Practices are underway in Greensboro, North Carolina for the senior men competing in the U.S. National Figure Skating Championships this week. Let's take a look at the major contenders for the title and for the three world championship berths.
Jeremy Abbott: Jeremy Abbott is the two-time defending champion at this event. But Abbott's season has not been smooth so far. He has been plagued by the first boot problems of his career and that's taken away from his training. Reports are that the problems are straightened out, but the issues are hopefully to blame for his lackluster start to the season, with a silver and bronze on the Grand Prix circuit. Abbott just missed qualifying for the Grand Prix final.
The bad news is that the last few times I saw his programs, I thought they needed a lot of work (and, again, that may be due to the boot situation). The short program is something of a departure in style for Abbott...and I didn't find it to particularly be working for him. The Life is Beautiful free skate has the potential to be another amazing Abbott free skate, just absolutely beautiful qualities and that smooth Abbott style, but he has to skate it the way he can.
The good news is that Abbott tends to peak at Nationals, putting down some of the skating world's most beautiful programs at that event over the last few season. That's actually bad news for those of you who watch skating AFTER nationals and see that Abbott can't seem to keep the momentum going through Olympics and Worlds. I am almost hoping that Abbott pulls an Evan Lysacek and underperforms here, still hanging on to a spot on the world team. BUT, because Abbott's had such early season trouble, I also want him to skate lights out here, just to see the potential of the programs realized...which would definitely win the competition. He has the strongest combination of jumping and program components at the competition.
I do find Abbott to be the overwhelming favorite, given his program content and his experience. That doesn't mean that one of these skaters can't pull off an upset.
Ryan Bradley: I had no idea Bradley was still going to be competing this season. Then I found out a little while back that Bradley, spurred by passionate fans, had decided to give it another go. Bradley is a fun skater who has quads but who is also known for being very sloppy. I loved his free skate last season because of its energy and Bradley's sense of humor and he really made a case for the bronze at nationals last season, I thought. His highest finish at this competition is 2nd back in 2007. Bradley has been to the world championships twice, but finished no better than 15th.
Armin Mahbanoozadeh: Aside from having the best name in skating, Mahbanoozadeh is another of those smooth operators. He just attacked the heck out of his free skate at Skate America and came home with a surprise bronze medal, beating out fellow American Adam Rippon. That was one of my favorite performances of the Grand Prix season, which is saying a lot, because he skated to Avatar, and I am not a fan of Avatar music. Mahbanoozadeh does not have the biggest jumps and unfortunately, does not have a quad yet. He came in eighth at last year's nationals, but I expect him to make a move this season and possibly contend for a medal.
Brandon Mroz: Mroz had himself a nice little Grand Prix season, making major strides over last season with a silver and a bronze and just missing out on the Grand Prix Final. Mroz has been all about jumping but his artistry took a few steps forward this season with On the Waterfront as his free skate. He is getting there, but he still will score much lower in program components than several of the other major skaters here. Lucky for him, his jumping repertoire is more impressive and he lands quads. He will really have to be great technically, though, to make up for the other mark. If he does make it to worlds, we should remember that he did impress his first time out, finishing in 9th place.
Adam Rippon: Adam Rippon is one of the loveliest skaters in the world, male or female. He is so elegant and smooth. He doesn't have a quad and that is going to hold him back for now. And he doesn't get the highest components although among the Americans he is definitely up there (Updated: I don't think i articulated his well. He does very well in components but he doesn't score as high as say..Chan, Takahashi and Abbott). So for Rippon, it's all about skating clean and making the most of the jumps he does have. Rippon won a bronze on the Grand Prix this season, and had some great results last season, including a first place at Four Continents and a sixth place showing at the World Championships. If Rippon skates clean, he could definitely make a case for his first title.
Those are the skaters I think are ones most likely to medal. Some other skaters to watch are Ross Miner and Grant Hochstein, who we saw in the Senior Grand Prix Circuit, and Richard Dornbush, who won the Junior Grand Prix Final, earning a higher total score than any American other than Adam Rippon has earned all season. Let me know in the comments who you're looking forward to seeing.