UPDATE (2/17): Denis Ten has withdrawn from the competition with injury
It's no secret that the depth in the men's competition has skewed the way of Four Continents than Europeans. After all, only four of the 18 men's medalists in the non-Final GP events, and just one of the six Grand Prix Final qualifiers were from outside Asia and North America. And so even with Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu and U.S. champion Adam Rippon out to focus on Worlds, this competition is going to be intense. I count at least six skaters who are podium contenders, and a handful more who can be complete dark horses. But does it look to be a Chan vs. Uno fight for gold?
2016 Four Continents: Rocker Predictions
GOLD Patrick Chan CAN - Chan has been largely absent from Four Continents for the past few years. He's only competed at two of them, winning both times (2009 and 2012). And like some of his main rivals, he has historically taken February as a time to recharge and sharpen up for Worlds. And while Hanyu has taken that path, Chan is using Four Continents as a way to get more competition airtime. His triple axel is perhaps more consistent than it's ever been, but the quad toe has been the element that has been trickiest for him, especially in the short. But based on his performances at Canadians (and his strong FS track record this season), I see Chan winning this one with clean or clean-ish programs on the basis of his components.
Plus, he's got a new sweater vest.
SILVER Shoma Uno JPN - Perhaps the one with the strongest chance of preventing Chan from going three-for-three at Four Continents, Uno did defeat Chan at the Grand Prix Final after Chan's disastrous short program there. Where Uno has the advantage is in the technical mark, though with Chan upgrading his free skate since Grand Prix Final, that advantage is much slimmer now. Uno will need Chan to make at least a mistake for him to win this title, but the key thing to watch is how close (or far) they are after the short program.
BRONZE Denis Ten KAZ (withdrew on 2/17) - If this were last year, I would've put Ten in the closest-to-Chan spot. And Ten was brilliant here last season, where he skated two great programs to win the biggest title of his career. But once again, he had a slow start to his season, this time the result of injuries. The difference this year versus previous years is that Ten's slow start effectively kept him stagnant while his rivals, old and new, are racking up increasing component scores with the quad momentum that has been so huge this season. Even when he skated two very strong programs at Golden Spin in December, he didn't quite get the astronomical marks that his competitors were getting with similar skates at the Grand Prix Final. Now, of course, those are two different competitions, and there's a different kind of dynamic when a bunch of great skates happen one after another. But I can't help but think that two clean programs from Ten will be scored lower than two clean programs from Uno.
4. Boyang Jin CHN - Yup, Jin landed four clean quads (two toes, one salchow, one lutz) in his free skate at the Chinese Winter Games just a few weeks back. And he's going to very much be in medal contention this week in Taipei. But what he has in technical content will be dwarfed by skaters here who are just so much better in components - and that difference, as we saw at Grand Prix Final, just gets magnified when the field is this good. So Jin's medal hopes this week will be dependent on 1) putting down fairly clean skates, and 2) mistakes from the top guys.
5. Max Aaron USA - Silver at U.S. Nationals last month, Aaron comes into Four Continents looking to continue the momentum he's been building this season. You may not necessarily categorize him as an artist quite yet, but it would be disingenuous to say that he has not taken huge strides this season in the composition of his programs. That has translated into better component marks internationally, and should serve him well this week as an outsider for the podium.
6. Takahito Mura JPN - Somehow, Mura recovered from a 10th place at Skate America to taking another bronze at Japan Nationals this season. It's a bit of a reverse from last season, when he fizzled out in the second half after a strong start. So that might be a good sign for him heading into Four Continents. He'll need to avoid those pesky pops, especially on the triple axel, that plague his programs when he's not on - that's usually where it all goes wrong.
7. Han Yan CHN - Decent. That's probably the most appropriate word for Yan's season so far. He's the most all-around of the Chinese male skaters, but has lost ground to the more technically superior and consistent Jin this season internationally. He could be medal-worthy or out of the top ten at Four Continents this week. But I'm expecting his showing in Taipei to be, well, decent.
8. Grant Hochstein USA - Four Continents will be Hochstein's biggest senior competition ever. His path this season has been very solid - two fourth-place finishes on the Grand Prix made him very much a contender on the international scene. And he will have another chance this week to prove that he's one of the Americans to keep an eye on as the 2018 Olympics approaches.
9. Keiji Tanaka JPN - Much like Hochstein, Tanaka was a fourth-place finisher at his Nationals, and gained this spot because of a withdrawal (in his case, Hanyu's withdrawal to focus on Worlds). This season has very much been a rebirth for Tanaka, who has struggled since his Junior World silver back in 2011. His other appearance at Four Continents was two years ago, and he finished 17th. You can be sure he will be a good bit higher than that this year.
10. Ross Miner USA - Fifth at Nationals after getting second in the short program there, Miner has had a resurgent season as well. That free skate in St. Paul, though, was a big disappointment, as he just fell apart with a medal in reach. A strong finish to his season here would be great for him to close out this season. And it's a bit of a second chance, since he got this spot as a first alternate after Rippon withdrew.