Figure Skating: From the Boards

A Look Ahead: Men of the GP Series May 22, 2012

Yesterday was the day. Where you surprised by the Grand Prix assignments? If you’re an Evan Lysacek fan, you were likely disappointed. Conversely, if you’ve been anticipating a Johnny Weir comeback, you may have squealed to see his name on the list twice.

Over the next few days, we’ll take a look at each discipline separately and how the assignments line up for each event.

Since the men have been the talk of the town (my “town,” anyway!) we’ll give them the first shake.

Here’s the Skate America lineup:

Michal Brezina (CZE)
Tomas Verner (CZE)
Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN)
Takahiko Kozuka (JPN)
Tatsuki Machida (JPN)
Konstantin Menshov (RUS)
Alexandra Majorov (SWE)
Jeremy Abbott (USA)
Douglas Razzano (USA)
TBA (USA)

Not too shabby, eh?

As has become the norm, the biggest competition will come from the Japanese contingent, although it’ll be the Abbot — competing at Skate America for the first time in his career — who will have the support of the hometown crowd.

Last season proved we can’t count out quad-master Michael Brezina, and when he’s at his best, Tomas Verner is a force to be reckoned with as well.

Personally, I’m thrilled to see Douglas Razzano along side Abbott for Team USA. He’s a real “skater’s skater” with the elegance and musicality that can bring an entire arena to its feet. If he can match that artistry with technical difficulty, he’ll be well on his way!

Then there’s that haunting “TBA.”

What — or should I say who — is that spot for? Naturally, the rumor mill would lean naturally toward that spot being for reigning Olympic Champ Evan Lysacek who has made no secret about his wish to compete in Sochi. However, there have been more than a couple roadblocks along the way.

Last season, there was the “contractual issues” with the USFS that kept him from returning to competition. While the details of that conflict were not made public, it has been reported that it wasn’t simply “Evan wanting more money” like it came across the first time, but far more complicated than that.

With that assumed to be resolved, it was a bit surprising to NOT see Evan’s name on the assignment list. However, there are plenty of explanations (read: “assumptions!”) that don’t involve him not staging a comeback.

Perhaps he didn’t want the GP spot. He’s made mention of wanting to compete at Senior B events to ease back onto the international scene. He’s a proven champion, so maybe he simply feels it a better option to start small and work his way back up towards Nationals and Worlds, sans the fall series. Or maybe, he’s scheduled to compete on the Dancing With The Stars All-Star season this fall. Who knows, save Frank Carroll and Lysacek. But, perhaps that TBA spot is reserved should he choose to accept it after all.

How’s that for drama surrounding the first event of the season, eh?! (more…)

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InterNATIONALS Round Up January 5, 2012

He’s baaaack! That could be the theme for the recent run of men’s national champs. In France, it was Joubert. In Russia, Plushenko. And in the Czech Republic, Verner. But it wasn’t just the men in action. So, since we’re in that lull before Canadian/American Nationals and Europeans, here’s a quick round up of the latest results, complete with video links.

France

Men

1. Brian Joubert (230.97)
2. Florent Amodio (210.42)
3. Chafik Besseghier (183.67)

Ladies

1. Yrétha Silété (152.21)
2. Maé Bérénice Méité (149.33)
3. Anaïs Ventard (143.74)

Pairs

1. Daria Popova/Bruno Massot (137.75)
2.Vanessa James/Morgan Ciprès (128.83)
3. Anne-Laure Letscher / Artem Patlasov (104.06)

Dance

1. Nathalie Péchalat/Fabian Bourzat (173.75)
2. Pernelle Carron/Lloyd Jones (142.69)
3. Tiffany Zahorski/Alexis Miart (120.49)

  (more…)

 

Taking on the World: Men’s Preview April 14, 2011

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.

Chan said of his Nationals performance that it wasn't just lucky -- he was trained to skate that well, and prepared to do it again at Worlds.

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.

Until then…

 

Rostelecom, shmostelecom…It’s Cup of Russia time, people! November 18, 2010

Whether they call it by this new fangled name or not, it’s that time again! But before we get started, how about a quick story? Yes? Okay, good.

Once upon a time, my coworkers and I were having “one of those days.” You know the kind – everything you touch breaks, every time you think you’re a step ahead you learn you’re five behind, you have a headache the size of Texas, no matter what you do you can’t make anyone happy, and it seems like life’s just flying by without you.

You with me? Good.

So, it was that kind of day, and one of the afore mentioned coworkers was trying to describe the day by comparing us to fish trying to swim upstream…only instead of relating the comparison to salmon in a way that we’d know where she was going with it, she simply exclaimed, “Don’t you just feel like a trout?”

After we caught our breath from laughing, we decided that would essentially become code for “I’m having one of those days.” So now when we feel like we’re swimming upstream, someone just says, “Today feels like a trout day” and we all understand!

Well…this has been a trout week for me! Nothing particularly dramatic, but just always swimming against the current, not quite able to get a grip on the time flying by me! So excuse me while I take a quick, deep breath….

*sigh*

Okay. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to the Rostelecom Cup preview (which I will be referring to as Cup of Russia…since that’s what it’s always been, and it’s even labeled that way on the ISU event page! It’ll be #CofR for you twitter bugs this weekend).

Last week’s format seemed to go over well, so we’ll be using it again, this time looking for the draw, the dark horse, and the darling (can’t have it exactly the same now, can we?!).

Let’s pick up with ice dance this week.

The draw: Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali (ITA) – reigning World bronze medalists, 3rd at Cup of China, they have the experience to correct their early-season mistakes here in Russia.

The dark horse: Ekaterina Bobrova and Dimitri Soloviev (RUS) – actually beat out Faiella/Scali at Cup of China a few weeks ago after capitalizing on mistakes from the Italians. They could very well do the same here, despite the experience of Federica and Massimo.

The darling: Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam (CAN) – the up-and-coming Virtue/Moir 2.0…they are just lovely. Such visually stunning elements and a charm that can’t be taught! I can’t help loving them.

Who do you like for pairs? I’ve got it down like this.

The draw: Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov (RUS) – another pair of reigning World bronze medalists, this is their only Grand Prix of the season. However, they should have the fire power and experience to stand out here.

The dark horse: Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran (JPN) – they took 3rd earlier this season at NHK Trophy, and they’ll no doubt be aiming to improve on that here. Without some of the pairs power-houses skating in Russia, they might just do it.

The darling: Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig (USA) – the joy they have when they are on the ice is infectious. Plus, they bring a level of genuineness and class to any room they step into!

The men’s competition, as all season long, could get very interesting.

The draw: Toss up! Jeremy Abbott (USA)/Patrick Chan (CAN) – after Chan’s PCS scores from Skate Canada, he would seem to be the favorite. But his technical skills abandoned him in the short. If Jeremy skates clean and gets credit for all of his elements (i.e. all his required spins!), he could give Patrick a run for his money, especially if Jeremy hits the planned quad in the long.

The dark horse: Tomas Verner (CZE) – armed with probably his best short program to date, he has everything he needs to fight for the top spot. It will come down to how clean he is with his jumps and if he’s improved the PCS in the long. He’s been known to surprise people before…

The darling: Samuel Contesti (ITA)* his programs just make me smile. He often reminds me of Ryan Bradley in his ability to get the audience on his side, and I love to see him skate well!

*Okay, I’ll admit it…my personal favorites this week also happen to be the skaters drawing most of the attention. My “co-headliners,” Jeremy and Patrick are where my heart really lies. I do, however, have a soft spot for Samuel, so it works out anyway!

And of course, the ladies.

The draw: Miki Ando (JPN) – she’s skated, perhaps, the cleanest competition thus far in the ladies competition in the Grand Prix Series. If she maintains that technical prowess, she should have the edge. Watch out, though – her PCS won’t keep up with some of the rest of the world, including a few ladies here.

The dark horse: Oh boy…so many options to look at! Ksenia Makarova (RUS)/Ashley Wagner (USA)/Agnes Zawadzki (USA) – Ksenia is coming off of a very successful senior Grand Prix debut in Canada where she placed 2nd, and looked very solid. Ashley finished 5th at NHK, but she’s a skater you can never count out. And Agnes, well, she nearly pulled off the upset in her senior debut at Skate Canada. If she skates her long as well as she did her short in Canada, we could be in for a treat.

The darling: Akiko Suzuki (JPN) – once again, some favorites have already been mentioned. Still, there’s something very special about Akiko that has me constantly pulling for her. She skates with great speed and she has a very strong instinct to make each movement important to the overall performance. That is something I love to see.

And once again we’ve made it to the end! I hate making any kind of predictions (especially with Grand Prix Final spots on the line for some of the top skaters), but this is far less restrictive…anything could happen, but with simply the list of names in front of me and some knowledge of how things have gone for them in the past (plus a little bit of “gut-feeling!”), this is how I see things stacking up.

We’ll begin to see how right – or how wrong! – I am in just a few hours!

If you’re keeping track of my fantasy picks, check the video below. If you’re not, that’s fine too! It seems just when I think I’ve got it going right, one event goes and messes it all up! But that is, I suppose, the fun of fantasy sports…you just never quite know how things will go down!


Sadly, I won’t likely be able to tweet live play-by-play this weekend, due to my “trout week” schedule, but I’ll be posting comments here and there as I get updates on how things are coming along. And of course, a blog here and there in review.

Just a few more hours now. Good luck to all in Russia!

Until then…

 

Heart vs. Head – the never-ending dispute November 4, 2010

Fantasy skating round three is underway as we get set for the third stop on the2010  Grand Prix tour, and once again I’ve hit the proverbial brick wall in an attempt to choose between my heart choice and my head choice. Only this time, I found those options overlapping, and instead of easing the dispute, it simply made it worse.

Confused yet?

Me too.

The first problem was choosing between Miki Ando, Akiko Suzuki, and my golden girl (not to show the slightest bias…), Mirai Nagasu.

After the end of last season, I would have chosen Mirai without a second thought. However, she’s been sidelined for much of the summer with injury, so it’s anyone’s guess as to how prepared (and healthy) she really is.

What I’m seen of Miki so far has looked much improved, and technically she has the potential to be great.

Then there’s Akiko. She’s just fabulous. She may not have the technical content of the top ladies, but if others falter, she could prevail.

So far this season, the ladies competitions have been my downfall in Fantasy Skating, so I figured, why not take a chance on my girl Mirai (who, to justify, should have the best PCS of the competition)?

The men’s competition could be as unpredictable as ever, also. Brian Joubert, Tomas Verner, and Takahiko Kozuka appear to be the front runners, but Joubert struggled last season and changed coaches for this year, Verner can be unpredictable, and Kozuka has the skills, but perhaps not the experience to put together two clean programs.

Throw in Samuel Contesti, Sergei Voronov, and Brandon Mroz and it’s anyone’s game. No one in the field is entirely consistent, so it will all come down to who lays it on the line when it counts.

The pairs event looks like a chance for some younger/less experienced teams to step up and make the podium. Here again I felt the tug of my emotional favorites yanking against the force of reality. Yet, once again, I found myself taking a chance. While the young Russian team of Lubov Iliushechkina/Nodari Maizuradze are fresh off a victory in Canada, it was far from perfect. They’re still young, and the pressure of repeating their results may be too much.

Meanwhile, Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig of the US are skating with something to prove of a different kind – that they really do belong on the international scene. Their breakout year last year ended happily with Olympic and World performances to be proud of. I expect to see them build on that success with new confidence this season.

As for the rest of the field, it’s so hard to predict what these young couples will bring to the ice. So we’ll have to see…

With the exception of Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat from France and Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali of Italy, the dance field is wide open as well. I fully expect these two to take the top two spots on the podium, but it will be fun to watch as the rest of the field lays their claim to bronze.

The season after the Olympics always brings a new wave of skaters to the forefront, and this year seems to be no exception. With several of the “stars” either out with injury or simply  not competing this year, the Grand Prix events are a great chance to get to know some new young teams. It’s also a chance to get a glimpse of the future of skating, and I have to say, I’ve been impressed. It’s nice to have the familiarity of the top names, (and, of course, the event promoters prefer having some celebrity to work with!), but I’m quite enjoying the opportunity to once again be refreshed in the sport, and to be reminded the dedication of these athletes as they work to compete not only with other skaters, but with the ever-changing, growing demands of the sport we all love!

Looking forward to sleeping early, and rising even earlier to watch the events unfold from Beijing!

Until then…

Oh yeah, my picks:

 

 


 

And the 2010-2011 Comeback Kid is…. October 9, 2010

With the Senior Grand Prix series just around the corner (13 days, for those of you counting down with me!), things are quickly picking up in the skating world. The Junior Grand Prix is flying by, this week stopping in Dresden, Germany as the juniors battle it out for a place in the Grand Prix Final.

(Speaking of the JGP in Germany, I want to say congrats to Richard Dornbush on his gold medal performances, Christina Gao on her second Grand Prix silver, and to Charlotte Lichtman and Dean Copely for their third place finish! Find complete results of the event here.)

Also happening this week, skaters are in Finland for the 2010 Finlandia Trophy. The US has been well represented – Johnathan Cassar and Grant Hochstein competed for the men, Madison Hubbell and Keiffer Hubbell in ice dance, and Amanda Dobbs for the ladies. Grant came *this close* to the bronze…only a difference of .01 separated the 3rd place finisher, Samuel Contesti from Italy! He was second in the Free Skate though, so congrats Grant! Also, check out Grant’s blog/diary posts for Icenetwork from the event in Finland – a fun read!

And with all the international buzz, there’s even more to keep an eye on nationally! Regional competitions going on around the US, and many skaters already have their eyes set on Nationals in Greensboro, NC. But to get there, they’ve got to take it one step at a time. One pair looking to do just that is none other than two-time National Champ, Rockne Brubaker.

Now, if you’ve been keeping up with posts here at From the Boards, you know this isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned Rockne. He’s been in the news often in the last few months, sadly, not because he’s gearing up for the GP series, but because he’s been on the lookout for a new partner. Well, as I said in a previous post, he’s found one in Mary Beth Marley. She’s only 15, but in this article from Icenetwork.com, Brubaker says the age is not even a small factor. He says she’s the hardest worker he’s ever known, and from the sounds of things, I have to agree! She was landing a throw triple on the second day of the new team’s tryout, and here’s the kicker – she’d had no pairs experience before….ever! Looks like she’s as hungry for that top spot as her 24-year-0ld partner!

But skating in the pairs discipline is a bit more complicated than, say, singles, because not only do two people have to be able to do the pairs tricks, but they have to be able to do them together, and learning how to be a team, a couple on the ice, doesn’t often come too quickly. So, when I heard in June that Rockne’s former partner, Keauna McLaughlin, was leaving the sport, I (like Rockne himself) figured his season was over.

Enter, Mary Beth Marley.

And after just a few months and several skills tests passed, the two have their sights set on the international spotlight. They were hoping if they showed enough promise, USFS would give them one of the open spots at Skate America in November, but they weren’t quite that lucky. Still, their plan is to blow us all away at Nationals, make it back to that podium, and on to Worlds.

I tell ya, I just love a comeback story. (Okay, so I loved Rockne anyway! But still…) I could only imagine how Rockne must have felt in June, thinking his season was done and he wouldn’t have the chance to come back from a disappointing finish at Nationals that led to not making the Olympic team. And yet, he never gave up. Good thing. If he had, we may have missed out on the story of the year! (Okay, okay! I know it’s not really much of a story yet. But I can’t help it, I’m really excited to see things work out for him and Mary Beth.)

So as we make our way to the NHK Trophy in just under two weeks, keep an eye out, come nationals, for those who may not have had their day internationally. I have a feeling it’s going to be exciting!

Speaking of comebacks, as I was scouring YouTube for any video evidence of Rockne and Mary Beth (which you can find here, by the way), I found another interesting video of another interesting pair: Lindsey Davis and Themi Leftheris. Themi skated with Naomi Nari Nam when she came back to the sport as a pairs skater, and the two of them were cuter than cute…I was so sad when Naomi’s injury struggles came back to haunt them, because I felt they had something really special. Well, looks like half the team is back, this time with Lindsey Davis. And they have some potential. The video shows some interesting elements. She looks to be a strong singles skater, which should help as they progress. Anyway, thought I’d share this find with you! Enjoy!

Don’t forget!! Check your local listings for NBC’s airing of “All that Skate LA” TOMORROW, 10/10/10. (I knew all those 10’s was a good sign – skating on TV, must be good luck!)

Until then…

 

This one’s for the boys… September 6, 2010

Happy Labor Day to those who have so kindly chosen to follow FromTheBoards (the few, the proud…the skating fans!). Labor Day is an interesting holiday, don’t you think? I was curious enough, in fact, to look up the origin of the day. Apparently (correct me if I’m wrong, here!) a kid named Peter McGuire was inspired by a workers strike where employees were demanding a decrease in the hours of their long work days. Ultimately, McGuire helped for a workers union and the Labor Movement began. These workers then decided that they wanted a holiday halfway between Independence Day and Thanksgiving, thus the first Monday in September. It appears it used to be celebrated more heartily – parades, feasts, etc. Now it’s basically the last day of summer (sad day!) and sometimes a day for picnics.

So there you have it. Your random fact for the day. Now on to the good stuff – the skating!

First things first, I wanted to share a bit of news for you who may  not have heard. It seems Yu-Na Kim has decided to move to Los Angeles and train at the Kwan’s rink, East West Ice Palace, in Artesia. She will temporarily be coached by former ladies and pairs skater, Naomi Nari Nam (love her!) in an arrangement that is suspected to become more permanent if it seems to work. Good for Yu-Na to quickly move on from the train wreck with Brian Orser. I hope she’s happy with Nam (who is fluent in Korean) and that, should she decide to pursue her competitive career for years to come, she is able to find the passion and joy that once brought her to tears as she spoke of fulfilling her dream of skating to Olympic glory. (Check out the story at BlazingBlades.com, direct link here)

Back to business – the men, of course! And let me just say, this may be the most exciting discipline in the sport right now. The ladies long held that crown, but even with the great Yu-Na in the mix, it’s just not the same as it once was. The men’s competition, however…talk about drama! So once again, we look at the top 20, according to the World Rankings posted at icenetwork.com. Let’s dive in!

The American Olympic champ, Evan Lysacek, holds the top spot, which makes perfect sense. I mean, he is the Olympic champ. But with his recent decision to sit out the Grand Prix series and take a “wait-and-see” approach to Nationals, there will be some open space at the top, at least at the beginning of the year. Evan pushed himself to the brink last season, so he certainly deserves some time off. The question will be, can he get back into the kind of shape he’ll demand from himself? Also, will skating competitively remain his passion despite the other offers he’s getting? Even with Sochi 2014 “on his radar,” Evan’s certainly non-committal at this point regarding any future plans.

So, who’s the #2 who gets bumped to #1 by default? That would be World Champ Daisuke Takahashi. The Japanese champion stood up on a quad flip at Worlds in March, so look for him to push the envelope technically this year. But don’t let the technical side throw you – this kid’s a performer. He’s got a Mambo short program in the works, and I’ve seen portions of it. One word? Magic. I’m really looking forward to seeing his progression this year. A lot of people thought he deserved silver in Vancouver, so he may feel he has a little something to prove.

Sneaking into the top three (perhaps thanks to Plushenko’s ban that stripped his ISU eligibility and, therefore, his right to be ranked) is another of Japan’s stars, Nobunari Oda. He’s had an interesting career thus far – National champion in 2008, but that was after sitting out the season before due to a suspension for driving under the influence of alcohol (driving his moped, by the way!). And the road back to glory hasn’t been easy. Yes, he won the Japanese national title in December of 2008, but since then it seems he makes a big statement, then collapses when it really counts. At the Olympics, he fell in his long program, broke a lace, restarted, finished…all to end up 7th. Then, he completely bombed at Worlds, landing only one single jump in his short, and not even qualifying to skate in the free program. I have a feeling he’ll be looking for a strong comeback, but sometimes I think he wants it TOO much. Keep an eye on him, but don’t hold your breath for a stellar, world title kind of year.

Number four in the world is currently the Frenchman, Brian Joubert. He’s an interesting story (far too long to discuss in this particular blog, but if you have thoughts on him, I’m curious to know!) I find myself with a soft spot for Brian…I feel like he’s just never really been able to find himself on the ice. He seems to always be trying to match someone, or skate like someone else. For years he was criticized for trying to be 2002 Olympic Champ Alexei Yagudin’s mini-me, and it’s almost like when he stopped trying to be Alexei, he didn’t know who to be. I think he’s finally getting there, but again, it hasn’t been easy. He’s faced some bizarre injuries (cutting his foot with the opposite blade on the landing of a jump?!?) and some tough competitions, but he keeps climbing back up. You know what they say, champions aren’t the ones winning all the time, but the ones who get back up every time they fall. Brian’s got a short program to “Malaguna” planned – a much more artistic piece of music for him – so maybe he, too, will come back with new focus and passion. I wish him well.

The American national champion Jeremy Abbott closes out the top five. Jeremy is such a talent – his edges cut the ice like butter, his choreography pours out of him as naturally as he breathes – yet there’s something that’s kept him from reaching the top. I think he battles nerves with the best of ’em, and half the time they get the best of him. If he can combine the technical demands with nerves of steel, the rest will be easy as taking candy from a baby (…so they say). He’s another wild card for me.

Patrick Chan from Canada takes the #6 spot. This kid has got “it.” Whatever “it” is…he’s got it. He has some of the softest knees since, I don’t know, Todd Eldridge or Brian Boitano. When he’s on, he’s magic. The problem is, he’s not always on. He needs to step up the consistency in the technical department and, well, that’s about it. He has some of the best footwork in the business, in my opinion, and apparently in the opinion of the judges. He won some competitions last year that even he was surprised (dare I say, embarrassed?) to win because he didn’t complete clean jumps. But his transitions and footwork held him in it. It will be interesting with the new rules about footwork and jumps (supposedly to make jumps more weighted) to see how he fares, and if he can get those HUGE jumps under control.

Takahiko Kozuka is the #7 man heading into the season. Japan’s contingent is so strong. Expect the same from these three this year. Kozuka hasn’t had a “big break,” so to speak, but he’s looking to change that. Will this be the season?

Two Czech men are 8th and 10th (we’ll get to 9 in a minute) – Tomas Verner and Michal Brezina. Tomas had some wins last year. He’s not a polished skater, but he’s got the big tricks. He did have more entertaining programs last year, but when it counted, he faced disaster in Vancouver. It will be interesting to see how he rebounds from that. Brezina skated his “American in Paris” program to a 4th place finish at Worlds in March, so he’s looking to keep the momentum up heading into this season.

Jump back to #9 for a second – American Johnny Weir. He was originally slated to compete in the Grand Prix, but shortly thereafter decided that he needed to sit out this season and determine whether he wanted to continue competing. Johnny’s been through a lot the last few years. He hasn’t quite been able to pull together his own ideas about what skating should be and what the rules say it has become. Within that struggle, he couldn’t quite seem to reach the level of technical difficulty necessary to compete internationally. But at least for this year, he doesn’t have to worry about it!

On to #11. Little Adam Rippon. I say little because he seems like such a youngster compared to many of those at the top of the sport, but boy is he a talent! His movements are so pure, his edges so deep and clean. If he gets a bit more comfortable in the senior ranks with his jumps, he will be right up there with some of the Patrick Chans of the skating world. (He also does a “Tano” jump with a hand over his head as well as his own variation with both hands over his head. Gotta love it!) His future excites me. I can’t wait to see his season. He’s skating to “Romeo and Juliet” and Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto #2″…familiar pieces, but I have no doubt that Adam will bring the intense beauty out of them. He’ll be ready to compete.

Samuel Contesti of Italy is next at #12. This guy has an entertainment factor, for sure. He lacks a bit of content sometimes, and needs to work on fineness. He moved from 18th at the Olympics to 7th at Worlds, so he has the ability to compete. He just needs to put it all together.

Yannick Ponsero from France is the same way. He’s had some bright spots, showing potential, but he’s got to put it all together. He, Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan, Alban Preaubert of France, and Sergei Voronov of Russia are all ranked for a reason – they’ve got the goods to compete. But this season they’ll all need to keep moving in the right direction. Often some of the potential greats don’t quite make it to great, so we’ll see which of these guys brings it this year.

I have to pause for a second to talk about number 17 – Florent Amodio. This kid from France was one of my highlights last year. He’s the 2010 French National Champ, and as per usual for French skaters, he’s got a personality the size of Europe! He’s adorable. I challenge you to watch him skate without smiling. (Seriously, the video below…watch it. This is my “you will smile” guarantee!)

I can’t wait to see what he comes up with this year.

Wrapping up the top 20, #18 is Kevin Van Der Perren from Belgium. He’s a skater that just keeps on keepin’ on, even without always seeing the results he’d like. He’s got some big tricks, he just doesn’t have the consistency to skate multiple clean programs.

Russian youngster Denis Ten is poised to make his presence known. He skated to an 11th place finish in Vancouver, and I expect more good things as he grows in the sport.

Finishing off today’s list is the Chinese junior champ, Nan Song. He finished 6th at Four Continents as a senior last season, and was second at the Junior World Championships. He’s a young one to watch as he comes on to the seen with the top dogs!

We made it! So, we’re through the men and the ladies. The competition will be fierce, that’s for sure! Some will step up, others will fall down. But that, my friends, is the beauty of sport. On to pairs!!

Until then…

(Find me on twitter @FromTheBoards or email me thoughts, questions, comments: fromtheboards@gmail.com)