The men's short program takes place tomorrow at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Los Angeles. Make no bones about it, this competition is going to make a statement. If someone wins (again) without a quad, like Jeffrey Buttle did last year, then it will be further proof that a new era has securely taken hold in men's skating. Not to say things won't change again in a few years, but Patrick Chan and Brian Joubert have almost made this competition a referendum on "to quad or not to quad." Oh, how much do I wish that they would both be clean so we could see who would win then? But Chan and Joubert are not the only skaters in the world. Here is a look at some of the top medal contenders:
Canada's Patrick Chan: I'd say Chan has clearly been the judges' favorite competitor this season, as evidenced by his ability to win competitions despite making numerous errors. He wins and the judges love him because he is an absolutely beautiful skater with great technique. He doesn't do the most difficult jumps and certainly does not have a quad, but I think Chan can beat someone who has a quad unless he falls or has several jump downgrades. His season has been nearly perfect; he won his first two Grand Prix events along with the Canadian Championships and the Four Continents. The one loss came in the Grand Prix Final where he came in fifth. After he won his Grand Prix events while making errors, I remember wondering if Chan's mistakes would catch up with him, and I think they did at the GPF. But since then he's only gotten better and better.
France's Brian Joubert: Joubert won the title in 2007 and came in 2nd last year. He has had an uneven season. He did terribly at Trophee Eric Bompard before winning Cup of Russia and then withdrawing from the GPF with a back injury. The injury kept him out of the French nationals as well, but he looked to be ok in winning the European championships (although he lost the free skate in that competition). He is planning up to three quads in the free skate here, and I would say he definitely has something to prove. His elements (other than his jumps) will likely not score as high as Chan's. The key for him is scoring big in the short; last year he sat in sixth place after the short program and could not make it back to win the competition.
America's Jeremy Abbott: Abbott has had a breakthrough season. He won Cup of China and went on to win the GPF. He also won his first national championship, and singlehandedly dismantled the Evan Lysacek/Johnny Weir rivalry, at least for a while. He's a lovely skater, and if you saw the NBC breakdown of his triple axel versus Evan Lysacek's at the nationals, you can tell that his jumps can be absolutely superb. However, his losses this year include a fourth place at Cup of Russia and a fifth place at Four Continents, which seems a bit erratic. In a contest where both are clean, I think the judges prefer Chan. Additionally, although Abbott's short program is absolutely exquisite, I feel his free skate is a bit of a letdown. But he's definitely a medal threat.
Japan's Takahiko Kozuka: Kozuka surprised the skating world by swooping in and winning Skate America to kick off the Grand Prix season, beating Americans Evan Lysacek and Johnny Weir. He has been consistently near the top in his other competitions but has not been able to snag any other victories, including his own national championships. I think he has one of the best short programs in the competition but, like Abbott, I am not as in love with his free skate.
America's Evan Lysacek: Lysacek has had what can only be regarded as a disappointing season thus far. He started out by garnering very low marks among the judges at Skate America and Skate Canada. He finished third in both competitions and did not make the GPF. He had a disastrous bronze medal performance at this year's national championships. But he seemed to rebound at Four Continents, getting more favorable scores and he also landed his first quad of the season at that competition, where he placed second to Chan. I like Lysacek's artistry and his passionate performances, but several things will have to come together for him to win this competition. I think he'd have to at least land the quad and the other top skaters will have to make mistakes in order for him to skate to the top.
Japan's Nobunari Oda: Oda was banned from much of the 2007-08 season for drunk driving, and then he withdrew from the Japanese Championships that season as well. He won his only Grand Prix event this season, the NHK Trophy. He also won the Nebelhorn Trophy and the Karl Shafer Memorial (although those two events had less competition) and he beat Kozuka at the Japanese Championships. To quote "The Office," I have no idea how high he can fly. His fourth place finish at Four Continents was not encouraging, but it isn't necessarily a precursor of worlds for him. I could easily see him medalling or even swooping in for the win. Kozuka and Oda likely want to make sure they stand out at worlds before their very popular and dynamic countryman, Daisuke Takahashi, comes back next season.
Other possible spoilers: Kelli at State of the Skate is predicting France's Yannick Ponsero for the bronze. Keep a lookout for Czech Republic's Tomas Verner as well.
I don't know why I can't bet against Chan right now. But if this prediction comes true, I would pay money to be in that post-event press conference to hear what Joubert has to say!