FIGURE SKATING Preview: Is Hanyu injury free? Is Chen ready to defend his title in Japan?

There are plenty of attractive story lines at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Saitama City (JPN), but the headline is the expected clash between Olympic gold medalist and national hero Yuzuru Hanyu and America’s defending World Champion, Nathan Chen.

The schedule:

20 March: Women’s Short Program; Pairs Short Program
21 March: Men’s Short Program; Pairs Free Skate
22 March: Women’s Free Skate; Ice Dance Rhythm Dance
23 March: Men’s Free Skate; Ice Dance Free Dance

The 18,000-seat Saitama Super Arena will be the scene, as it was in 2014, when Hanyu also won and led a 1-2 Japanese finish with Tatsuki Machida. The top scores from this season for the top entries:

297.12 Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) ~ 2014-18 Olympic Champ; 2014-17 World Champ
289.12 Shoma Uno (JPN) ~ 2017-18 Worlds silver; 2018 Olympic silver
282.42 Nathan Chen (USA) ~ Defending Champion
274.37 Mikhail Kolyada (RUS) ~ 2018 Worlds bronze
273.51 Boyang Jin (CHN) ~ 2016-17 Worlds bronze
272.22 Vincent Zhou (USA) ~ 2018 Olympic 6th; 2017 World Junior Champ
269.84 Alexander Samarin (RUS) ~ 2019 European Champs silver

238.43 Alina Zagitova (RUS) ~ 2018 Olympic Champion
233.12 Rika Kihira (JPN) ~ 2019 Four Continents & Grand Prix Final winner
219.71 Satoko Miyahara (JPN) ~ 2015 Worlds silver; 2018 Worlds bronze
213.90 Kaori Sakamoto (JPN) ~ 2018 Olympic 6th
213.84 Sofia Samodurova (RUS) ~ 2019 European Champion
207.46 Elizabet Tursynbaeva (KAZ) ~ 2019 Four Continents silver
204.89 Evgenia Medvedeva (RUS) ~ 2016-17 World Champ; 2018 Olympic silver

225.66 Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres (FRA) ~ 2018 Worlds bronze
220.25 Evgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) ~ 2018 Worlds silver
216.90 Cheng Peng/Yang Jin (CHN) ~ 2019 Four Continents bronze
214.14 Natalia Zabiiako/Alexander Enbert (RUS) ~ 2018 Olympic seventh
211.11 Wenjing Sui/Cong Han (CHN) ~ 2017 World Champions; 2018 Olympic silver
211.05 Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN) ~ 2019 Four Continents silver
205.28 Aleksandra Boikova/Dmitrii Kozlovskii (RUS) ~ 2019 European Champs bronze

Ice Dance:
217.98 Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) ~ 2018 OWG silver; 3x Worlds golds
207.42 Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) ~ 2015 Worlds silver; 2016 Worlds bronze
206.41 Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS) ~ 2019 European Champs silver
205.35 Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) ~ 2018 Worlds silver
203.93 Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje (CAN) ~ 2014 Worlds silver; 2018 Worlds bronze
202.45 Piper Gilles/Paul Poirer (CAN) ~ 2018 Olympic 8th; 2018 Worlds 6th
201.37 Victoria Sinitsina/Nikita Katsalapov (RUS) ~ 2019 European Champs 4th

The home crowd will be wild for Hanyu and Uno to repeat their 1-2 from PyeongChang a year ago, but Chen has other plans. The American skated very poorly in the Olympic Short Program, then was brilliant in the Free Skate. If they perform as expected, they will be the three medal winners among the men.

The women’s competition is expected to be a dual meet between Russia and Japan, as the two countries have the top 10 skaters (by score) in the world for 2018-19. Zagitova, still just 16, was just fifth at the 2018 Worlds after winning the Olympic gold and then was second behind Samodurova (also 16) at the European Championships. Kihira has been the find of the season, winning all three Grand Prix events and the Four Continents.

In Pairs, James and Cipres won all three of their Grand Prix events and the Europeans; Tarasova and Morozov were second at the Europeans and third in the Grand Prix Final, behind Sui and Han.

Three-time World Champions Papadakis and Cizeron are the Dance favorites, winning their three Grand Prix appearances and the European title. The American pairs of Chock and Bates and Hubbell and Donohue have excellent shots at a medal, as do Canada’s Weaver and Poje and the Russian duo of Stephanova and Bukin.

NBC has delayed coverage of the ISU Worlds, mostly on NBCSN:

● 20 March: Women’s Short Program, at 12 p.m. Eastern time
● 21 March: Men’s and Pairs Short Program, at 1 p.m. Eastern time
● 22 March: Women’s Free Skate and Rhythm Dance, at 7 p.m. Eastern time
● 23 March: Men’s Free Skate at 1 p.m. Eastern time
● 23 March: Highlights program at 8 p,m. Eastern time on NBC

Look for detailed results here.