Friday, February 05, 2010

XXI Olympic Winter Games Figure Skating Mens Preview

An extremely deep field of men will vie for the title of Olympic Champion in Vancouver. Who do I see as the top 12 contenders? There is:

Jeremy Abbott (USA) - Jeremy enters this event as the reigning U.S. National Champion, a title he successfully defended in Spokane. Every time he has competed this season he has looked stronger and stronger. The move from Colorado Springs to Detroit to train with Yuka Sato and Jason Dungjen is paying dividends. He has shown when he skates clean he is a force to be reckoned with. Not only does he have solid technical ability (including a quad which has looked rock solid in his free skate) but his component scores are always some of the best in the field. If he repeats what he did in Spokane, he might be the guy to beat.

Patrick Chan (CAN) - When he hits the ice the roar will be deafening! He enters these Olympics as one of Canada's top Gold Medal hopefuls and will have the support of the Canadian people. Like Abbott, he has a knack at grabbing top component scores but his technical ability has come into question recently as he has been working his way back from an injury early in the season. He also had a recent coaching shake-up with he and Don Laws parting on iffy terms. Patrick has reported that the quad will not be in his programs in Vancouver, nonetheless, he remains a threat for the top spot on the podium because of his artistic skill. Again, the home-crowd advantage can help or hurt; it will be interesting to see how Patrick handles the pressure.

Samuel Contesti (ITA) - While he hasn't had the season he had last year with a surprise European Silver Medal and a top 5 finish at Worlds, he continues to skate consistently and could be a dark-horse medal threat. He has crowd pleasing programs that will no doubt go down well in Vancouver and a new found consistency on triple jumps, but he lacks in the component score department. Still, if he skates clean, gets the crowd on his side, and others make mistakes he may find himself in the running for a medal. He has nothing to loose and everything to gain and that may be his biggest asset.

Brian Joubert (FRA) - He looked positively angry on the podium at the recent European Championships where he managed only the bronze medal. Since winning the world title in 2007 it seems like he can't catch a break. He lost Worlds in 2008 despite a clean skate with a quad. Dropped down to 3rd last year after some odd mistakes. He's had to pull out of two consecutive Grand Prix Finals. If all that wasn't enough, he had to deal with a foot injury in December. Oy! Still, he comes to Vancouver with one of the most consistent quads and loads of Olympic Experience. Hopefully, he learned some hard lessons from his failures in Torino that will serve him well in Vancouver. If he is as mad as looks about losing European's, he may come out in Vancouver swinging!

Takahiko Kozuka (JPN) - Part of arguably the strongest men's team (some might contend that Team USA is the strongest), Takahiko is one of several skaters that is easily capable of playing the role of spoiler at these Olympics. This season, however, hasn't been his best. He failed to qualify for the Grand Prix Final (an event that he took Silver in the prior year) and was just third at Japanese Nationals. Despite the recent downturn, his greatest strength is a lack of a weakness. He's solid technically as well as artistically. This season he's fiddled with putting the quad in his free skate, I think sensing he needs a little extra 'umph' to really be a medal threat. If he can complete that jump and skate out!

Stéphane Lambiel (SUI) - A member of club comeback, Stéphane enters the Olympics coming off a successful European Championships. While he only won the silver medal there, he debuted a well received free skate to music from the opera La Traviata. Lambiel's technical ability is suspect without a triple axel, but he is a brilliant artisan who can rake in the points in the component scores. He is also the most gifted spinner in the competition. He's proven himself to be a clutch competitor, often times pulling off great performances when the lights are on and the chips are down. Like many of the top competitors he has dealt with injury in the run-up to these Olympics. If he can get through the gauntlet of triple jumps, complete his quads, and charm the audience, I don't see how he isn't on the podium.

Evan Lysacek (USA) - The reigning World Champ has looked Olympic ready all season. The only time he looked vulnerable was at the recent National Championships in Spokane where a late decision to rearrange his free skate and add a quad led to some inconsistencies and just a Silver Medal. Nonetheless, he has stated over and over that his goal this season is Vancouver and it is there he wants to peak. Up until nationals he was simply cruising along with big wins at Cancer.Net Skate America as well as the Grand Prix Final. Many are touting Evan as the best chance the U.S. has at a Gold Medal and he is certainly garnering the most American media attention. If he can continue to be as steady as he has been most of the season, he'll give everyone a run for their money in Vancouver.

Evgeny Plushenko (RUS) - The 2006 Olympic Champ is looking for second helpings here in Vancouver and he is, for many if not most, the favorite to win Gold. He made his comeback at Rostelecom Cup with the confidence that only Plushenko can display. Many were unsure of how solid he would look after being away from competition for nearly four years and he waltzed back on the scene...with quad and arrogant #1 finger waves. He has been plagued with some slight difficulty with his knee but it didn't stop him from winning Russian Nationals and Europeans. Despite, in my opinion, having a one dimensional approach to choreography, the judges love him and if he manages a clean skate I can't imagine him not winning.

Nobunari Oda (JPN) - When Nobunari debuted his new free skate at Trophee Eric Bompard, I was impressed! Nobunari has found his stride this season with a beautiful Charlie Chaplin program that suits him brilliantly. He's one of only two skaters that have been successful at getting past World Champ Evan Lysacek; he did so at Samsung Anycall Cup of China. Even though he enters this competition as the #2 ranked man from Japan, I think he is a legitimate Gold Medal threat, especially if he attempts and lands the quad in his free skate. He missed making the Olympics in 2006 because of a scoring snafu at Japan's National Championships that ended up reversing the placement at the top and leaving him at home. This time, he gets to show the world what he's got.

Daisuke Takahashi (JPN) - He has had a roller coaster season to this point. A poor skate at home at NHK Trophy followed by a great skate at HomeSense Skate Canada. He then had another meltdown at the Grand Prix Final but rebounded with a great skate at Japanese Nationals. It's hard to predict where Takahashi will come out in Vancouver. The early season issues were attributed to his being off last season with a meniscus injury but stamina issues have continued to plague him. However, when he is in top form, he is hard to compete with. His program is also well suited to him and full of character and his footwork is some of the best in the world.

Tomas Verner (CZE) - I almost considered not including Tomas in this post and instead focus on his teammate Michal Brezina. Tomas started the season promising but it has been down hill ever since. After winning the Silver Medal at Trophee Eric Bompard, he was just 4th at Cancer.Net Skate America. Then he finished last at the Grand Prix Final, lost the Czech Championship to Brezina and finished a disappointing 10th at Europeans...a far cry from the win he was able to produce in 2008. It would be easy for anyone to write him off at this point but Tomas has an amazing resilience to adversity and an ability to put himself back together after disappointing performances. He's humpty-dumpty if you will. If he stays on his feet and rotates his jumps he has a shot at a medal, if he falters...he's toast.

Johnny Weir (USA) - He has already made the headlines and he hasn't even stepped on the ice. Johnny will take the ice with the distraction of having to deal with Friends of Animals, an animal protection group that slammed Weir for his use of real fox fur on his Free Skate outfit. He's decided to replace the fur with faux fur. In a statement he said:
I made this decision after several threats were sent to me about disrupting my performance in the Olympic Games and my costume designer, Stephanie Handler, was repeatedly sent messages of hate and disgust. I do not want something as silly as my costume disrupting my second Olympic experience and my chance at a medal, a dream I have had since I was a kid.
So far this season Johnny has been okay...not stellar. He barely made the Olympic Team with a 3rd place finish at U.S. Nationals. If he is going to be a medal threat in Vancouver he will have to up his game. He does have a flair for the dramatic so he may shock us all yet.


Not An Expert said...

Great roundup. Out of all those men, I would honestly be happy to see any of them except Plushenko or Lysacek on or at the top of the podium (although I don't doubt that Plushy will be up there somewhere no matter what he does). I cannot wait to see who brings it in Vancouver!

kortney said...

I just did up my predictions today and we have nearly identical thoughts...although I added in:

Michael Brezina
Florent Amodio
Kevin VDP
Denis Ten

Those ones could add spoilers too - though perhaps not in the long and short, just one or the other.

Aaron said...

All four of those men you mention Kortney are definitely ones to watch...any of them could be dangerous if they skate clean.

Qwessta said...

Thank you for Preview! I made astrological forecast for the mens skaters, and will soon find out, if I was able to correctly guess.


evilapprentice said...

Great thoughts as always!

Other than perhaps saying, "ok Plushenko wins if he skates the way he is capable of skating," I have no idea what the men's standings are going to be this year because there is SO much strong talent out there. For the first time ever, I'm looking forward to the men's even more than ANYTHING at the Olympics!

An interesting thing about Weir is although he hasn't been really stellar this year (yet?), he has in fact been improving with each competition. I'm wondering if he and Galina have had a bit more of a slowly but surely plan than he has had in past years after what happened last season...Although his free skate has yet to do anything at all for me, that short program had the beginnings of fireworks at Nationals.

I really don't want to see Joubert on the podium. He ALWAYS seems like a sore loser, and his programs just never do it for me. While he and Plushenko have the same type of "jump, jump, jump" and virtually no artistry approach (in my opinion), there's just still something very...magnetic? about Plushenko. It might be that his confidence and utter joy on the ice come through when he's skating. But Plushenko just has...something that makes him a star, so if he wins the gold medal as predicted, it really won't bother me a bit unless it seems obvious that the judges were biased in some way.

Every time I think I have my predictions figured out, another name pops up, and I'm utterly clueless again. I can't wait to see what happens! :)

Anonymous said...

Jeremy will be the one bring home the bacon not Lysacek or Weir. If Lysacek skated clean at the Nationals, I believe Jeremy would have won anyway. That's how strong his program is.

Patrick has no chance of getting on the podium. The talent is too deep this year in Men's field. His component scores are high. but not high enough to make up for his iffy triple axel and no quad. Joannie might have a chance though.

Samuel is more like a top 5 (and that's a big if) than a medal contestant.

Joubert is a wild card. Skates clean. On the podium. If not, it ain't gonna happen.

Kozuka burst onto the scene during a void in men's figure skating. But now all the big guns are back, he'll be lucky to be in top 5. Although I do like his skating style a lot.

Lambiel is always a threat to be on the podium. Judges just love him. I love him too. I suspect his Olympic will just be good enough for a bronze. If he's totally clean, then maybe a gold. But he has not skated clean for awhile.

The best Lysacek can muster is a bronze at best. He just can't get the quad under his belt. His component score isn't going to be any better than Plushy or Joubert and they can out jump him. Thus while extremely consistent, his big mistake this season is not having a quad in his lp until the Nationals.

Plushy. Clean sp+lp = gold. No ifs and or buts. But since he have shown that he can make a mistake here and there, I suspect a gold is not a sure thing. Someone like Jeremy can sneak in for a surprise.

Oda started the season strong. But the others have overshadowed him with equally strong skates. This is perhaps the most satisfying program of them all. If he adds a quad, he has good chance of being in the top three.

Daisuke is another strong contender for top 3. Skates clean with a quad, 100% on the podium. It'll come down to what the other top contenders do to determine his placing.

Verner is one of those headcase. His flawless programs can guarantee him in top three. But he never seem to be able to perform when it counts the most.

Weir's programs are too weak to be in the top three. I think he'll be lucky to be in top five unfortunately. No quads. no triple triples. uninspiring footwork. He really needs to amp it up to have any chance of stepping onto the podium. He should just be proud to be two time Olympian (which is nothing to sneeze at).