All season long, I’ve been talking up the men’s event. With good reason, mind you! There have not been quite as many twists and turns as the ladies, but there has been every bit as much competition, if not more.
Making the World Team this year was, perhaps, the biggest challenge for several countries, due to the competition from within. The US Nationals were brutal. The Japanese team could have gone any which way. But all of that sets up one of the best on-paper World events in a while. And that’s saying a lot because the last few have all been stellar.
This year, team Japan has quite the podium potential, featuring the reigning World and 4 Continents Champ Daisuke Takahashi, Grand Prix Final silver medalists Nobunari Oda, and two-time Grand Prix champion (Paris, China) Takahiko Kozuka. These three hold the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th highest international scores this season, and the combination of the three could be very strong in holding off the competition.
Now that they’re competing with the weight of the tragedy in Japan on their shoulders, they will, along with their teammates, be the story of the event.
I believe that this could go one of two ways — either they will put so much pressure on themselves to live up to the expectations of a nation in dire need of hope that they will falter. Or, they will skate, bearing the support and hope of their countrymen, and truly be a story of tragedy becoming triumph — the human spirit prevailing in the face of defeat — to take at least two of the three podium spots, including the top step.
With the strength these guys bring to the table, I think the second option is most likely.
They’ll have to find some way, however, to take over the guy in the #1 spot at the moment – Canada’s darling, Patrick Chan. He posted a leading total score of 259.75 in his Grand Prix Final win earlier in the season, and he topped that skate at Nationals with his best skate of the season by far. Now, I know there is quite the debate about how he rakes in such astronomical scores even when he falls all over the ice, and in some ways, I feel those concerns are justified. But the fact remains: Patrick knows how to work the system, and he takes full advantage of that. I wish the system rewarded perfection in a higher way, but it doesn’t. That’s the reality. So, when Patrick does what he’s capable of — including the quads, the triple axels, the unmatched footwork sequences — I’m not sure there’s a man this season with a program that can beat him. The question then becomes, can he deliver under pressure? If not, there are plenty of others who will, and his chance at the title could disappear quickly.
Interestingly, the 5th highest score in my “top 12” list (those that I’m considering contenders of some kind) had to be drawn from Nationals: Ryan Bradley‘s 231.90 from Greensboro squeaks into the top five. Now, before you jump me with the “Nationals scores are inflated! You can’t use that!” comments, let me just say, I know. But, because there’s no international score to judge from this season, I had to take what I could get. Do I really think Ryan will get such high scores on the world stage? Probably not. He needs to work on the lack of transitions in his programs. But if he skates his short program like he did in North Carolina, he will likely put himself in a position to place very well, even if a medal is out of reach.
Tomas Verner is not to be overlooked here, either. Despite having some rough patches in his season, he did win in Russia earlier in the season, and after placing third in China, surprised even himself by qualifying for the Final. However, he struggled there, and only placed 3rd at Europeans behind a developing Amodio and a rebuilding Joubert. I adore his short program this season, but his long is, in my opinion, one of the worst in the entire event. I feel for him, because I think he’s far better than this program allows him to be. Not good when you’re competing against the likes of Chan’s “Phantom” or Takahashi’s tango.
Speaking of Florent Amodio, he comes in with the 7th highest score – a 229.38 from his silver medal skate in Paris. He is coming off of a win at Europeans, but he’s been a bit inconsistent at times late in the season. I’m concerned that he may have peaked too early and that he simply won’t have enough to give come Worlds.
Brian Joubert is a curious case. Way back in 2003, I was a big fan. Then I lost a little interest as he tried to make himself into Yagudin 2.0. Then I felt a twinge of compassion for him as he got caught in a strange, complex battle trying to find himself and a system that worked for his skating. I watched him rise back tot he top, looking like the guy to beat heading into the Olympics, only to be crushed by a melt down when it mattered most. Finally, I find myself quite interested in his skating again. Many people have given his new “artistry” a big thumbs down this year for seeming a little awkward, but I’m quite certain anyone trying to transform themselves from The Matrix into Swan Lake is going to needs some time to break in the new moves! He’s making progress, and, more importantly, seems to be in a good place mentally. I hope he gets back to the top some day. I don’t, however, expect it to be here.
Also a surprising addition to the top group here is the surprise US silver medalist, Ricky Dornbush. Despite not competing on the senior level, he’s still posted a strong 219.56 total score in his Junior Grand Prix Final win. He was brilliant at Nationals, and if it wasn’t for Bradley’s equally-brilliant short program, he would likely be headed to Japan as the US Champ. Now, the senior international stage is completely different, but he’s something special, and certainly one to watch in the years to come. This is a great opportunity for Ricky to make a statement as he launches his senior career.
Rounding out the most likely top 12 are Samuel Contesti, Michal Brezina, and Ross Miner. None have a realistic shot at the podium, but all have a very strong opportunity to make their presence known. They’ve all had brilliant skates at one point or another, but this is a chance to lay in all on the line when nothing really significant is at stake.
As for the podium, I say gold likely comes down to Chan and Takahashi, although Kozuka could make a push for it, too. Let’s just say I wouldn’t be surprised to see two Japanese flags and one Canadian flag raised at the medal ceremony. But, you know what they say — the ice is slippery! Anything can happen.