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Men's figure skating preview

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Jeremy AbbottOutsports asked former elite Canadian skater Chad Conley to preview the men's field in the Olympics figure skating competition, which features stars such as American Jeremy Abbott (right). Chad will be in Vancouver and will send us periodic reports on the event. Read a profile of Chad that talks about his ups and downs as an athlete.

By Chad Conley

Every four years, the Olympics are held. Every four years, you watch a person's life change. Every four year you see a person's life fall apart.

The Olympics are not just any other event. It is an event for the elite status athlete. You don't just wake up one day, and there you are -- your team jacket, walking in the opening ceremonies waving to a crowd with a perma-grin on your face like you just had the most mind blowing sex of your life.

Since the 1988 Olympics were held in my hometown of Calgary (I was 9 at the time), my life's mission was to make Canada's Olympic Team. At 9, you practically think it's going to be an easy task. For the years I chased that dream. I gave up everything to try and make that team. Home schooling, no Saturday nights out, no learning to drive, no sneaking out. Was it worth it? Yes for the most part. Most kids in figure skating would kill for the opportunities that were presented to me. Sadly, however, not everyone makes an Olympic Team. That includes me.

Let's fast forward to 2010. Here is my score card of today's Ice Queens, errrrr, Kings.

U.S. Challengers

Jeremy Abbott
Hot:

  • The best thing about Jeremy Abbott is his lack of weakness. His jumps, spins, and artistry are all top level.
  • Showing up to the last two national championships, and laying down the programs of his life.
  • Becoming the first American man to win the Grande Prix Final (2009).

Not So Hot

  • Abbott took a huge gamble with his career by switching coaches going into the Olympics. Maybe he needed a change. But to go to coaches with no world level experience could've ruined his Olympic dreams.
  • Choosing music that, unless you're skating flawlessly, you quickly develop ADD. Abbott is either hot or cold. Hopefully Abbott he grow a pair before his Olympic debut.

Summary

Scott Hamilton said it best: “Jeremy Abbott just brought his own beat down to the national championships.” Abbott defended his National title and won by more than 25 points ahead of Evan Lysacek. But Abbott has not skated well internationally since the 2009 Grande Prix Final. If Abbott wants to make the Olympic podium, he will need to make his quad into a combination to garner points. He'll have to put his nerves aside, and skate the programs of his life.

Evan Lysacek
Hot

  • 2009 World Champion
  • 2010 Grand Prix Champion
  • Two-time U.S. Champion (2007-2008)

Not So Hot

  • His short program costume makes Johnny Weir’s costumes look conservative. Apparently it was designed by Vera Wang. She must have dropped acid.
  • Twice he has shown up to the nationals as the favorite, and failed to win.
  • His mechanical landing on his jumps.

Summary

Lysacek is the defending World Champion. He lacked a world champion's command throughout the grand prix season, but showed up at the Grand Prix final and won. I'm hoping that his ass kicking from Abbott at Nationals will give him the drive and determination he did not display in Spokane. Lysacek has a good shot at the Olympic Podium, providing he doesn't play program suicide by putting a quad in at the last minute. He will need his triple axels, which were not available at the nationals.

Johnny Weir
Hot

  • Three-time National Champion (2004-06)
  • World bronze medalist
  • 2010 Grand Prix Final bronze medalist

Not So Hot

  • His constant need for attention and negative drama seems to overshadow his skating.
  • Losing his World team spot in 2009 by blaming two trips to Korea and the flu. Really?
  • Yes, let’s show the world that were maturing and improving for 2010 by skating to “Poker Face.” We don't wanna see you bluffin with your muffin.

Summary

Johnny Weir had potential. While most skaters start before they are 7, Johnny started skating at the age of 12 and shot up to stardom in no time, with a Junior World Title in 2000. It took him a few years to adjust to the senior life.

In 2004, Johnny Weir started his dominance in US skating, winning three national titles in a row. Then he placed third, then nearly won the following year, then 5th, and now 3rd again. Not to mention he finally hit the World Podium in 2008 with a bronze medal. I could go on and on about his off-ice issues from faux fur to “I'm Johnny Weir ... period.”

If Weir is going to be any sort of threat at the Olympics, he will need his best poker face, and two of the best skates of his life (good luck). If he misses this podium, he'll be sadly missing his already “D” list skating career.

European Challengers

Evgeni Plushenko
Hot

  • Defending Olympic champion
  • Four-time World Champion
  • Was only defeated twice between 2003 and 2006

Not So Hot

  • That smug look on his face when he skates. Someone should've smacked that off years ago.
  • His attitude when he does lose. Think Scarlett O'Hara.
  • Keep your donut spin away from the Olympics; you're not a pixie 16- year-old anymore.

Summary

Can Plushenko defend his Olympic title? He stands a good shot. Most people have been raving about his scores, but let's look at the big picture. Plushenko has not left Europe to compete. At the Cup of Russia he stood on the podium against a weak field. At the Russian Nationals he had no competition. At the recently held Europeans, he stood on top of the podium. By him not leaving his territory, the judges have been very kind to him.

His spins are not at the level of today's skaters, his programs have been designed for him to pose and catch his breath, and his footwork is pretty much the same as it was in 2006. He is getting old after all. But what Plushenko does that the rest of the men have problems with is to fully rotate all of his jumps. He may fall, but he still gets marks for completion of rotation.

Stephane Lambiel
Hot

  • Two-time World champion
  • Defending Olympic silver medalist
  • European silver medalist

Not So Hot

  • You're either in or you're out. A year ago Stephane said, “I retire.” A year later, “I'm coming back for Gold.”
  • His costumes are up for “worst wear” at every competition.
  • Consistency. He'll land two quads, and then pop a bunch of triples

Summary

You wanna talk a spinner? Lambiel has carried on the rich Swiss tradition of spinning. Lambiel retired last year sitting recurring injuries. Or did he retire because he chose to train at the same rink as Johnny Weir, and was no longer the center of attention? What Lambiel needs to work on is the consistency of his triple axel. The boy can land a quad toe, but his triple axel is probably his scariest jump. I would prefer to not be anywhere near him when he attempts it, you could die in the process. However his artistry is truly his own creation. Bottom line, he's one that could capture the Olympic gold if his competition isn’t careful.

Brian Joubert
Hot

  • Former European champion
  • 2007 World champion
  • 2008 World silver medalist

Not So Hot

  • His overall skating makes me vomit half the time.
  • His “Matrix” program wrecked that sound track.
  • Hearing him bitch that he landed his quad and didn't win. Grow up. What part of the new scoring system didn't you get?

Summary

This will be the Frenchman's third Olympics. He ends up on world podiums, and then is off them the following year. Joubert changes coaches as often as people change their underwear and his attitude leaves a lot to be desired. But if he can put it together, he could medal. He's not the best jumper, he's not the best spinner, and his footwork is often knocked by the judges. But he is a former world champion, but has not produced as of late.

Canadian Challengers

Patrick Chan
Hot

  • Three-time Canadian champion
  • 2009 World silver medalist
  • A short program that when skated to the best of his ability is a masterpiece

Not So Hot

  • More issues this year then a Jerry Springer episode
  • Inconsistency has proven to be Chan's biggest weakness
  • You chose “Phantom of the Opera” for your Olympic long program? Yeah, I loved skating to the music too ... when I was 13.

Summary

Chan was on his way to great destiny. At least that's what Skate Canada has been saying for three years. In 2008, Chan would defeat Jeff Buttle for the Canadian title. His trip to the worlds did not fit the billing he was getting. While Buttle landed on top of the World podium, Chan struggled throughout the event.

In 2009, he went almost undefeated, until the World championships where he was defeated by Lysacek for the gold medal. This Olympic year has been unkind to him. The flu after national training camp, then a torn calf muscle. He withdrew from one Grand Prix assignment, and then had a rough showing at Skate Canada international, struggling to a sixth-place finish.

The doctor who treated Chan for the injury was alleged to be importing illegal substances. Chan was cleared. If this isn't enough to make you have a nervous breakdown, his coach, Don Laws, took a hike a week before the Canadian championships. Conflicts over training led to the breakup.

At the Canadian Champions, Chan was still not up to his 2009 level of performance, and was given overly generous scores in his programs. The Canadian crowd wants Canada's first men’s skating gold, but at 19 with the year of drama he's had, can he silence his critics and answer with a program of his life? Time will tell.

Skater On The Bubble

Nobunari Oda
Hot

  • 2010 Grand Prix Season
  • His new-found recommitment to skating
  • Improved speed

Not So Much

  • His run in with the law
  • His consistency
  • Once again Oda failed to win the Japanese nationals. His mistake-filled program only kept him on the Olympic Team because of his solid Grande Prix season.

Summary

Oda looked liked he was on his way to becoming one of the skating most elite competitors. However, after being busted for a DUI, he was suspended by the ICU and Japanese skating federation, and a result missed the entire 2007-08 season. He has slowly been climbing back up the ranks this season however, with two Grande Prix wins, and found himself with a sliver medal on the podium at the Grande Prix final. Skating to Charlie Chaplin in his free program, with two solid skates, he could very well be the surprise skater on the podium.

The Bottom Line

We have eight men who have the skills and talent that could change their lives within eight minutes. An Olympic win would set them for life. With Olympic gold, you no longer have to prove you are the best. But in order to win, you need the stars to align with the planets. They will need to ignite magic, they will have to blend sheer human power, animal technique, blend each stroke of their blades and make it their own.

I predict this will be how it unfolds for the podium:

Gold: Plushenko
Silver: Lysacek
Bronze: Lambiel
4th: Chan
5th: Abbott
6th: Oda
7th: Weir
8th: Joubert

Related: Conley with Jim and Cyd on the Outsports Podcast.

Related: Dan Majerle's take on the men's field.