The most prestigious event of the year in figure skating has been postponed indefinitely and faces its first cancellation in 50 years because of the crisis in Japan, international skating officials in Lausanne, Switzerland, announced on Monday.
The International Skating Union decided that it is “not possible” to open the six-day ISU World Figure Skating Championships next Monday in Tokyo.
ISU officials and Japanese authorities have been in discussions since a devastating earthquake and tsunami set off the crisis Friday morning.
“It’s mixed emotions right now,” Ryan Bradley, the men’s U.S. figure skating champion, said by phone from Colorado Springs. “It’s really frustrating for us. Obviously, we’ve been trying so hard to be ready. It’s an exciting event, the highlight of our season.
“[But] I can’t imagine going over there and pretending everything is okay. . . . It’s almost irresponsible to go over there and skate in the midst of this.”
A decision to postpone the championships was reached after “taking into account the continued critical developments in Japan, the ISU’s primary concern for the safety of all participants, spectators and members of concerned entities as well as the travel advisories from many governments to avoid travel to Japan until the situation is settled,” ISU President Ottavio Cinquanta and Director General Fredi Schmid said in a joint statement.
It is unclear whether the governing body is considering moving the event. The U.S. Figure Skating Association offered to provide an alternative site in the United States — Los Angeles held the championships in 2009 — but received no response from the ISU, according to a USFSA spokesperson. The ISU declined further comment.
Three male and two female singles skaters and three dance teams and two pairs teams from the United States had qualified for the event with top finishes at the recent U.S. championships. Bradley, Richard Dornbush, Ross Miner, Alissa Czisny and Rachael Flatt qualified in singles; Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin and Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig qualified in pairs; Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who were expected to contend for the gold medal, qualified in dance along with Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani and Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlein.
The world figure skating championships have not been canceled since 1961, when they were not held after the entire U.S. figure skating team and a number of coaches and officials were killed in a plane crash.
The ISU said it will make an announcement when it has decided whether a final cancellation is appropriate. Bradley said he just finished a week of hard training and was beginning his customary pre-event “taper,” a lightening of his workload to ensure he would be in top form when the event got underway.
Now, he said Monday morning, he was at loss as to how to prepare.
“It’s unreal,” he said. “I have to go to the rink and I have no idea how I’m going to train, how I’m going to prepare, or what I’m going to do.”
The event not only crowns the sports champions, but it also sets the allocation of spots for each country for the following year’s major championship. The governing body also postponed a smaller event, the ISU World Team Trophy, which was scheduled to take place April 14-17 in Yokohama.