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[ICE TIME] World Championships Preview: Shoma Uno and Kaori Sakamoto to Vie for Three-Peats

Uno is seeking to match Patrick Chan's accomplishment (2011-13), while Sakamoto is aiming to equal Peggy Fleming's feat (1966-68) at the world championships.

Defending world champions Shoma Uno and Kaori Sakamoto will be looking to retain their crowns for the third straight year when the world championships get underway at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Canada, this week.

After a couple of days of official practices, the action will commence with the pairs and women's short programs on Wednesday afternoon, March 20. The men's short program will follow on Thursday, March 21.

Uno will be seeking his first victory in the 2023-24 season at an ISU event. The 26-year-old will have to find a way to beat American Ilia Malinin to do it. Uno finished second behind the 19-year-old Malinin at the Grand Prix Final in Beijing in December 2023. He was also second at both of his GP assignments this campaign.

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Shoma Uno (©SANKEI)

Malinin's jumping prowess has created a gap that Uno is having difficulty overcoming. Uno has not competed since winning the Japan Championships for the sixth time in December. He has no doubt used the time to practice additional quadruple jumps to employ in his free skate in Canada.

At the World Figure Skating Championships, Uno will need to skate two clean programs and hope Malinin makes some mistakes to have a legitimate chance at defeating the rising star. A third straight title for Uno would mark the first time in 11 years the feat has been achieved. Canada's Patrick Chan was the last do it, in 2011-13.

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Yuma Kagiyama (©SANKEI)

Kagiyama and Miura Also Vying for Men's Medals at the World Championships

Japan will have a good chance for multiple medals in the men's event, with Beijing Olympic silver medalist Yuma Kagiyama back to full health and looking good during his triumph at the Four Continents Championships in February. He was third at the GP Final behind Malinin and Uno.

Kao Miura is the third men's skater for the Hinomaru and he can also challenge for the podium with his speed and big jumps. The 18-year-old Miura, the 2023 world junior champion, has been eyeing his first senior worlds for the past two seasons and will certainly be fired up to be competing there.

Other potential medal contenders for the men include two-time European champion Adam Siao Him Fa of France and 2023's world silver medalist Jun Hwan Cha of South Korea, who has been out of form this season but could pull a surprise like he did last year.

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Kaori Sakamoto (KYODO)

Sakamoto Looks to Join Fleming with Three Consecutive Wins

Sakamoto is the clear favorite in the women's competition and will be looking to etch her name in the record books if she can take the gold again. A victory by the 23-year-old Sakamoto would make her the first female skater to win the worlds three years in a row since American Peggy Fleming did in 1966-68.

Sakamoto is a level above all of her competitors at this point, and barring an injury, should emerge victorious again. She has won every competition she has entered this season.

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Mone Chiba in a December 2023 file photo. (©SANKEI)

Joining Sakamoto in the women's field is the surging Mone Chiba, who was impressive in winning the Four Continents in February, and Hana Yoshida, who was the bronze medalist at this season's GP Final.

The 18-year-old Chiba's confidence is booming following her win in Shanghai, where she established new personal-best scores in all categories. If she can carry that momentum into the worlds, she could come away with a medal.

Yoshida was named the "Best Newcomer" at the ISU Skating Awards in February. The 18-year-old never competed in the World Junior Championships, so she will have to overcome the pressure of skating in the senior worlds for the first time.

Yoshida took second place behind Sakamoto at the Challenge Cup in the Netherlands in February in a final tune-up before the worlds.

Other contenders in the women's event include Belgium's Loena Hendrickx, who was second behind Sakamoto at the GP Final and third at last year's worlds, and her compatriot Nina Pinzarrone, who medaled at both of her GP assignments.

It's just a shoe!

Keep an Eye on … Levito and Lee

The 2022-23 season US champion Isabeau Levito and South Korea's Haein Lee, who has not been in top form this season, also have an outside chance at making the podium.

Ryuichi Kihara (left) and Riku Miura compete in the pairs free skate at the 2023 World Championships in March at Saitama Super Arena. (ⒸSANKEI)

Miura and Kihara Will Try to Overcome Competitive Inactivity

Defending pairs world champions Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara have only participated in one event this season due to a back injury Kihara sustained last fall. They returned to claim the silver medal at the Four Continents in February. Although they will have a tough time bringing home the gold again due to their lack of competition, they could be in the mix for a medal.

Miura and Kihara's world championships competition will come from Italy's Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii, who were third at worlds last year, Germany's Minerva Fabienne Hase and Nikita Volodin, this season's GP Final titlists, and Canada's Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps, who were the champions at the Four Continents.

Chock and Bates Tabbed to Retain Title

Last year's world champions Madison Chock and Evan Bates of the US will be favored to retain their crown in ice dance. The duo has enjoyed a strong campaign that has seen them prevail in every competition they have entered, including the GP Final.

Other medal possibilities include Italy's Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri, who were second at the GP Final, and Canada's Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, who came in third at the GP Final.

Japan's Misato Komatsubara and Tim Koleto have not put up good results this season and will be looking to just finish in the top 10 at the world championships in Montreal.

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Author: Jack Gallagher

The author is a veteran sports journalist and one of the world's foremost figure skating experts. Find articles and podcasts by Jack on his author page, and find him on X (formerly Twitter) @sportsjapan.

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