2015-16 Japan Nationals preview (men): Everyone's playing for third place

There's no doubt that two men will dominate Japan Nationals this week. So the question is - who gets third? Yuzuru Hanyu has had a historic season with his multiple-world-record-breaking performances. And Shoma Uno has made his case as a World podium contender in his first season on the senior circuit. They are on a different level than everyone else. But that's not to say it won't be a fantastic competition. Because this fight for bronze is going to be intense.

Rocker Predictions: 2015-16 Japan Nationals

As if I haven't raved enough about Hanyu and Uno this season already. I don't think it's really all that necessary for me to explain why they are the favorites, by far, in this competition. They are the reigning gold and silver medalists, and will remain that way unless something crazy happens. The real questions are 1) how high can Hanyu score, and 2) how close can Uno get to Hanyu?

So with the top two accounted for, it's the fight for bronze that will be very interesting. Internationally, one Japanese man has stood out among the bronze medal contenders. Daisuke Murakami was the third Japanese man (after Hanyu and Uno) to make it to the Grand Prix Final in a super competitive GP series. He's been generally very consistent this season, and two clean programs will likely put him ahead of everyone else (unless Takahiko Kozuka somehow wills two clean programs for Nationals ... which is a low, low, low probability). But at the Grand Prix Final, Murakami's free skate was a bit of a mess. So there's definitely room for others.

The dark horse here might very well be Keiji Tanaka, who was one of the promising juniors once upon a time (World junior silver medalist in 2011) and then lost his way for the past couple of seasons. But he's like a completely new skater this year, taking a solid fifth at NHK Trophy a few weeks back. There's medal potential there. Another dark horse is Japanese Junior champ Sota Yamamoto, who is one of those great skaters who struggle with triple axels. Good thing for Yamamoto is that he's skating seniors, which will allow him to put in his quad toe in the short, which he seems to like a whole lot more than the axel.

And then you have the two struggling-ish veterans. Takahito Mura took the bronze at NHK Trophy, which went a bit unnoticed since Hanyu stole the show from basically everyone there. But he's also not a stranger to completely bombing competitions, as he did when he took 10th at Skate America earlier this season. Takahiko Kozuka, the 2011 World silver medalist, miraculously delivered two strong programs here last year after a season of popping and underrotating and falling. And he comes into Nationals once again with underwhelming results and an ankle injury that took him out of Cup of China. Tough to see it happening again, and also tough to see such a wonderful skater having so much trouble even getting close to a clean performance.

MEN Top 8 (Predictions)
GOLD Yuzuru Hanyu
SILVER Shoma Uno
BRONZE Daisuke Murakami
4. Keiji Tanaka
5. Takahito Mura
6. Sota Yamamoto
7. Takahiko Kozuka
8. Ryuju Hino