Men's figure skating preview: Americans a long shot for medals

American Jason Brown dazzled at the U.S. Nationals - Matthew Stockman

This is not a strong American team. Who's hot and not and medal predictions for Sochi.

Every four years during the Olympics, I think about the amount of mornings i had to get up at 4:30 a.m., to run outside in minus-30 weather to the vehicle with my mom for a 5:45 figure skating session in an equally as cold rink. Gone are the days of school figures, but the sacrifices are still the same. Education is put on hold, time with friends, developing relationships, wondering where the money is coming from if you are not a funded athlete. Being on an Olympic podium changes your life, winning gold changes everything.

The men’s figure skating event will be one that I watch intently. All three of the Canadian skaters are men I've known since they were kids. While two of them could challenge for the podium, one is there on a surprise third-place finish at the nationals. Congrats Liam Firus – You’ve made the Vancouver Skating Club extremely proud!

I’m sorry to say, the U.S. men’s team is not looking so hot in Sochi. I can’t remember the last Olympics where the U.S. Men’s Olympic team were not a threat to the podium.

Here's a look at the U.S. team and the international skaters to watch for.

Jeremy Abbott (USA)
What's Hot

-4 Time National Champion
-Suburb program layout
-His connection to the music

What's Not So Hot
-Inconsistency
-Poor training habits
-Recycling an old long program. It’s the Olympics dude … come on.

This is Abbott’s second time under the Olympic Rings. A four-time national champion, 2009 Grande Prix final champion, Jeremy drives me nuts because he’s soooooooooo talented. He has the spins, the footwork, the speed, he is really the complete package. But what he doesn’t have is the know-how in pressure-filled situations. He was left off the world teams in 2011 and 2013. He has thrown 90% of the opportunities to really stand on top in big events. His goal for this Olympics was to stand on the podium. But in the team event, Abbott started the U.S. team off with his worst score of the season in the short program. The result were tears in the kiss-n-cry. At 28, time is running out. He needs to not focus on the medal, but focus on being able to walk off the ice and know that he did absolutely everything he did, so he can at least smile. His chances for the podium are slim at best.

Jason Brown (USA)
What's Hot

-His spins and positions are head and shoulders above the rest of the competition
-His ability to perform put his leg into whatever position into his jumps
-Transitions in program

What's Not So Hot
-He has no quad planned, which leaves him without a chance at the podium
-Skating to "River Dance."
-His costume look exactly the same in both programs, but with different colors

Jason Brown surprised everybody including himself, by landing on the Olympic team, and he did so in high fashion, by beating Abbott in the free skate at the national championships. He has some amazing skills that no one else has. Brilliant flexibility, and an amazing contact with the audience. Brown is here for the experience, and he got his first taste of Olympic ice during the team event, where he placed fourth in the long program for Team USA. He had only fall on a rather tricky jump sequence. If Brown wants to be considered a contender in the future, his whole package will have to mature.

Patrick Chan (Canada)
What's Hot

-three-time world champion
-His lack of effort to get the speed across the ice
-His spins are always so centered

What's Not So Hot
-Jumps are either hot or cold
-I’ve often thought Skate Canada needed to muzzle his mouth
-Recycling the music from a long program from years past. WTF????

There is no denying my countryman is a wonderful master of the blade. At the 2010 Olympics, skating on home soil and recovering from injury and an off ice drama – including a last minute coaching change – Chan gained a quad and a consistent triple axel thanks to Christy Croll. But when she left his coaching team after the 2012 Worlds, he has relied on an office dance teacher to be the head of his coaching team. I know I’ve never had to train for the Olympics, but the last person I would rely on to get me through is someone who hasn't been a skater themselves. I don’t blame him entirely, Skate Canada should have intervened along time ago. This season has been anything but kind to Chan, he has not been the man to beat.  If his short program in the Team Event is a preview of what to expect, Canada can once again expect to leave without an Olympic gold in the men’s event again.

Yuzuru Hanyu
What's Hot

-His short program, although being recycled from last season, is probably the best short program in the men's field
-Defeated Patrick Chan at the both the Grande Prix Final and the Short Program during the team event here in Sochi
-2012 World Bronze Medalist

What's Not So Hot
-Yuzuru is either hot or cold. When this kid falls, he hits the ice like no other. There is nothing graceful about his falls, and it takes him a lot longer then others to recover.
-His lack of concern for really finishing his positions properly
-He used "Romeo and Juliet" in 2012, and is using a different version for the Olympic season. I find the programs to be the same, and they lack the maturity of the other skaters.

Hanyu, from Japan, is the biggest threat to win the gold. He gave Chan a huge defeat at the Grande Prix Final, and beat both Chan and Evegeni  Plushenko during the team event in Sochi in the short program segment. Expect to see Hanyu up in the standings after the short program, but the reigning Grande Prix Champion often battles nerves and seems to lose focus during his long program.

Denis Tan (Kazakhstan)
What's Hot

-Reigning world silver medalist
-Beat Patrick Chan in the long program at last years world championships
-Watch him play to a crowd

What's Not So Hot
-Inconsistent with his tough technical elements like the quad and triple axel
-Spent much of this year injured
-Hasn’t looked good in practice here in Sochi

Tan became the first person from his country to ever medal at a world championships, which he did this past season. But sadly, Tan has batted injuries and infection, and not looked good in any of the events he’s skated. But if he can shake off his bad luck season, Tan could challenge for the podium.

Javier Fernandez (Spain)
What's Hot

-Reigning world bronze medalist
-Two-time European champion
-Three Quads scheduled in his long program

What's Not So Hot
-His programs this season lack luster
-His jumps were his calling card, but whenever Javier has called this season, they haven’t answered
-His spins are not at the level of the others

Fernandez has gone where no other skater from Spain has gone before, which is hitting the podium at the world level. But this season Fernandez has not looked like his cool, collected self in competition. If he wants to contend in Sochi, he will need every jump because his program components and spins are really lacking for a skater at this level.

Evegeni Plushenko
What's Hot

-Four-time Olympic medalist
-Five-time world medalist
-Four- Time Grande Prix Final Champion

What's Not So Hot
-Where would you like me to start?

Plushenko has a highly impressive resume. The oldest skater in the men's event, the 32 year old veteran was placed on this team after a private test run, after bombing at the Russian Nationals. I didn’t think he would factor in this Olympics, but the judges have proved me wrong. After placing second in the short and first in the long program in the team event, he has reminded all of us that it doesn’t matter what we think. However, after the team event, he has complained about his back. I would too; we're basically the same age, and the thought of doing a quad jump makes me cringe. I don’t find either of his programs to meet today's standards, but the judges gave him 8.79/10 for transitions. I didn’t realize standing around throughout your programs were transitions, but I could be wrong. The thing that Plushenko has is the know-how to compete, and to lay it down when it counts. If all of these guys falter, Plushenko could win his final Olympic medal. This will be his last amateur competition.

Podium Predictions
Gold: Yuzuru Hanyu
Silver: Evgeny Plushenko
Bronze: Patrick Chan
4.Denis Tan
5.Kevin Reynolds
6.Daisuke Takahasi
7.Jeremy Abbott
8. Jason Brown

Chad Conley is a former elite Canadian skater, who writes about the sport for Outsports.You can read his coming out story here.

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