Olympians Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir believe skating before a home crowd could help propel members of the United States team onto the podium at the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships, which will be held at Boston’s TD Garden March 28-April 3.
“I think that a great advantage for the American team is that this championship is happening in the United States,” said Weir, who will share the NBC broadcast booth in Boston with Lipinski, the 1998 Olympic women’s champion. “We saw it in the 2002 Olympics, with how well the American team did. We saw it at the 2009 world championships in Los Angeles, where Evan Lysacek won kind of a blinding world title.
“Should one of these skaters, one of these ladies, really skate perfectly and blow the roof off the building, the judges will be hard-pressed to go against the wishes of a pro-American audience, and I think that can lead to surprises in all of the disciplines.”
Lipinski sees the United States women as contenders for podium placements. The three U.S. women competing will all contend to end the 10-year medal drought. Kimme Meissner was the last U.S. woman to win a medal at worlds or the Olympics, when she took the world title in 2006.
“I think the American ladies are strong,” she said. “Gracie (Gold) and Ashley (Wagner) have the technical content. They’re doing the triple-triples. Someone like Gracie, skating clean, skating lights out, adding the emotion, selling a program – I think a medal is not just a maybe. It should be hers to lose.
“Obviously the Russians are strong,” she added. “The Japanese are strong. So everyone is going to put out their best, and it sometimes comes down to making a mistake. At the same time, I think our American team has a chance to be on the podium.”
“I think mainly both Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold certainly have a chance to ignite the audience,” said Weir, a two-time Olympian and 2008 world bronze medalist. “People often forget that the judges are the first row of the audience, and if the audience is feeling it, the judges will feel it, and up go the presentation and artistic scores.”
However, the challenge in front of the U.S. team is a formidable one, compounded by what Lipinski sees as an unusually high level of skating two years away from the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games.
“You hope that by the time you get to the Olympic year, skating is at its best,” she said. “We’re still quite a ways out from South Korea and the level that the skating is at now is just something that I’ve never really seen before. People are pushing the technical bar, and it’s just becoming more and more exciting.”
Both Lipinski and Weir believe the U.S. men face a significant challenge.
“It will be quite a distance to overcome,” said Weir. “If everyone skates their best, including the favorites – (Japan’s) Yuzuru Hanyu, (Canada’s) Patrick Chan, (Spain’s) Javier Fernandez, (China’s) Han Yan and Boyang Jin, (Japan’s) Shoma Uno, the list goes on and on. That really puts the United States men looking up at a top-10 finish almost as if it would be like winning a medal.”
Of the three men representing the United States, Lipinski looks to 2016 national champion Adam Rippon to carry the banner.
“I think Adam has the ability to hit that quad and blow the roof off,” she said. “When he does skate clean, he is electrifying, and, again, we’re in Boston, so this could be a great moment for him.
Another event that Weir suspects could be helped by the home ice advantage is ice dance.
“Should Maia and Alex Shibutani, with Boston roots and everything, really skate their amazing Coldplay free program, there could be an upset in dance,” he said. Boston is where Alex was born and where he and Maia earned their spot on the 2014 Olympic team with a bronze-medal finish at the U.S. championships.
While competing on home soil may give the American skaters a slight edge, it is no guarantee of a medal haul. At the 2009 worlds in Los Angeles, the last to be held in the United States, the U.S. team brought home two medals: Lysacek’s gold in men’s and a silver by Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto in ice dance.