by Daphne Backman | Photo by Robin Ritoss

This week, the season will come to a close with the 2018 World Championships. Milan, the second most populous city in Italy, last hosted the ISU World Championships in 1951. Ice Dancing was first contested at the World Championship level in 1952.

Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron of France headline an event roster that includes 31 teams from 24 countries. As is the case in recent Olympic seasons, a few teams that competed at the recent Olympic Games have opted to skip Worlds.

Of note, two of the medalists from Pyeongchang, Canada’s Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir (gold) and siblings Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani of the United States (bronze) will not compete in Milan. Also absent are 2013 World bronze medalists Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitry Soloviev of Russia and three-time Olympians Penny Coomes & Nicholas Buckland of Great Britain. Even without several top teams, the World Championships will still be an opportunity for teams to end their season on a high note. The final placements and scores earned will have an impact on teams headed to the Grand Prix circuit next season, the first in the new quadrennial.

Papadakis & Cizeron, the 2018 Olympic silver medalists, have had a stellar season with performances that invoked emotions within themselves and the audience. Up until Pyeongchang, the team had been undefeated all season with a comfortable lead on the rest of the teams competing in this field. A third world title is likely in the cards for the French.

Outside the top spot, a number of teams are capable of claiming a medal.

2018 U.S. champions Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue built momentum heading into the Olympics, but missteps in the free dance kept them off the podium. Two strong skates from this American team should result in a top-three finish and their first world medal. Their Latin short dance is more subtle than others and their free dance showcases the team’s on-ice chemistry.

Also from Team USA, Madison Chock & Evan Bates could contend for a podium spot. Although a fall in their Olympic free dance performance dropped them to ninth overall, their program set to John Lennon’s “Imagine” is a timely piece for today’s climate. Prior to Pyeongchang, the team won the free dance at the U.S. championships and their free program was placed third at the Grand Prix Final. Chock & Bates won world silver in 2015 and bronze in 2016, but were seventh last year.

Not just home country favorites, but actual hometown favorites Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte could potentially cap their careers with a medal in Milan. The Italians are the 2014 World Champions, but they have been unable to return to the podium since that win. Cappellini & Lanotte’s free dance to the “Life is Beautiful” soundtrack is one of many of the team’s programs that have enchanted audiences since the they began their partnership. They will surely feel a boost from the local crowd, and a return trip to the podium would be an appropriate ciao.

Russia’s Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin were having their best season to date with bronze medal finishes at both Grand Prix events, as well as bronze at the European Championships. It all came crashing down when, after the Russian Olympic Committee was banned from the 2018 Olympics, Bukin’s name was absent from the list of athletes invited by the IOC to compete in Pyeongchang. Though devastating for the team, they have had plenty of time to continue training. They were only tenth last year, but as Russia’s top team at this event and on the heels of a strong season, they should arrive in Italy ready for the medal fight.

Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje of Canada have stated they will take it year by year when addressing questions about their future beyond the 2017-18 season. Their move to Nikolai Morozov last season has resulted in visible improvements in the quality of their skating. The two-time World medalists have been in striking distance of the podium and with Virtue & Moir out, they have taken over the position of Canada’s top team and are poised to make a return to medal position. They won world silver in 2014 and world bronze in 2015.

Fellow Canadians Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier were eighth in Pyeonchang, equal to their placements at the 2016 and 2017 World Championships. They, however, have finished as high as sixth in the world before, and should be aiming for top six once again in Milan, which would set them up well for the Grand Prix series next year.

In addition to Cappellini & Lanotte, Alisa Agafanova & Alper Ucar will compete in their final competition this week. Ucar was Turkey’s first ice dancer, switching from singles when he was in his 20’s. Agafonova & Ucar put Turkey on the ice dance map by qualifying for the past two Olympic Games.

The ice dance event gets underway with the short dance on Friday, March 23 at 11 AM local time (6 AM ET) with the free dance taking place on Saturday, March 24 at 10 AM local time (5 AM ET).