It hasn't been a great lead-up to the men's event at this week's 2016 World Junior Figure Skating Championships. In January, Junior Grand Prix Final champ Nathan Chen withdrew after injuring himself in the gala at U.S. Nationals. Now, defending bronze medalist Sota Yamamoto broke his ankle in practice the day before he was to travel to Debrecen for the competition. With two of the favorites out, the fight for gold looks to be much more open than it was a few months ago.
Rocker Predictions: 2016 Junior Worlds
GOLD Deniss Vasiljevs LAT - Fresh off his silver medal at the Youth Olympics last month, Vasiljevs' biggest advantage in Debrecen this week is likely going to be his lack of a disadvantage. What do I mean by that? Well, on the junior ranks, short programs still do not allow quads, which will help a skater like Vasiljevs, who doesn't have a quad yet. In a field of generally unpredictable skaters, two clean quadless programs from Vasiljevs might just be what it will take for him to become the first Latvian skater to win an ISU Championships.
SILVER Vincent Zhou USA - Eighth at U.S. Nationals, Zhou wasn't at his best there (and if I recall, with a foot injury). But his trajectory this season has been pretty incredible after two years of injuries. He basically learned a triple axel, a quad sal, and a quad toe in a season. And he and coach Tom Zakrajsek had grand visions of adding a third quad for his free skate at Junior Worlds, so it will be interesting to see if that happens. Zhou is not as all-around of a skater as Vasiljevs is, but his technical repertoire will help him get onto the podium.
BRONZE Dmitri Aliev RUS - On paper, Aliev would be the favorite out of this whole field. He is the most complete skater in this field, with both the basic skating and the quads to back it up. The issue for him this week will be inconsistency, which has kept him from winning the Junior Grand Prix Final when Chen had an off day and the Youth Olympics, where a fall in the short and a few popped jumps in the free skates kept him at bronze. That said, Aliev will still be one of the favorites for gold, and could become the first Russian man to win Junior Worlds since 2004.
4. Daniel Samohin ISR - Much like Aliev, Samohin has a whole lot of technical firepower but is known to be incredibly inconsistent. It wouldn't be unusual for him to hit two quads in the free skate and then fall on the easier triples. Two clean programs and Samohin would become the first Israeli man to win a Junior World medal.
5. Alexander Samarin RUS - The Russian junior silver medalist has been solid this season, winning a Junior Grand Prix title last fall and grabbing eighth at Russian Nationals on the senior level.
6. Tomoki Hiwatashi USA - The newly-crowned U.S. junior champion has followed in Zhou's footsteps and won a U.S. title on the intermediate, novice, and junior levels. Key for him this week will be the triple axel. And while we saw a quad toe from him in training, it's likely that the quad won't be in his free skate this week.
7. Nicholas Nadeau CAN - Fifth at Canadians this year on the senior level, Nadeau has made major strides since last season, when he was 25th at Junior Worlds.
8. Yaroslav Paniot UKR - Interestingly enough, Debrecen will be Paniot's first Junior Worlds, even though he competed in senior Worlds last season and made the top 24. But he lost his Ukrainian title to Ivan Pavlov, who was given the Worlds spot instead, so Junior Worlds will be Paniot's consolation for the end of this season.