Holy moly, if the competitions this season have been any indication at all, the men's competition at next week's 2016 World Figure Skating Championships is going be A-MA-ZING. For the first time ever, we saw the elusive 200 mark in the free skate surpassed by not one, not two, but three skaters this season. No doubt, it will be those three skaters - Yuzuru Hanyu, Patrick Chan, and Javier Fernandez - who will again be fighting for the biggest crown of the season. And they have combined to win the past five Worlds.
But if you look at the competition as a whole, this field is incredible, because there are probably 15-18 skaters here who have a shot at being in the top ten. Get ready for a potentially topsy-turvy ride.
- Men's short: 3:15 p.m. PT / 6:15 p.m. ET / 1:15 a.m. Moscow / 7:15 a.m. Tokyo (3/31)
- Men's free: 3:45 p.m. PT / 6:45 p.m. ET / 1:45 a.m. Moscow / 7:45 a.m. Tokyo (4/2)
Rocker Predictions: 2016 Worlds
GOLD Yuzuru Hanyu JPN - What Hanyu managed to do during the fall was downright superhuman. If you weren't following - over the course of three weeks, he skated two flawless (or if you are nitpicking, near-flawless) competitions with five clean quads each and shattered the world records in the short and free both times. It was like nothing we've ever seen before. And to be honest, after he did it the first time at NHK Trophy, I didn't think we would see it happen again for a long time. And sure enough, he did it again just two weeks later at the Grand Prix Final.
Now, the intriguing thing about Hanyu right now is that he hasn't competed since late December, when he won Japan Nationals with flawed skates. He's human, after all, and he just couldn't sustain that kind of perfection for a third competition in a row with technical content as difficult as he was putting out there. What will be interesting to see is whether he's back in superhuman form in Boston next week. I have a feeling that we won't see absolute perfection from Hanyu in the free skate. But his two-quad technical advantage over Chan give him a bit of cushion in case he does make a mistake. But hey, if we see Hanyu at his best again, watch out, world record.
SILVER Patrick Chan CAN - By no means is Chan, the three-time World champion, out of this race. In fact, he comes in having skated the best free skate of his life at Four Continents, and his free skates overall this season have just been spectacular. And so his biggest hurdle will likely be the short program, where he has fallen way short in five out of the six SPs he has competed this season (the sole exception was at Canadians). His triple axel, though, is the best we've ever seen in his career, which go a long way toward keeping him settled for that quad toe. He's at a technical disadvantage to Hanyu, Fernandez, and Jin, and he understands that. But in this era of high-risk technical content, it may very well be that a clean Chan prevails over a flawed Hanyu - because when push comes to shove, Chan's PCS are going to be just a tad higher than Hanyu's if all else is equal. That short program though - that's Chan's main hurdle.
BRONZE Javier Fernandez ESP - The reigning World champion has upgraded his jumps during the second half of the season, showing off his two-quad short and three-quad/two-triple-axel free at Europeans to keep up with Hanyu's upgrades this season. His growth during the past few years under Brian Orser has been tremendous, and he has certainly given himself the right to be mentioned as one of the co-favorites alongside Chan and Hanyu. But as always, he's more than capable of delivering the jumps, but he consistently clean programs just isn't his thing. On paper, Fernandez is not as components-gifted as Chan and Hanyu are, and so Fernandez can't win his second World title without help from the two above.
4. Shoma Uno JPN - There were some rumblings that Uno would add a second quad to his programs for Worlds. In a lot of ways, that may be a really smart move for the long-term. He's an underdog for the medal when you put him up against Chan, Hanyu, and Fernandez, so the gamble could either 1) pay off, or 2) give him a chance to put that new element out in competition in anticipation of Pyeongchang in 2018. Whether or not it's Uno's time yet is up for debate, but the best thing he can do for himself is to continue to establish himself on the world stage, with the ultimate goal of getting the status he needs for next season and beyond. But then again, it could very well be his time to get on the podium already - he's got the goods.
5. Boyang Jin CHN - If you're in the mood for records and you didn't get enough with Hanyu, you can certain get more of them from Jin. In his first senior international season, Jin has rewritten the history books multiple times - as the first to land a quad lutz-triple toe, and then as the first to land three different quads in a program internationally. He's consistent enough that you will likely see him in the 90s in the short and in the 170s in the free skate, which puts him very much in medal contention. But his problem is that his PCS ceiling is very clear, and the points he will have a disadvantage to relative to the other medal contenders will be amplified, especially in a setting where the best of the best will be. Jin is an outsider for a medal, but mistakes from the top guys will certainly open the door for him to get up there.
6. Adam Rippon USA - Am I a bit bullish to put the U.S. champ this high up on the totem pole? Yes. After all, we don't know what his quad strategy is quite yet - there was talk that he was working on more than one quad last month. But what Rippon has for him is a renewed consistency and the chance of delivering a quad lutz, which Jin also has in his repertoire. And if you look beyond the five skaters above, what you get is potential inconsistency, which can play to Rippon's favor, particularly because his components are strong. What I won't be bullish about is the chance for the U.S. to retain its three spots next season for Worlds, which just doesn't look feasible given the competition here.
7. Han Yan CHN - Bronze at Four Continents behind Chan and Jin was a bit of a surprise for Yan, who has always had the talent to get up in the standings but for some reason just makes mistakes that he shouldn't be making. There's potential there for Yan to make some impact next week, but at the same time, just having a quad toe is not going to help him get into the top five.
8. Max Aaron USA - The former U.S. champion earned his way back to Worlds after an absence last season with a mid-career renaissance that saw him reinvent his approach to programs and bring a brand new look to his skating. The strides that he made have been recognized in the rise in his PCS domestically and internationally. And though he still trails the top men in components, he will have a fighting chance to get himself back to the 7th and 8th place finishes that he had in his last two Worlds appearances. But he will most certainly have to look better than he did at Four Continents, where he looked completely out of sorts in his seventh-place finish.
9. Denis Ten KAZ - For Denis Ten fans, I wish the news were a little better. This is a guy who is absolutely known to be a late-season skater. He has won a medal at two of the last three Worlds and the Olympic bronze in 2014, after completely mediocre Grand Prix performances. But this season was different - he's been injured basically the whole way through, to the point where he even withdrew from Four Continents. We saw him back in competition two weeks ago, and his free skate performance was just not there. If he were at his best, he really would be the fourth favorite for a medal, especially because he's upgraded with the quad sal in his free skate. But it's hard to see Ten having recovered enough from his injury to really make an impact here, and if he skates like he did at Coupe du Printemps, top ten might even be tough to break.
10. Alexei Bychenko ISR - So much of Worlds for Bychenko will be an aspiration for top ten. Why? A top ten finish, which would be his first ever, would give two spots for Israel in next year's Worlds. After all, his teammate, Daniel Samohin, just laid down an impressive victory at Junior Worlds last weekend. Bychenko's historic silver at Europeans in January was an incredible turnaround for him after a really rough early season, and if he can bring that confidence to Boston, top ten is within reach.
Others to watch for
Michal Brezina CZE - Brezina has seen success at Worlds before - he's been fourth twice. But his last couple of seasons have been completely out of whack. He's tried putting all his technical content in, he's tried taking the quads out - but nothing seems to work and the falls keep coming.
Misha Ge UZB - A breakthrough sixth at Worlds last year, Ge has not had a great follow-up season, mostly due to injuries. Like Ten, Ge withdrew from Four Continents and is on the recovery trail. Boston will more be about him coming back to competition ice than about him getting back in the hunt.
Grant Hochstein USA - An eight place at Four Continents was not the result that Hochstein wanted to come into his first World Championships with. That said, his international appearances this season have been strong, and he's got some dark horse potential for top ten.
Mikhail Kolyada RUS - Fifth at Europeans, the Russian silver medalist has had a bit of a breakthrough season, but his recent inconsistency tags him as a bit of an underdog this week to get into the top ten.
Maxim Kovtun RUS - It's really just been peaks and valleys for the three-time Russian champion this season. We have seen some strong skating from him, mostly in the short program, but he's had a good number of disastrous performances, most notably at NHK Trophy. He's one of the guys who has two different quads in his repertoire, so a strong couple of days for Kovtun could get him in top-five contention.
Nam Nguyen CAN - Nguyen stepped into a spot that Liam Firus was originally in. But after Firus withdrew to try to pave the way for stronger Canadian finishes, Nguyen got the opportunity to redeem his season, which went from decent to disappointing. It will certainly be interesting to see if he has gotten back his difficult jumps since Canadians, but it's tough to see him getting back to the top five finish he had last season.