The men's event at next week's 2013 World Figure Skating Championships is anything but predictable, especially when factoring in the crazy difficulty that these guys are planning in their programs. It has the potential to be the competition with the most difficult set of programs ever skated.
Schedule: Universal Sports/CBC/Eurosport
So why am I even making predictions? Because I can. So for better or for worse, here are my picks for the top ten next week.
Before I start, there's one thing that I am pretty certain about - look for the medalists to get around 90 for their short programs and 175+ for the free skates. My guess is that the winner will be in the mid- to high-180s for his free skate. Just a ballpark guide.
GOLD Javier Fernandez ESP - Yup, I'm doing it. The last time I picked Fernandez to win (I think) was for 2012 Europeans, and that didn't turn out all that great. But now that he *is* the European champion, it's not tough to see him heading to World champion status next week. The biggest factor for him will be going clean in both programs, which would allow him to make up for deficits in components that he has to the Hanyus, Chans, and Takahashis of the world. That said, it wouldn't be a surprise if he trailed after the short, but his technical advantage lies in the free skate.
SILVER Yuzuru Hanyu JPN - Hanyu was surprisingly flat in his free skate at Four Continents. Was it fatigue from the long season? Who knows? But he's still heading in as the world record holder for the short program. Another effort like that in the short program could propel him to the World title. But while his quad toe has been pretty good to him this season, it's his quad sal that could become the liability.
BRONZE Patrick Chan CAN - Last year's World champ is coming in with less of a heavy favorite aura than he did the past two seasons. In some ways, Chan may have dominated too soon, because his two-quad free skates, which was in ways revolutionary two years ago, have now been matched and sometimes surpassed. Looking at just the base values, he actually trails his closest competitors, which was certainly not the case in the past. Add his inconsistency this season to the mix, it's tough to see him three-peating, even on home ice.
4. Daisuke Takahashi JPN - Yeah, we are all still bemused by the seventh-place Four Continents showing. But Takahashi seems to have made it a habit to be either super hot (see Grand Prix Final/Japanese Nationals) or super cold this season (see Cup of China/Four Continents). Of the top guys, he's the one who seems to be having the most trouble with his triples. There's a big question mark with him coming in - new short program, not so great last competition - where does he stand this week?
5. Florent Amodio FRA - Fifth last year, Amodio has once again been playing catch-up late in the season. He skated strongly at Europeans, winning the short and then finishing with the silver being Fernandez. If he wants to medal this week, though, he's going to have to get his jumping passes in line - a big reason that Fernandez won by as much as he did at Euros was that Amodio switched things around in his free skate and omitted an entire jumping pass. And I don't think that's the first time he's done something like that.
6. Kevin Reynolds CAN - I think few people would have imagined Reynolds as a medal contender at the start of the season. And while, components wise, he's still going to be trailing the other top guys, his potential technical advantage is clear. But the keyword there is "potential," because even though he's got five quads planned, he has a history of underrotating them. At Four Continents, both of his quads in the short were underrotated, but it was the three clean quads in the free skate that helped him to the title. And then, of course, there is the home ice advantage. Reynolds is really the dark horse here.
7. Max Aaron USA - With all this difficulty, consistency could be a big deal next week, and that could very well help Aaron, who has had a pretty good time with his quad salchow in the past couple of months. If the top guys make mistakes, don't be surprised if a couple of clean programs from Aaron sneaks him up there.
8. Brian Joubert FRA - Where does Joubert stand in his 12th Worlds appearance, six years after his win and three years since his last medal? It's possible that Joubert is planning two quads in his short, based on what he was doing at Challenge Cup a few weeks back. That could be his ticket to a top five finish. But with other skaters lapping him in components, it'll take difficulty for Joubert to make some waves next week.
9. Maxim Kovtun RUS - Tasked with the duty of getting two spots for the Russian men for their home Olympics - he can do that with a top ten placement -, the young Kovtun could either rise to the occasion or become blacklisted in the eyes of the Russian Federation. (Yeah, I'm being dramatic. Or am I?) He certainly showed his mettle with a fifth-place debut at Europeans, and two consistent skates can put him in the top ten this week.
10. Michal Brezina CZE - Bronze at Europeans, it looks like Brezina might be finding his groove again. I contend that sticking with last season's free skate hasn't helped him at all, especially in the eyes of the international panel.
Others to watch:
Misha Ge UZB - Ge isn't going to medal, but he's one of the skaters out there that you can't take your eyes off of. His consistency has improved this season as well, though the triple axel will always be a liability.
Takahito Mura JPN - It's not out of the realm of possibility that Mura could make it three Japanese guys in the top ten. But with the stiff competition this week, he's going to have to rediscover the form that won him the Grand Prix title in Paris earlier this season. Four Continents wasn't a great showing.
Nan Song CHN - Like Kovtun, Song is looking to get his country two spots in Sochi. The Chinese federation is certainly putting experience over youth, since teammate Han Yan won the surprise silver at Four Continents while Song was sixth.
Denis Ten KAZ - The consistency that Ten seems to have found last season has all but disappeared. It's gotten to the point where he even cut back on his quad attempts at Four Continents. If he skates clean, though, Ten is certainly top <ahem> ten material.
Tomas Verner CZE - It's really tough to gauge Verner's position in the skating world. He was fourth twice at Worlds, but this season has been even rougher than the past few. But if he can somehow rediscover the jumps, he's got the reputation to move him up to be part of the conversation.