They earned a bronze at the Grand Prix Final, but with the recent rise of the Shibutanis and the return of Papadakis & Cizeron, it may be difficult to repeat that finish. Regardless, their joyful free dance to music from Fellini films will be a nice change of a pace when in the middle of a long succession of dramatic ones from all the other top teams.

Madison Hubbell & Zach Donohue have an outside shot at a top five finish despite being the third ranked US ice dance team.  Even if they were to place sixth or seventh, it would be an enormous improvement over their finish at last year’s Worlds, where they finished 10th.  Their move to coaches Marie-France Dubreuil, Patrice Lauzon, and Romain Haguenauer has been a good one for them, especially as seen in the short dance.

In their second season as a team, Victoria Sinitsina & Nikita Katsalapov of Russia have shown a marked improvement from their debut season.   They are joined at Worlds by Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin, 2013 World Junior champions, who won the bronze medal at Russian Nationals.  Both teams will need to pull out all the stops to place high enough to gain a third spot for Russia for next year.  Both teams have additional work to do before being able to continue to Russia’s legacy in ice dancing on the podium.

Having seemingly slipped in the ranks this season, Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier of Canada are looking to change their fortunes with great performances that are rewarded at Worlds.  Their free dance has been well-received, but missed levels in the short dance at Four Continents cost the team points and they have opted to debut a new short dance in Boston. 

The short dance will be contested on the morning of Wednesday, March 30th, with the top 20 teams competing in the free dance the following evening.