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For US, World Figure Skating Championships are about more than medals

mikhail metzel/associated press

As intriguing as it will be to have a bunch of global rookies on the US team for next month’s World Figure Skating Championships in London, Ontario, the stakes are particularly high, since placements will determine the number of entries for next year’s Winter Games in Russia.

As it is, the Americans had the maximum three spots in only one of the four events (ice dancing) for last year’s event and appear unlikely to fill their Olympic quota. That’s why the US Figure Skating Association bypassed Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim, who finished second at the national championships, and granted an injury waiver to Caydee Denney and John Coughlin, last year’s titlists who withdrew after he had hip surgery.

Only five other members of the 2011 team made this one: Ashley Wagner, the first women’s champion to repeat since Michelle Kwan in 2005, and dance couples Meryl Davis-Charlie White (who won their fifth straight crown) and Maia and Alex Shibutani.

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Jeremy Abbott, who splattered his bid to win a fourth men’s title, was odd man out behind long shot Max Aaron and Ross Miner of the Skating Club of Boston, who made the podium for the third year in a row.

“Not to put any pressure on them, but they better get three spots for next year,” said Abbott, who blew his chance by falling on his quadruple toe jump and doubling his final two triples.

The chances are better for the women. Though Wagner barely held on to her title after falling twice in the long program, she was fourth last year, and Gracie Gold, mercurial as she is, could be the It Girl at Olympus.

There was a great leap upward for the pair of Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir, who took advantage of open space above them to vault from fifth to first and become the first Skating Clubbers to win the crown in more than half a century. They’ll be joined by fellow SCBer Miner, a Vermont native who lives in Watertown and who along with clubmate and Harvard freshman Christina Gao is competing in this week’s Four Continents Championship in Osaka, Japan.

Doubts for Plushenko

Evgeni Plushenko’s bid to become the first male figure skater to medal in four Olympics since Sweden’s Gillis Grafstrom (1920, ’24, ’28, ’32) is looking remote. The 30-year-old Russian figure skating icon, who has a gold and two silvers in his trophy case, had back surgery to replace a disk after dropping out of the recent European championships, which he’d won seven times. Alexei Mishin, his longtime coach, reckoned that Plushenko’s rehab will be “quite long.” While it’s still likely that the Motherland will put him on the team in the absence of anyone better, Plushenko could end up in traction if he tries to match Spain’s Javier Fernandez, the new continental champion who landed three quads in his long program, equaling the total number landed by US skaters during the Grand Prix season . . . The Class of 2010 has found out how difficult it is to stick around for another skating quadrennium. Davis and White are the only members of the US team in Vancouver who’ll be at the world championships. Olympic champion Evan Lysacek still is coming back from sports hernia surgery, Johnny Weir had hip problems, and Abbott didn’t qualify. Rachael Flatt missed nationals with leg and ankle injuries, and Mirai Nagasu, albeit under the weather, finished a tearful seventh. Everyone else retired or split up: pairs skaters Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig and Denney and Jeremy Barrett and dancers Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto and Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates.

Cool reception

Omaha, which sells out for the College World Series and the Olympic swimming trials, wasn’t exactly knocked for a loop by the US Figure Skating Championships. Attendance for the week at CenturyLink Center was 90,760, down 11.5 percent from last year’s event in San Jose and 42.6 percent from the Olympic-year championships in Spokane, which set a record with 158,170. Since Nebraska is no skating hotbed, the absence of marquee names likely reduced the numbers, as did Ontario’s hosting the world event. For any fans from Detroit eastward, watching the whole planet compete makes more financial sense. The numbers should be dramatically better next year when the US team for the Games is chosen at TD Garden, which drew more than 150,000 spectators in 2001. All-event ticket packages, ranging from $195 to $995, can be obtained at all Ticketmaster locations, online at ticketmaster.com or at the box office . . . Even without the injured Lindsey Vonn, who was favored to win the women’s downhill, the US skiers still have an excellent chance to make history with three gold medals at the world Alpine championships on the Schladming slopes in Austria. Ted Ligety, who pulled off a surprise victory in Wednesday’s men’s Super G, also figures to retain his giant slalom crown, while teenage ace Mikaela Shiffrin is the woman to beat in the slalom. If Shiffrin does it, she’ll be the first American victor in the event since Barbara Ann Cochran did it in 1972 when the Olympics doubled as the world championships.

Speeding along

Heather Richardson, who became the first US speedskater to win the world sprint title since Jennifer Rodriguez in 2005 when she did it at the Salt Lake City oval, is well-positioned to be the first American to medal in both the 500 and 1,000 meters at the Games since Bonnie Blair won both events at Lillehammer in 1994. She’s favored to win this year’s World Cup crown at the longer distance and ranks third in the shorter . . . US driver Steve Holcomb couldn’t retain either of his titles at the world bobsled championships but he managed to get out of his fourth-pace rut on St. Moritz’s natural run by eking out the bronze medal in the four-man event. “I wish I could have done that in all four heats,” mused the Olympic gold medalist after he’d set a track record (with Melrose native Steve Langton aboard) in the finale to edge Swiss rival Beat Hefti by four-100ths of a second. Holcomb, who’d missed the podium in the two-man by eight-100ths, had come in fourth five times at the Swiss resort. The Germans claimed both men’s titles, with Maximilian Arndt and 22-year-old Francesco Friedrich, the youngest pilot to win the two-man crown. Canada’s Kaillie Humphries became the first woman since Germany’s Sandra Kiriasis in 2008 to retain her title, while the silver from Elana Meyers marked the fourth straight podium for the Americans and their ninth in 11 years.

Alexander was great

Biggest upset of the winter came at the world skeleton championships in St. Moritz, where Alexander Tretiakov won Russia’s first men’s title by upending Latvian two-time defending champion Martins Dukurs, who’d won seven of the eight World Cup races this season. Shelley Rudman claimed Great Britain’s first women’s crown by holding off US rival Noelle Pikus-Pace, the former global victor who has been on fire since returning from her post-Olympic sabbatical . . . As expected, the German lugers mined a mother lode at last weekend’s world championships on the Olympic track at Whistler, British Columbia, winning all four events for the first time since 2008 and collecting eight of a possible 10 medals. Felix Loch led a men’s sweep, Natalie Geisenberger and Tatjana Huefner went 1-2 in the women’s, Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt won their country’s first doubles gold in five years, and the mixed relay also prevailed. No medals for the Americans, who haven’t managed any on the World Cup circuit all season, but there were several encouraging finishes. Chris Mazdzer posted a career-best sixth in the men’s race, former titlist Erin Hamlin and Maine native Julia Clukey placed 6-9 in the women’s, and the relay missed the podium by 12-1,000ths of a second . . . New Hampshire native Sean Doherty is US Biathlon’s most promising wunderkind since Josh Thompson a quarter of century ago. Doherty, who hails from Center Conway, claimed a gold and two silvers at the recent world junior championships in Austria, becoming the only Yank ever to win three individual medals at a global event.

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