The men's event at the U.S. National figure skating championships starts this weekend! Here is what I think of chances of some of the top men:
Jeremy Abbott: The reigning national champion has been on a bit of a roller coaster since winning last year's Nationals. He finished a disappointing 11th at the world championships for the second year in a row. Then he started this season a distant fifth at the NHK Trophy after several mistakes in his free skate. He won Skate Canada, and then placed fourth in the Grand Prix Final. But he tends to get higher grade of execution marks than either Lysacek or Weir, and his artistry is undeniable. His "Day in the Life" short program is one of the best shorts of the year. Another plus for Abbott is that he has landed the quad this season and he plans to keep it in his free skate - neither Lysacek nor Weir have landed a quad yet this season and it's unclear if either of them will have one if they make the Olympic team.
Abbott hasn't been consistent this season and it's unclear if he'll be able to skate clean in Spokane. However, I think he definitely can make a few mistakes before he gets bumped off the podium.
Evan Lysacek: World champion, Grand Prix Final champion, winner of one other Grand Prix event this year...Lysacek has been building momentum and shows no sign of slowing down. He looks super confident on the ice and has two programs that follow the Olympic medal formula to a tee (building up to a patented Evan Lysacek straight line footwork sequence at the end). I don't see a situation where Lysacek doesn't make the Olympic team. I would say he's the favorite to win in Spokane, but not completely overwhelming. He has been plagued with important downgrades this season and he has to make sure he's a bit cleaner and garners as many grade of execution points that he can, especially since his quad has yet to make an appearance.
Johnny Weir: I like where Johnny Weir is right now as a competitor. He's shown improvement in each event this season, culminating in his bronze medal performance at the Grand Prix Final. Sometimes we see a scared Weir, but now he looks strong and he looks like he's on the attack. My concern with Weir is that his programs lack the difficulty of the other top skaters - he is often doubling the second jumps on his combinations. He'll have to work on that if he wants a shot at an Olympic medal, but for now, he has to show that he belongs on the team. And he sounds ready.
The Dark Horses
Ryan Bradley: Ryan Bradley is such an entertaining skater, and he definitely knows a thing or two about landing quads. But the only way I can describe his skating right now is haphazard. He rarely has a completely clean skate, and I can't imagine all the grade of execution points he leaves out there on the ice. His only trip to the world championships resulted in a 15th place finish. However, he does have some Grand Prix medals to his name, and he can win the crowd over with one look. But he'll really have to limit the major errors in order to stay in the Olympic mix.
Stephen Carriere: Carriere has some Grand Prix medals and a 10th place at the world championships under his belt. Could he fly under the radar and onto the podium at nationals? I'm not sure if he'll be able to trump some of the bigger names and flashier personalities in Spokane.
Brandon Mroz: Mroz was so impressive at Nationals and worlds last season - he finished worlds in ninth place, ahead of national champ Abbott. But this season has been a disappointment, with several disastrous moments for Mroz and not even cracking the top five in either of his Grand Prix events. I'm not sure if he's quite mature enough for the Olympics yet, especially considering the competition he'll be up against in Spokane.
Adam Rippon: I think Rippon will be more of a contender for future Olympics, but I wanted to mention this two-time world junior champion because his performances at Trophee Eric Bompard this season were so lovely. The free skate was not clean, but I just thought he was a brilliant performer and...the man did a triple lutz with two hands over his head in the short. I mean, he's got some skills. He does tend to pile up the mistakes when things are not going well, but he's one to watch regardless, so enjoyable!