We've had a lot of National Championships already. But it's ChristmasWeek, and you know what that means - the first two of the Big Four Nationals are happening! We'll take a look at the 2016-17 Japan Figure Skating Championships first. Streaks are on the line - we have Yuzuru Hanyu looking for his fifth consecutive title and Satoko Miyahara looking for her third in a row. Neither of them have been immune from mistakes this season. Might there be an upset or two this week in Osaka?
UPDATE (12/21): Yuzuru Hanyu has withdrawn from Nationals with the flu
2016-17 Japan Nationals Predictions
Unofficial hashtag: #JN2016
Men Top 5 predictions
GOLD Yuzuru Hanyu (withdrawn as of 12/21)
SILVER Shoma Uno
BRONZE Keiji Tanaka
4. Takahito Mura
5. Ryuju Hino
Update (12/21): With Hanyu out of Japan Nationals because of the flu, it paves the way for Uno to win his first National title.
Of the two singles disciplines, the men is probably the easier to figure out (watch me eat my words). Just looking at the results this season, the top two is set, though it's a question of what order they will be in. Yuzuru Hanyu has not be tip-top yet this season, but he doesn't necessarily have to be perfect to win this. But we've seen Shoma Uno close the gap this season - they are basically tied in short program base value, and Uno has improved his components significantly. That said, Hanyu still has the technical edge in the free skate with four quads to Uno's three, and his components should keep him ahead, unless disaster strikes.
With both Daisuke Murakami and Sota Yamamoto out due to injury, the fight for bronze should come down to three-time and reigning bronze medalist Takahito Mura and Keiji Tanaka, who was fourth last year. Tanaka is gaining steam, especially with his bronze at NHK Trophy last month, and I see him sneaking in and grabbing that bronze (and likely third spot on the World team). But watch out for Ryuju Hino, who had a solid Sectionals coming in.
Ladies Top 10 predictions
GOLD Satoko Miyahara
SILVER Wakaba Higuchi
BRONZE Mai Mihara
4. Marin Honda
5. Kaori Sakamoto
6. Rika Hongo
7. Mao Asada
8. Yura Matsuda
9. Yuna Shiraiwa
10. Kanako Murakami
Ok, I'm going to admit right off the bat - besides Satoko Miyahara, this field is really going to be quite unpredictable. I count at least seven, including Miyahara, with medal chances; and of the seven, Miyahara is the only one I see as a lock for the podium.
Miyahara is coming off two brilliant skates at Grand Prix Final, where she took silver behind Evgenia Medvedeva. And she did it behind jumps that were the strongest (and most well-rotated) that she's had all season. But really, after her is anyone's guess. Wakaba Higuchi has had a strong debut on the Grand Prix and looks to be the next most likely to stand on the podium and make Worlds.
And after that, I'm going for consistency, which Mai Mihara has shown all season. Given everyone skating clean programs, Mihara doesn't have the components to get on the podium. So then you look at Marin Honda and Rika Hongo, and to a certain extent, Kaori Sakamoto, who just won Japan Juniors a month ago.
Yes, I've yet to call out one very obvious name. Assessing Mao Asada's chances here is just a tad bit tough. She has had a completely out-of-sorts kind of season, with an ailing left knee that has kept her from even putting her trademark triple axel in her programs this season. But outside of the axel, she has also just looked tentative in her jumps all around. It will take her two best performances of the season by far for her to make it back on the podium. The last time she was off the podium at Japan Nationals was 2003-04. But for her Olympic chances, a bit of rest before next season may be exactly what she needs.