Here are my thoughts on what we'll see as the men and ice dancing short programs get underway at the US National Figure Skating Championships in San Jose this weekend.
Davis and White: The reigning world champions will win this. They are far enough ahead of the other teams to survive a few major errors. They have the best programs of the season, in my opinion. I know some have criticized their short dance but I still think it's the best one being done, particularly among the American teams. And their Die Fledermaus free dance is sheer joy from beginning to end. I can't imagine they'll leave with anything other than gold.
The Dark Horses
Shibutani and Shibutani: Maia and Alex Shibutani have had a bit of an up or down season, trying to figure out where they fit in the international skating season after their surprise bronze medal at last year's world championships. They have the chops to be great but they don't quite have the presence that some of the more mature teams have. I would be surprised if they don't easily win the silver medal here, though.
Chock and Bates: Chock and Bates had a better season on the Grand Prix than his former partner did (and more competitions), so I think they will likely be the front-runners for the bronze medal here. There's not too much I can say about them. I don't necessarily see them making waves internationally anytime soon but I do think they were a good fit for each other. I think Bates has improved...I used to never even watch him when he would skate with Emily Samuelson and now I am more drawn to him, so his presence is greater, at least.
Others to Watch: Kriengkairut and Giulietti-Schmitt, Samuelson and Gilles, Hubbell and Donohue.
1) Davis and White
2) Shibutani and Shibutani
3) Chock and Bates
Jeremy Abbott: Ostensibly, this should be an easy competition for Jeremy Abbott to win. But then, so should have been 2011's National Championship, where he came in fourth. So who knows. He's got some great programs this year. His Sing Sing Sing short program should win over the crowd and the Exogenesis free skate is a work of art. I hope he can be in the zone and put down one of his amazing nationals performances.
Richard Dornbush: Dornbush now has a quad, which is a great addition to the repertoire. I also think he's grown artistically this season, although maybe his Sherlock Holmes program from last season was better received, so who knows. He didn't particularly sweep the international judges off their feet on the Grand Prix but don't be surprised if clean performances get him back on the podium and even in the top spot. The US judges really like this guy. He hasn't been so clean this season, though, and that's an issue.
The Dark Horses
Jason Brown: Jason Brown went from killing it in his free skate at nationals last season to killing it on the Junior Grand Prix this year. He is a great skater to watch and I can't wait to see him mature. He could score some points if he puts down quality programs here and I wouldn't be surprised to see him in the top six, improving on last season's ninth place finish. Unfortunately for him, he does not yet have a consistent triple axel, and I can't imagine him truly medaling without one. Not sure what it would say about the state of men's skating in the US if he could. Still, I thought he deserved a mention.
Ross Miner: Miner is a gorgeous skater and he has a wonderful free skate to The Untouchables. He was able to win a bronze medal at NHK Trophy which is a testament to how well he can do when he skates clean. I don't necessarily see him swooping in and winning, but another medal is not out of the realm of possibility.
Armin Mahbanoozadeh: Mahbanoozadeh is a gorgeous skater who I always love to watch. But it's time for him to step it up competitively and get on that podium before he gets passed by for good. He did not have a good Grand Prix showing this season. I will be impressed if he throws a quad toe loop, though.
Brandon Mroz: Mroz made headlines by becoming the first skater to cleanly land the quadruple lutz in competition. I hope we see another one here. Unfortunately for Mroz, he has not been able to land much else this season, and it's been a bit of a competitive disaster.
Adam Rippon: Adam Rippon is another of the most beautiful skaters on the ice. He justmissed the podium at both of his Grand Prix events this season. If he is clean, he could easily medal. I am not sure if he is attempting the quad lutz at this event. He is another one who really needs to break through and medal asap.
Others to Watch: Joshua Farris, Keegan Messing, Douglas Razzano, and who knows who will come through again this year as the upstart?
1) Jeremy Abbott
2) Ross Miner
3) Adam Rippon