In a lot of ways, the Four Continents Championships last month was a preview of what may come at the World Championships next week. With the exception of Javier Fernandez, you had all of the main medal contenders there. Unless a few really unexpected things happen, the medals will go to three of the Big 6 - Fernandez, Patrick Chan, Nathan Chen, Yuzuru Hanyu, Boyang Jin, and Shoma Uno.
That said, over a month has passed since Four Continents, and many things can and will change with each skater and their preparation. Either way, this promises to be yet another incredible competition, with mind-blowing technical content and amazing skating. I can't wait ... and, really, I have no idea how these predictions will fare.
But hey, I'm gonna do it anyway.
2017 World Championships
Official hashtags: #WorldFigure #helsinki2017
GOLD Nathan Chen USA - Forget the Grand Prix Final, forget the US Championships, the Four Continents title five weeks ago was Chen's announcement to the figure skating world that he's the real deal. It wasn't just the title, but it was also the fact that he put down that strong free skate skating after Hanyu had delivered his best of the season. But there's a wrinkle - Chen has been dealing with boot issues that has put some pauses in his training leading up to Worlds. And though the problem seems to be resolved, you have to wonder if this has messed with his seemingly unshakeable composure - and the practices will say a lot about where he ends up in his Worlds debut. With his relative deficit in components, Chen will absolutely need to be at his best - and for Hanyu, Fernandez, and Uno to make some errors - but with the riskiness of all of these programs, Chen has the best shot at putting it all together to grab the title.
SILVER Yuzuru Hanyu JPN - I have tweeted it and written it - given two clean programs, Hanyu is still the unbeatable one this season. But the fact of the matter is we haven't seen two clean programs from him since that incredible 2015 Grand Prix Final. And of course, the world record scores he set there still stand. Somehow, on the biggest occasions, Hanyu has left points on the table, and just like last year, when he dropped behind Fernandez after a flawed free skate, he can't afford to make multiple mistakes if he is to win his second World title. Hanyu is tenacious, and you better believe he's coming into this competition fired up and ready to roll.
BRONZE Javier Fernandez ESP - Yes, of the Big 6, Fernandez has the second lowest base value across his two programs. But just look at the free skate he put down last year at Worlds to win his second World title. He's got the potential to bring the house down and the judges' scores up, but he has less leeway for errors than his competitors do. A clean short program will go a long way to keeping him in the conversation for his third title. And he will need a free skate like the one he put down at Rostelecom Cup earlier in the season to have a chance at that gold.
4. Shoma Uno JPN - Uno is the one out of the top men who have the most recent competition record to look at. He was in Luxembourg just two weeks ago to win Coupe du Printemps with his strongest performances of the season. The question is whether or not that competition was way too close to Worlds, and also whether or not he can sustain the level that he found in Luxembourg. The potential is very much there - can he live up to it on the biggest stage?
5. Boyang Jin CHN - The reigning bronze medalist has taken some strides up the components ladder this season, and his incredible technical content is still there, albeit perhaps less consistent that it was last season. He decided to add the quad loop into his free skate to bring his base value in line with Chen's, but the loop hasn't been as reliable as he would like it to be. Jin may not be as strong of an all-around skater as the rest of the Big 6, but consistent skating is what got him to the podium last year, and consistent skating could once again land him on the medal stand this year.
6. Patrick Chan CAN - The three-time World champ goes into his eighth Worlds as a major underdog, both because his technical content isn't as strong as the other top men and because his consistency hasn't been there this season, especially with the introduction of the quad salchow to his free skate. But if he does put down two clean programs, his execution and components can and will carry him to the podium. But the big question this week will be around Chan's consistency and self-confidence.
7. Jason Brown USA - So what about that quad toe? Brown says training has been going well and he is back to 100% after the stress fracture that threatened to take him out of the US Championships. Even without the quad, two clean programs will get him in the 260s, which would be plenty to get him to the top 7-8 here. The kicker would be if the quad toe is ready to go, in which case Brown could become quite the spoiler for the Big 6.
8. Maxim Kovtun RUS - Something clicked at Russian Nationals for Kovtun. And he clawed his way back from a terrible Grand Prix series to make it back to Worlds, and he looked like his old self at Europeans. His short program will say a lot about where his jumps are, which will be the key to him returning to the top 10 this season.
9. Mikhail Kolyada RUS - He finished a surprise fourth last year in his debut at Worlds, so you know Kolyada has the goods to challenge for the very top again. But it's inconsistent skating that has really kept him from doing what he's capable of this season. Incidentally, he's also one of the men who has a quad lutz in his repertoire. The scoring potential is there for him to dark-horse his way up the standings once again.
10. Misha Ge UZB - This could be an emotional week for Ge, who has indicated that this season could be his last. He has had to deal with ankle injuries that just won't heal properly, and the quad toe has been tough to come by because of it. He is one of the most elegant skaters in the field, with his two programs this season being two of the best that he's ever had.
Others to watch
Michal Brezina CZE - This is a guy who has all the goods to firmly be in the top 10, but his consistency has suffered the past few seasons, and this season has very much been a rebuilding one for him after switching coaches to Rafael Arutyunyan. He's quite the crapshoot here - could very well finish in the top 10 but could also be down in the teens.
Alexei Bychenko ISR - This was a hard-fought berth. The hopes of two spots for Israel at the Olympics next season rests on Bychenko, who really has a solid look at that top 10 finish that would guarantee those two spots. You know countryman Daniel Samohin is going to be keen on following how Bychenko does here. He was 13th last year, but if he skates like he did earlier this season, it's very possible.
Han Yan CHN - Nothing is official yet as of the writing of this post, but news is that Yan dislocated his shoulder multiple times and will have to withdraw. He was looking strong coming in after a bronze at Asian Winter Games a few weeks back. [UPDATE: Yan is officially out as of 3/25]
Jorik Hendrickx BEL - After a career-high fourth at Europeans, Hendrickx is riding a high coming into his fifth Worlds. He has played around with the quad but has not competed it in the past few competitions. Two clean skates could get him close to or in the top 10.
Brendan Kerry AUS - The five-time Australian champ was a very strong fifth at the recent Asian Winter Games, and he seems to have found the rhythm in his big jumps again. He's been steadily moving up the past few seasons - 20th two years ago, 17th last year - and he is poised to make another jump up the rankings this year.
Keiji Tanaka JPN - A bit of an enigma this season - Tanaka snatched that third spot on the Japanese team but was only 13th at Four Continents. Which one will show up at Worlds?
Denis Ten KAZ - One of the super unpredictable skaters of this generation. Ten's most recent performance was a disastrous 10th place at the Asian Winter Games four weeks ago. We all know that he has the goods to battle with the best of them, but will his consistency be there in Helsinki?
Deniss Vasiljevs LAT - Seventh at Europeans, Vasiljevs has a lot to offer in his choreography and his line on the ice. Technically, he trails behind his contemporaries, but another top 15 finish this season (he was 14th last year) is very much within reach.