- Associated Press - Monday, March 24, 2014

TOKYO (AP) - Japanese teenager Yuzuru Hanyu is aiming to add a world title to his Olympic gold medal when the World Figure Skating Championships begin Wednesday.

With defending champion Yuna Kim retired and Olympic gold medalist Adelina Sotnikova of Russia not taking part, the women’s field is wide open. But the men’s event has a clear favorite.

Hanyu, 19, became the first Japanese to win a gold medal in men’s figure skating at the Sochi Olympics and with three-time world champion Patrick Chan sitting out the March 26-30 meet, he will be front-runner at Saitama Super Arena on the outskirts of Tokyo.

Hanyu, the only Olympic champion taking part, won bronze at the 2012 worlds and can become the first Japanese man since Daisuke Takahashi (2010) to claim a world title.

“The world championship is a big title,” Hanyu said. “There will be a lot of pressure, but that’s something that I look forward to and it will motivate me to be at my best.”

Hanyu will be challenged by two-time European champion Javier Fernandez of Spain and compatriots Tatsuki Machida and Takahiko Kozuka.

Maxim Kovtun of Russia, Jeremy Abbott of the United States and Han Yan of China will also be bidding for a spot on the podium.

In the women’s event, Olympic bronze medalist Carolina Kostner of Italy is the top-ranked skater and can expect a challenge from 15-year-old European champion Julia Lipnitskaia of Russia, two-time world champion Mao Asada of Japan and U.S. champion Gracie Gold.

Other contenders include Four Continents champion Kanako Murakami of Japan and Grand Prix Final bronze medalist Ashley Wagner of the United States.

Olympic gold medalist ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White also opted not to take part - they are competing in the U.S. television program “Dancing With The Stars” instead. Also sitting out the worlds are Olympic and World silver medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada, who are expected to retire.

Davis and White are also the defending world champions so their absence, along with that of Virtue and Moir, opens opportunities for the likes of Olympic bronze medalists Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov, and 2013 world bronze medalists Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev of Russia.

Reigning European champions Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte of Italy and Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Canada will also be contenders.

Four-time world champions and two-time Olympic bronze medalists Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany headline the pairs event.

Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov of Russia will be out to stop the Germans’ quest for a fifth title as will world bronze medalists Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada