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Olympic Outlook: The Japanese Men

All three of the Japanese men could win a medal - it's just that strong a group of men.  Unfortunately for them, their is a lot of competition to keep them off the podium.

Daisuke Takahashi

Takahashi has had a roller coaster career over the past few years.  He is a four-time Japanese champion and finished in 8th place at the Torino Olympics in 2006.  The next year, he won his first (and only) world championship medal, a silver.  But despite his success that season, the next season sticks out far more in my mind, because he had a ridiculously awesome short program nicknamed the Cyber Swan, and he won the Four Continents championship with an ISU record-breaking performance.  His free skate record from that competition still stands, despite Russian Evgeny Plushenko's machinations this season.  We'll see if the record is still there after the Olympics.

Takahashi is a very special skater - he's one of my absolute favorites to watch.  He has undeniable style on the ice, and some of the most difficult footwork you'll ever see - he gets so deep in his edges; most singles skaters don't skate like that.  And he truly spotlights the footwork in his programs, which I appreciate.  He is also an ambitious jumper; unfortunately, his jumping has not been consistent. Regardless of whether he is landing his jumps, though, he will put on a show for the audience.

Unfortunately, Takahashi needed knee surgery after the 2007-08 season and  missed the whole next season.  He was back this year and was quite up and down - his ambitious attempts at his first Grand Prix, NHK, saw him turn in a fourth place performance, but then he was able to snag the silver at Skate Canada.  But his Grand Prix Final was terrible and he only managed a fifth place finish.  He is coming off a recent win at Japanese nationals.  He's been so erratic this season...who knows what to expect in Vancouver?

Quick Take

The Programs:  I think both are absolutely fabulous.  His short program is definitely one of my top short programs of the season, and his free skate doesn't disappoint either.

Latest Performance:  Not too pretty - he had many little errors here and there in his Japanese nationals win.  I can't imagine him making it on the Olympic podium with that performance.

Strengths:  He has so many - he's a fierce jumper, even if he doesn't seem like one right now.  And his program components should be high, along with the difficulty levels on many of his moves.

Weaknesses:  He has no jumping consistency right now, and his quad is failing him. 

It gives me the creeps when:  His eyebrows look more groomed than mine.

I think it's awesome when:  He gives everything he has to components like his footwork.  He knows there's more to skating than just jumping.

Outlook:  It pains me to admit that it doesn't look good for Takahashi to medal at the Olympics.  I am unsure if he can truly turn in a clean, competitive free skate (not to mention combined with a clean short).  The sad part of that is that when Takahashi is clean, he can obviously be among the best we've ever seen.  And if he is clean, he definitely has a chance.

Nobunari Oda

Oda has also had quite a four years.  He came in fourth at the 2006 worlds.  He was very successful on the Grand Prix scene in 2006, garnering a bronze at the Grand Prix Final, but then he finished in seventh at the world championships. 

Oda was then arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol in 2007.  He was suspended from international competition through the fall of 2007, and he withdrew from the Japanese nationals.  He was then only eligible for one Grand Prix in the 2008-09 season - the NHK Trophy, which he won. 

Oda has developed somewhat of a reputation for peaking early in the season.  He furthered that reputation at the 2009 world championships, where he finished seventh. 

This season started out with a triumph for Oda - he won Trophee Eric Bompard with two great programs.  His Chaplin free skate appears particularly well-suited - it brings out the playful side of his personality.  He went on to beat out reigning world champion Evan Lysacek at the Cup of China.  However, some of the magic seemed to have fizzled out at the Grand Prix Final, where Oda finished second but did not nearly match the energy of Lysacek, who took home the gold.

Oda won the silver medal at the Japanese championships, and will be working to prove that he has what it takes to perform later in the season.  His programs can bring in the big numbers when he's clean - commentators will often point out his "soft knees" as evidence of his great jumping (landing) technique, so he can rack up those grade of execution points.  He has not been doing his quad this season, but if he puts one in his programs at the Olympics and lands them, he will be even more dangerous.

Quick Take

The Programs:  Both are absolutely fantastic.  They do what they have to do and they showcase Oda's strengths.

Latest Performance:  I cannot find the clips on youtube, but he came in second against a flawed Takahashi, so I assume it wasn't his best effort.

Strengths:  Oda has beautiful technique that garners him plenty of points.  He'll also get high program components scores for his skating skills and well-choreographed programs.

Weakness:  He seems to be losing energy in his performances as the season goes on; he is not getting better and he has been plagued with a reputation as someone who runs out of steam earlier in the season.

It give me the creeps when:  I can't think of anything!

I think it's awesome when:  He performs that Chaplin program the way I know he can.

Outlook:  If we get the Oda from Trophee Eric Bompard or Cup of China, he has a very good chance to be on the Olympic medal podium.  But if he follows recent form, he may fizzle out at the Olympics.  It will also be interesting to see if he ends up going with the quad - with the quad and his other scores, Oda can beat anyone.  If he's clean.

The third Japanese men's team member, Takahiko Kozuka, has not had a great season and may get lost in the shuffle with all of the other men.  However, he is a beautiful skater with both technical and artistic strength, and if he skates clean, he can definitely force the judges to take notice of him, the way he did in 2008 with his upset Skate America win.