One week from today, the biggest figure skating event of 2011, the World Figure Skating Championships was to commence in Tokyo, Japan. Due to concerns over effects of the earthquake and tsunami on the region, the International Skating Union and the Japanese Skating Federation today announced that they will be postponing the event indefinitely. On the advice of the Japanese authorities, they concluded that given safety concerns for competitors and spectators, staging of the event at that time just "is not possible."
Top skaters from around the world planned their entire year around this event, its location and timing. Fans booked travel years in advance to attend. Organizers put thousands of hours into planning. Now with travel advisories, fear of continued aftershocks and power outages, everything is on hold. Yesterday, the German skating organization announced that following instructions advising Europeans not to travel to Japan, they would not be sending their team, adding severity to the situation.
Two of last year's champions are Japanese - Mao Asada and Daisuke Takahashi - superstars on ice who trained all year to peak exactly at the time of their programs next week, along with many other skaters. Now they may not be able to compete at all. It remains to be determined whether the event will take place at a later date or be canceled all together. (Moving it to another location is likely not an option given the logistics involved.)
The U.S. team, comprised of 15 skaters (5 singles and 5 couples), now waits for a determination as to whether they will compete. Most likely they will continue training as if the event could happen any day, yet the indeterminate status could disrupt how they train. Usually by the final week before the event, they would be traveling, getting acclimated to time changes, doing final run-throughs of their programs in costume, and polishing their presentations to perfection. Instead, they're in a holding pattern - their entire preparation off-axis.
Alissa Czisny, this year's U.S. champion and winner of the Grand Prix Final, is one of the favorites leading into the event, along with Asada, Miki Ando and Kanako Murakami of Japan. Czisny is coached by Yuka Sato, former Japanese champion who now lives in the U.S.. Rachel Flatt is the other American lady on the World Team. For the men, Canadian Patrick Chan, winner of the Grand Prix Final and silver medalist at Worlds last year, was poised for a tough competition against three Japanese men: Nobunari Oda, Takahiko Kozuka and Takahashi. Olympic Champions in Ice Dance, Virtue & Moir, planned to compete alongside Americans Davis & White.
Mirai Nagasu, American ladies' bronze medalist and alternate for Worlds, has family in Japan and tweeted Sunday that she was able to locate them, although their home suffered some damage. Many of the other American skaters past and present who have made friends in Japan sent their thoughts and prayers their way. Clearly the disasters in Japan have rocked the skating community along with many others.
Fifty years ago, the U.S. figure skating team perished in a plane crash en route to the 1961 World Championships. This was the last time the event was canceled. A documentary film, entitled RISE, was released in limited theaters this past month in memorial. The message: in the wake of tragedy, the U.S. figure skating program rose from the ashes and brought new hope to skaters around the country. For skaters like Nagasu, Sato and those in Japan, their concerns go first and foremost to the people there. Trying to focus on a major competition while so much instability still exists throughout the country is no small feat. One can only hope that something positive will rise up from 2011 as well.
The ISU statement reads that their final decision will be "subject to the confirmation by the competent Japanese authorities that the situation is back to normal conditions allowing the safe conduct of major ISU sports events in the Tokyo area." They will continue to monitor developments in Japan in order to consider whether to choose a future date for the event or cancel it entirely.
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