Remember when Triple Axels were this amazing jump that were big and huge and almost always coupled with a Triple Toeloop. I'm talking amazing Axels like those of Alexei Urmanov, Elvis Stojko, Ilia Kulik, and Todd Eldridge. Remember those days?
What has happned to this jump. The number of men in the world of figure skating these days that can do a great Axel is diminishing. Hell, Mao Asada has a better Axel than most of the men! World Champ Joubert's Axels are small and the landings are always "muscled." I have rarely (if ever?) seen him do a Triple Axel/Triple Toe combination. Former World Champ Lambiel often doesn't even try the jump and when he does it it's downgraded to a double half the time. Daisuke Takahashi hurries and gets the jump out of the way at the top of the program, rarely doing more than a triple/double combo. Kevin Van Der Perren has to do this "wings of an airplane flap" before leaving the ice (seriously, watch closely the next time you see him)on his axel...often it is unsuccessful. Jeffrey Buttle's consistency on his Axel has improved (I recently saw him hit a Triple Axel/Triple Toe at Skate Canada) but it still lacks some finesse. American Evan Lysacek skids the take off horribly, I'm continually amazed at how often he lands the jump, a testament to his ability. Don't get me started on U.S. Silver Medalist Ryan Bradley's Axel...one word, haphazard! Most of the other competitors in the world are lucky if Triple Axel is even in their repertoire of jumps let alone landing it in competition.
However I have reserved some space for whom I think the three best Axel jumpers in the world are today. Third best is an up and comer in the world of figure skating. Sergei Voronov has a great Triple Axel and I think he has learned some great technique from his coach, Olympic Champ Alexei Urmanov. Second best is American Johnny Weir. When he swings his leg through he turns beautifully and the ride out of the landing is beautiful. You will almost always see his Axel coupled with a Triple Toeloop. I would judge it the best but I think he could add a touch more height! In my opinion, the best Axel in the world goes to a skater that has tremendous height on the Triple Axel, beautiful soft kneed landings, wonderful ride out, and a big smile on the end to boot! The honor goes to no other but Nobunari Oda! Now Nobunari...stay out of trouble, no more MUI's (mopedding under the influence!), get back to competing, and show us that pretty axel of yours!