There's a world where any of at least seven skaters could get on the podium or even win this whole thing. Let's be honest - the men's competitions this season have had some incredible moments, but as a whole, it's been a bucket of inconsistency. We saw it four years ago in Sochi (and every four years, it seems), the Olympics does crazy things to athletes. Who will be able to channel that into medal-winning performances?
Nope, I have no idea. But somehow, I'm going to try to predict the top 24 - and boy, I'm making some bold moves here.
Official hashtag: #PyeongChang2018
GOLD Nathan Chen USA - After a shaky short program in the Team Event, Chen has kept a relatively low profile, opting to train outside Gangneung for most of the past week and stay out of the limelight. His biggest asset here against his closest competition is his technical content - and now that he's gotten the quad lutz back into his program, that will keep him competitive with the Fernandezes and Hanyus of the world if all of them skate clean in the short. It's the free skate where he make up ground if he finds himself a few points behind after the short. But this prediction counts on him to turn his anger from the Team Event into fuel, which we've certainly seen him do to full effect in the past.
SILVER Javier Fernandez ESP - I've been saying from the start of the season - it may very well be that slow and steady wins the race for Fernandez. Unlike his competitors, Fernandez has not upgraded his technical content in the past couple of seasons. But he has also shown that he can beat everyone when the cards are dealt right. It's been a while since Fernandez has put down two clean programs in one competition, and this is as good a time as any for him to find his stride and redeem himself for the disappointment he had four years ago in Sochi.
BRONZE Yuzuru Hanyu JPN - The big question is - how is Hanyu's ankle? Practices this week have looked solid for the reigning Olympic champion. He started doing triple axels three weeks ago and quads two weeks ago, but his biggest concern is his conditioning. As of yet, I haven't seen him do a full runthrough of his free skate, and that's where mistakes may creep in. It will be important for Hanyu is to skate a clean short - his technical content won't be as strong as Chen's, Uno's, Jin's, or Zhou's, so he will need every bit of the grades of execution on the content that he has. But the real key is how he does with the free skate. As of now, the loop is back in the free - it's a risk he's willing to take for that second Olympic gold.
That said, two clean programs gets Hanyu to the top.
4. Boyang Jin CHN - There's a reason that Jin is the two-time and reigning World bronze medalist - he has the goods to take advantage of mistakes from his competitors to get to the top. He seems to have made the strides he needed to recover from the ankle injuries he had late last year, and he comes in as the new Four Continents champion, having beaten Uno for the title in the process. Jin is the weakest of this top five in components, and he will need every bit of his technical content, and some inconsistency from his competitors, to get on the podium.
5. Shoma Uno JPN - He has a solid but not flawless skate in the Team Event, and as he showed last year when he won the silver at Worlds, he's more than capable of winning this whole thing outright. His quad flip and quad loop have both been eluding him this week in practice, though a word of caution that Uno's practices are not nearly as correlated with his actual competition performances as some of his competitors' are. Does he regain the form that he had way early in the season here? If he does, that will go a long way toward getting him on the podium, and potentially on top of it.
6. Vincent Zhou USA - Here's the major dark horse this week. Zhou has all the technical content to be competitive with the very best in the world. And his components rely heavily on whether or not he can execute that technical content cleanly. We've seen this season that he's not immune to underrotations, but his practices this week have been strong and better than anything we saw in San Jose during the U.S. Championships. This may be Vincent Zhou's breakthrough moment.
7. Patrick Chan CAN - Three Olympics, three medals - one of the greatest Canadian skaters enters what is likely his final Olympics (and final competition?) looking to redeem his off-kilter season. His performances in the Team Event, though, don't bode well for his chances to get back on the podium after getting silver four years ago. He has already made his mark on figure skating, so more than anything this competition will be for him to skate for himself, and perhaps that would be the key to getting clean performances. Two clean skates and he could find himself back on that podium again.
8. Adam Rippon USA - It's the lack of quads that's going to keep him from being competitive with the top group, but then again, it's the lack of quads that could potentially help Rippon find a way into the top eight here in his Olympic debut. With no Olympics to qualify for, no team medal on the line, this could very well be the most pressure-free competition he has had in recent memory. We are all ready to embrace the magic that Rippon can bring to the ice - hope he is too.
9. Dmitri Aliev OAR - The surprise European silver medalist makes his Olympic debut with all the potential in the world within his grasp. He's been out of the spotlight for the entire Olympics, opting to step on Olympic ice just today, the day before the short program starts. Will that be a disadvantage or will that help him focus his attention on just doing his job? No matter where he finishes this week, Aliev has so much to offer and will be one to watch over the next few seasons.
10. Mikhail Kolyada OAR - At his best, Kolyada is someone who can really make a run for the podium here. But he has been far from his best both in the Team Event and in practices. The two programs he did in Team seemed to have sapped his confidence, and his practices have been erratic. Can he figure it out this week?
11. Misha Ge UZB - 17th at the last Olympics, Ge enters what could be his final competition. It was a fight for him to just skate this season after the injuries he had last season. It will be two emotional skates for sure, with a chance at finishing his career in the top 10 at the Olympics.
12. Keegan Messing CAN - The hard work has paid off for Messing, with an Olympic berth that's brought him here this week. This is the biggest competition of his life - by far. He has never even done a Four Continents Championships before this. And he comes in recovering from an injury he suffered after Canadians that kept him off the ice for a few days. But he's skating pain free and looking strong in practice.
13. Han Yan CHN - Yan has some of the best flowing skating in the business, but he's also got some of the most inconsistent programs. His short program in the Team Event was a prime example of what can go wrong.
14. Alexei Bychenko ISR - Bychenko was the huge surprise in the Team Event, finishing second in the short program there with a personal best score. He's got top ten potential here, just as he did last season at Worlds when he finished 10th and qualified two spots for the Israeli men.
15. Denis Ten KAZ - The reigning Olympic bronze medalist enters PyeongChang completely lost, and a 15th at Four Continents just a few weeks back didn't help matters. He's looked very good outside of runthroughs this week in practice. But it's when the program happens that he seems to fall apart.
16. Keiji Tanaka JPN - Fourth at Four Continents a few weeks ago, Tanaka has everything he needs to get into the top ten here. But he's prone to popping jumps in competition - as he did in the Team Event free skate. Whatever it is, he's just looked a bit lost in practices this week, but if he's on, watch out.
17. Deniss Vasiljevs LAT - He was a surprise fourth at Europeans last month, but without a reliable quad, it will be tough for Vasiljevs to really make a dent here this week in this deep field. He's skating is fantastic to watch, so if he's clean outside the quad, he's got top ten potential as well.
18. Jun Hwan Cha KOR - The home favorite flies across the ice in his programs, but he is prone to underrotations, especially on his quad salchow. He's in the best shape he's been in since the injury that got him off to a slow start this season.
19. Morisi Kvitelashvili GEO - The man formerly known as Moris makes his Olympic debut here. He's got some massive jumps that could get him into the top 15, though he's hoping to not succumb to the inconsistency that dropped him to 12th at Europeans last month.
20. Michal Brezina CZE - He was 10th in the last two Olympics. Brezina is a strong skater with scoring potential. His consistency has been in and out this season, so it'll take a couple of clean skates for him to get back to that top ten again.
21. Matteo Rizzo ITA - His Olympic debut has already included two programs, both in the Team Event, where he put down two very strong skates that kept Team Italy in the conversation for the medals. A lot to look forward to for Rizzo in the future, but while we are here, two clean skates gets him competitive for the top 15.
22. Jorik Hendrickx BEL - After a super strong start to his season, Hendrickx hasn't regained that form, especially after an injury kept him out of Skate America, and it seems like he's been slow to recover from it. He was 10th at Europeans last month.
23. Brendan Kerry AUS - Kerry has been up and down this season, and most recently with a coaching change that brought him to Nikolai Morozov. He has a great deal of potential, but can he put it together in program?
24. Daniel Samohin ISR - Speaking of potential, Samohin is one of the biggest talents in men's figure skating. But he hasn't harnessed that talent well enough quite yet. He could make a splash here or he could fail to qualify for the free skate - feast or famine.