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Olympic Outlook: Team USA Men

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The American men are all legitimate medal contenders in the competition that kicks off tomorrow night with the short program.  If there is not one American man on the medal stand, it would be a major disappointment after the various skaters' international success over the past few years.  Here's a closer look at our U.S. Olympians.

Jeremy Abbott

Jeremy Abbott is too adorable for words.  He is just ridiculously excited about this, his first Olympic opportunity.  Let's hope he's coming into things with a competitive attitude as well. 

He is the two-time reigning U.S. National Champion.  He is the 2009 Grand Prix Final champion, and he won the Skate Canada Grand Prix this season.  He is also the only American man consistently attempting and landing a quadruple jump right now, the toe loop.  His short program this season to "A Day in the Life" by the Beatles is one of my all-time favorite programs.  And his combined performances at the nationals this season should be enough for a medal no matter who he competes against. 

However, there are things to worry about with Abbott.  For one, in his two chances on the biggest world stage - the world championships, he placed 11th both times.  Very disappointing.  He has also been inconsistent this season.  He placed fifth in his first competition, the NHK Trophy, and fell and botched another landing during his Grand Prix Final short program in December.  Although he came back in the free skate there, he was not able to overcome the disastrous short program and get onto the podium.  Abbott's mantra all season has been that he did not want to peak too soon and burn out after Nationals as he appeared to do last year.  And he made a major change last off-season by moving to Michigan to train with former world champion Yuka Sato. 

It would difficult for Abbott to match his amazing Nationals performance, but if he somehow has been able to get the timing right this season and produces at the Olympics, he is not only a medal threat but I believe a true gold medal threat.  He has a beautiful skating style with clean technique that garners him high grade of execution and program components points, and he is obviously athletic as well.  The other thing about Jeremy Abbott is that he has been completely overlooked this Olympic season, and he is often overshadowed by talk of Evan Lysacek and Johnny Weir.  If Jeremy Abbott has even an ounce of Tara Lipinski in him, he'll turn any awareness of this slight into competitive firepower!

Quick Take:

The Programs:  Both are winners.  I historically like Abbott's short programs better than his free skates and this year is no exception.  Please watch that "A Day in the Life" short program, it is an absolute treat.  His free skate to Symphony No. 3 by Camille Saint-Saens is very good as well, and both programs are packed with difficulty from start to finish.  Take a look at his "transitions," or moves linking major elements.  His jump entrances are among the hardest ones I've seen this season.

Latest Performances:  Both programs were solid.  As good as it gets.

Strengths:  Skating skills and style, artistry, technique, the quad, beautiful execution of elements

Weaknesses:  Consistency.  Abbott has made many errors this season.

It gives me the creeps when:  He keeps changing his free skate outfit.  I've only liked one so far.  And it was not that bright blue number he unveiled at nationals, no sir.

I think it's awesome when:  He does ridiculously difficult entries into his jumps. 

Outlook:  It's very hard to tell with Abbott.  The big advantage he has is that he has all the extras, there is no question mark with his execution or his program components, or even his technical difficulty.  Watch out for that second triple axel in the free skate, though - he sometimes substitutes another jumping pass for it, but he seems committed to doing the second triple axel here and hopefully it's the right choice.  If he's clean, he should be on the podium.  But will he be clean?  I really hope so.

Evan Lysacek

Evan Lysacek is the reigning world champion, and he seems to be most people's pick here for an American medal. Lysacek is beyond prepared for this.  He has looked nothing but professional and ready all season.  He hasn't been perfect, but he never wavers in his performances - he gives 110 percent every time he's on the ice, and that is something that comes through.  He started the Grand Prix season with a silver medal to Japan's Nobunari Oda at Cup of China (with no major errors), and then won Skate America and the Grand Prix Final.  He only placed second at US Nationals, after turning out of a triple axel in his short program and then falling on a quad toe loop attempt in the free skate. It's the worst he's done all season, but I'm not really that worried, as he came in third in last season's nationals only to go on to the world gold medal. Lysacek has stated he will not be attempting a quad here.

Lysacek gets fairly high program components scores, although I assume he won't quite score as high as Canadian Patrick Chan.  Many have criticized Lysacek's style over the years, particularly the "arm flailing," (see Plusheko, Evgeny).  Lysacek is quite tall and it's difficult to work that look on the ice without looking awkward at times - but I think he's doing a pretty good job.  And while Lysacek does not have the soft ease of Abbott, I think he has developed his own style over the years.  He has learned to play to his strengths in the choreography, and his programs are designed to get the crowd going in the last section of footwork, which I always enjoy.  Lysacek has a passion that comes through in the performance and I think his components are far superior to Plushenko and Joubert, but that's just me.

My fear with Lysacek is that he does have some weaknesses.  He's had problems with grade of execution points and downgrades on his triple axels, and since he is not even attempting a quad here, the triple axels become even more important.  He won't likely get as high grades of execution as someone like Abbott, so Lysacek has to be super clean.  I just worry that he could turn in two stellar performances and still not medal because he is starting from a lower base, technically.  However, I think Lysacek is a smart medal pick here - he has been so confident this whole season and he's been skating strong, overall.

Quick Take:

The Programs:  I think these are both perfect Olympic programs, and I like both of them.  The music is overused ("Firebird" for the short program and "Scheherazade" for the free skate), but Lysacek does a great job with them.  Very smart programs.

Latest Performance:  Lysacek had some errors at nationals, but he still looked strong overall in winning the silver medal.

Strengths:  Lysacek is a strong competitor with great passion.  He can deliver great technical scores and program components.

Weaknesses:  He has to make sure he doesn't leave room for the judges to take off grade of execution points.  And he just cannot make mistakes here.  He doesn't have a quad.

It gives me the creeps when:  He accentuates his shoulders.

I think it's awesome when:  I'm sorry, I am a sucker for the Lysacek step sequence. 

Outlook:  Lysacek has a strong case for a medal if he's clean here.  He's got great, balanced programs and he knows how to deliver them.  If the quad fiends are clean, though, Lysacek may be left behind.

Johnny Weir

Weir won three national championships by the time he competed in the 2006 Olympics, but hasn't won any since (although the 2008 championship was technically a tie with gold medalist Evan Lysacek).  Weir had a rocky 2006 (from the Olympic free skate onward) and 2007, left his coach Priscilla Hill for Galina Zmievskaya and the Petrenkos, and had a great 2008, which culminated in a bronze medal at the world championships, his first world medal.  The 2008-2009 season was initially successful for Weir as he medaled in two Grand Prix events and won the bronze at the Grand Prix Final, but he skated sick at nationals and finished fifth.

This season, Weir has made yet another comeback.  He didn't look great in his first competition, Rostelecom Cup, where he finished fourth, but he got stronger for NHK where he placed second, and looked best of all at the Grand Prix Final where he finished third.  This year at Nationals, Weir started off well, but he only had the fifth highest free skate score and it really did not impress.

Johnny Weir is a beautiful skater.  He's got artistry.  He's never really been the strongest technically, and he doesn't have a consistent quad, although he has reportedly been practicing the jump in Vancouver.  I feel like he just has never reached his potential internationally, and at this point it may be too late for him.  He has a tendency to pop his triple axels and even double the second jump off of his combinations, and that's not going to be enough to win a medal here.  And even though he has a great presentation, he likely won't score as high in components as a Jeremy Abbott or Patrick Chan, and his program elements are not as difficult.  I feel that in order for Weir to medal here, he's going to have to be cleaner than we've seen him so far this season.  He's also going to have to attack, attack, attack his jumps, and never give up.

Weir is also full of distractions, like his reality show "Be Good Johnny Weir" and the recent controversy over his use of fur in his Nationals costume.  Hopefully none of that will overshadow his skating here.  Also, if you have a chance, watch the show...it's quite entertaining and Weir is quite endearing.

Quick Take:

The Programs: Both programs (short is to "I Love You,  I Hate You," and free skate is to "Fallen Angel") are good - but they're not great.  They don't stand out to me,particularly the free.

Latest Performance:  Honestly, a bit lackluster at nationals.  After an impressive short program, he could not match that excellence in his free skate.

Strengths:  Johnny is truly a beautiful skater.  Also, he's one of the most-publicized American athletes of the games, with a reality show ("Be Good Johnny Weir") airing right now on the Sundance Channel.

Weaknesses:  As an artist and an athlete, he is overshadowed by his competitors here.

It gives me the creeps when:  He has eye sex with the crowd before his footwork sequence in his short program.

I think it's awesome when:  He has eye sex with the crowd before his footwork sequence in his short program.

Outlook:  Weir has the fundamentals to rack up some high scores, but he'll have to be meticulous about his jumps.  He doesn't have much room for error if he wants to be on that podium.  He may also need some help via mistakes by other skaters.

Please be sure to check back tomorrow for my full preview of the men's event.