Figure Skating: From the Boards

Nice, Take Two: Men’s Preview March 23, 2012

In the year 2000, Alexie Yagudin pulled off the three-peat, taking his third world title in Nice after rediscovering his passion for the sport. He skated a short program of technical genius, and a long program that, although flawed, was packed with superior emotional depth.

Along the way, his closest rival — one Evgeni Plushenko — crumbled under the pressure of completing an undefeated season and the potential to become the youngest men’s world champ in history to finish fourth overall.

Veteran Canadian champ Elvis Stojko and American Michael Weiss took silver and bronze.

“If I will not work anymore and I will just keep my levels on the same position, I will lose my title,” Yagudin said after the short.

Wisdom from a skater who would go on to elevate his skating to far greater levels on the way to Olympic glory. This time around, however, perhaps the same could be said by other returning champions heading to Nice for the premiere event of the season.

The men’s event has the potential to get a little crazy, with the “on paper” predictions likely to fall to the reality of slippery ice and an intensely deep field. Still, there are some things we can expect.

Patrick Chan is the hunted.

No matter how you slice it, Chan is the favorite, and deservedly so. The fact is, he has elevated his skating, namely by including two quads in his free skate while maintaining top levels on on footwork and 9s plus in program components. He’ll be tough to beat.

Still, he’ll have some competition.

The man with the best chance? Daisuke Takahashi, of course. He, too, has stood on that top step and would love to reclaim his title. But to do so, he’ll have to skate perfectly clean programs for the first time this season. While many argue his superior choreography and emotional depth, it all comes down to the nitty gritty of technical content in his battle for gold.

Should the top two falter, don’t worry — there are plenty of challengers ready to take their place on the podium!

There’s Jeremy Abbott who is perhaps more comfortable and focused than ever before, and Takahiko Kozuka who oozes talent, but hasn’t quite been able to leave it all on the ice when it counts. His younger countryman Yuzuru Hanyu has massive jumps and captivating artistry, while Adam Rippon has stunning artistry, but is still reigning in the jumps. Don’t forget Javier Fernandez who won the short program at Skate Canada over Patrick Chan, or Brian Joubert who is looking to reestablish himself among the world’s best.

Then there are Artur Gachinzki, Denis Ten, and Michal Brezina who are each capable of throwing down competitive programs.

And one on my personal radar is Misha Ge. This kid is a ball of energy with some really solid skating to go with it!

Phew! Looking at that list, I’d say it’s safe to expect some shakeups!

So what’s it going to take to make that podium?

Well, this season we’ve seen the quad once again claim the spotlight. Not that it ever really went anywhere, but it looks more unlikely than ever that a title would be one sans-quad jump. That’s why Jeremy Abbott is putting it in, Fernandez has two different quads, and Artur Gachinzki could be relevant. Clean quads will be important.

But really, that’s only part of the story.

Remember all the hulabaloo when Chan falls and still wins? That’s because his programs start at a higher base value that others. It’s the “everything else” score — the steps, the spins, the components. And he milks the system like none other. The guys who do that best, could be the ones who land on the podium.

And while it could shake out a variety of ways, here’s how I see it:

GoldChan
SilverTakahashi
BronzeAbbott
FourthKozuka

Call it playing it safe, but is there a chance the most predictable picks could pay off?

Don’t forget, as far as the Americans are concerned, they are also skating to regain a third spot on next year’s World Team. To do that, remember, their combined placements must total no more than 13. As much as they’re skating for themselves, you better believe that’s a goal in the back of their minds.

We’ll see, in only a matter of days now!

But I want to hear from you — what skater do you expect to bring the house down in Nice?

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