Evan Lysacek (USA)
Expectations Going In: A two-time world bronze medalist, Lysacek suffered an arm injury as a result of a broken blade, which kept him out of this competition last year. A subsequently rough return to competition surfaced in October 2008, when lackluster skates, and programs packaged with "<"s, kept him down in 3rd place for both of his Grand Prix events, Skate America and Skate Canada. Failing to make the Grand Prix Final, Lysacek's struggles continued in the free skate at the U.S. Nationals, although a third place finish there secured what will be his 5th world team berth (including 2008). An impressive performance at the recent Four Continents Championships, where he finished 2nd, does put him firmly on the list of medal contenders at these World Championships.
Pros: The 6'2" Chicago native scored a personal best total at the 2009 Four Continents Championships, marking a 237.15. Such a score enabled Lysacek to finish ahead of Takahiko Kozuka and Jeremy Abbott, competitors that bested him earlier in the season. Also, his score at 4CCs would've been good enough to have won the 2009 European title by over five points. Lysacek's immense experience has taken him to two world medals, a fourth-place finish at the 2006 Olympics, two Four Continents titles, two U.S. National titles, and nine senior Grand Prix medals. Lysacek's long program, choreographically speaking, has improved tremendously from the beginning of the season, and Lysacek was able to achieve the second-highest PCS marks for both programs at 4CCs (behind Patrick Chan). Lysacek is also credited for his good work ethic and ability to deliver his best form under pressure.
Cons: Lysacek's issues with the quadruple toe loop jump have proven to be interminable; having only landed it once this season (being his quad at 4CCs, which many felt was under rotated). Lysacek has jettisoned the jump from his short program, a wise move, but his attempting of the jump at this season's Skate America and U.S. Nationals proved instrumental in costing him the title at both events. An under rotated quad will be graded as a triple, thus deflating the value of the jump from a 9.8 to a 4.0. A fall will mean a -3 GOE is necessary, and when you include an additional -1.00 deduction for a fall the element essentially receives nothing. Also of note is that it hasn't just been the quad that has given Lysacek issues. His peculiar, and shaky, entrance technique on his triple axel has lead him to receive downgrades on that jump at Skate America, Skate Canada, and at the Four Continents Championships. Lysacek doesn't skate with especially soft, deep knees, which is not only an impediment to some of his PCS marks, but is also potentially harmful to his body when it comes to jump landings.
Outlook: Lysacek's intelligent composition of his programs, specifically when it comes to placing difficult jump combinations after the half-way point and racking up points on non-jump elements, provides a sly manner to one-up his competitors to get himself a third World Championship medal. While his experience is noteworthy, Lysacek cannot revert back to his longtime experience of under rotating jumps, thus losing him valuable points that are not to be lost if he is looking for a podium finish. Many skating aficionados were skeptical over Lysacek's chances just to make the world team, but now he is seen as a legitimate contender for the podium. The problem is such that Lysacek is feverish over his desire to win a world and Olympic gold, and the highest he has placed at either competition is 3rd. Completing such an arduous task would require a brilliant skate, such as his overall showing at 2007 U.S. Nationals, and/or mistakes from other top contenders. In Los Angeles, however, a medal should realistically suffice Evan's expectations. Competing at his first World Championship in his home country, and near his training base in El Segundo, California, means that Lysacek will be unlikely to disappoint at the 2009 World Figure Skating Championships.
Brandon Mroz (USA)
Expectations Going In: Only 18-years-old, Mroz will face by far the biggest task of his career at the upcoming World Championships, having just started competing on the senior level this season. Mroz had a solid, yet unremarkable Grand Prix season, placing 7th at Skate Canada and 5th at Trophee Eric Bompard. Mroz would have been just satified with making the junior world team, but a brilliant performance at the U.S. Nationals placed him 2nd, and was named to the world team. Mroz skated well at the Four Continents Championships in the short, but broke his consistency in the long, dropping from 5th to 8th.
Pros: Mroz had the highest combined total (of both programs) at the U.S. Nationals when it came to TES. Mroz has a technically ambitious long program, attempting a quadruple toe loop and eight other triples, including a triple lutz+triple toe combination after the half-way point of his program, which garners 11 points. The 18-year-old St. Louis native scored slightly higher in his short program at the Four Continents (75.05) than he did at U.S. Nationals (74.88), despite the fact that his U.S. Nationals was a tad bit superior technically. Mroz has rotated his quad four out of four times this season, and the only jump he has received a downgrade on since competing on the senior level is his triple axel. Fully capable of taking off from the correct edge on both his lutz and flip, Mroz was also touted for his presentation by NBC commentator and choreographer Sandra Bezic, pointing out that "It is really obvious here that Brandon is paying attention to the choreography; working with the music" and that "[Brandon] is mature beyond his years."
Cons: Mroz has not broken 200 internationally, as his personal best, recorded at the 2009 Four Continents Championships, lies at a 196.78. His long program at that competition was unsettled, as he received downgrades on both of his axels, falling on the second one. In addition, Brandon received -GOEs on six out of 13 elements in that program, and his total PCS score was only a 63.10, the 8th highest of the day. Although Mroz is generally not prone to wrong-edge deductions, he does have a tendency to switch to the outside edge for his triple flip, and was penalized for it during the short at Trophee Eric Bompard and the long at the Four Continents Championships. Mroz's personal best in the long program (internationally), a 130.64, is the lowest among the men featured in this post. Mroz doesn't have particularly astounding spins or footwork, putting all the more pressure on his somewhat inconsistent jumps.
Outlook: While creating my men's analysis post for the U.S. Nationals, I suggested that "Brandon is hardly in contention for the world team." I strongly considered to be brusque for a change, instead saying, "Brandon has no chance for the world team." But I opted against it, as you never know with the sport of figure skating, and I'm certainly glad I did. Mroz is set to compete at his first World Championships, while looking to fend off comments that his performance at U.S. Nationals was merely a fluke and that his opportunity to compete in Los Angeles is deserved. Having had an unsteady track record, Mroz is capable of delivering all of the goods if he is at his peak, just as he was at U.S. Nationals. Having training partners Jeremy Abbott and Rachael Flatt, who will also be going to worlds, should certainly help Mroz to push the boundaries of his skating level at the Staples Center. Jeremy Abbott and Evan Lysacek are fully capable of placing high enough to get three spots. However, just in case if one is to get injured the day of the short program and is required to withdraw, Mroz already has cleared a hurdle, being that his world ranking enables him to sneak into the prized last two groups for the short program. As far as final standings are concerned, Mroz could feasibly finish in the top 6 if he skates like he did at Nationals, or well below the top 10 if inexperience is to serve him poorly.
Nobunari Oda (Japan)
Expectations Going In: Oda has had brilliant potential throughout his career, but has often failed to live up to it with his own mistakes in skating, and in life. After failing to make the Olympic team and coming just shy of a medal at the 2006 World Championships, Oda was arrested by Osaka police in July 2007 for driving his moped while intoxicated. The Japanese Skating Federation was hardly forgiving of the matter, banning Oda from all subsequent competitions he was scheduled to compete in that year, among other things. Opting out of competing at the 2008 Japanese Nationals and 2008 World Championships, Oda signaled his return to competition at the 2008 NHK Trophy, where he finished 1st. Oda fared worse at his next international competition, the Four Continents Championships, finishing 4th. Thus, he is considered a solid, but beatable, medal threat for these World Championships.
Pros: Oda has the 4th highest seasons best total, recorded at the 2008 NHK Trophy, despite having flawed landings on three of his jumping passes in the long. Capable of executing all of his elements with notable quality, Oda often marks +1 and +2 GOEs for his jumps, spins, and footwork sequences. Lauded for his soft knees, ice coverage, and skating skills, Oda marked an impressive 77.40 for PCS in his long program at this season's NHK Trophy. The current Japanese champion has a quadruple toe loop in his arsenal, and has a jumping pass of a triple flip+triple toe loop+double loop after the half-way point of his long, thus garnering a base value of 12.10 points for a single jumping pass. Oda did not receive anything lower than a level three for any of his non-jump elements at Four Continents, and was able to defeat compatriot Takahiko Kozuka at this year's Japanese Nationals with room to spare.
Cons: Dick Button was always to quick to say the line, "Don't leave it out on the warm-up ice." Oda appears to be in serious need of taking this statement to heart, as at the 2009 Four Continents Championships he was reported to have been skating brilliantly in practices, and was shown landing a clean quadruple toe loop+triple toe loop combination during the warm-up for his free skate. Unfortunately, errors in both programs at that competition, including falling and under rotating his quad, kept Oda off the podium. Oda's lack of transitional elements and expression have hurt him in terms of PCS marks, which came to play at Four Continents, where his PCS score in the long program dropped 6.8 points from where it was at the NHK Trophy. What was even more interesting about this was the fact that Oda's technical mark at NHK was only 1.78 points better, and since the shift of TES and PCS scores often correlate, this does not bode well for how Oda will be scored at these World Championships. Last but not least, Nobunari's inability to be savvy with the current judging system has cost him an Olympic berth, and a world bronze medal.
Outlook: Oda's exorbitant error of doing too many jumping passes in the long program seems to be an old habit of his that will not surface again, but one must remember that Oda committed these costly mistakes during pressure situations in major competitions, including the 2006 Japanese Nationals, 2006 World Championships, and 2007 World Championships. Although not as detrimental of an error, Oda's problems with the code continued during the long program at this year's NHK Trophy, when he didn't tack on a double toe after his second triple axel, which was cleanly landed. He had not done a combination for his first axel, and because he repeated the jump without tacking on a combination, the second triple axel was only given 80% of its original value. Although he still won the event there, small mistakes like that can feasibly make the difference between gold and no medal at all at this competition. Oda's drop in PCS marks is alarming for his medal chances in L.A., but he does have all the technical goods to finish on the podium. In order to augment his medal chances, Oda will primarily need to cover his ability to land his jumps consistently, fine-tune his expression and transitions, and to leap at points whenever he is able to receive them.
Kevin van der Perren (Belgium)
Expectations Going In: At 26-years-old, van der Perren will be making his 8th trip to the World Figure Skating Championships, although this will only be his second time to compete at this event in the last four seasons. Winner of the bronze medal at the 2007 and 2008 European Championships by exceptionally meager margins (.07 and .06, respectively), van der Perren will be one of only two skaters to represent Belgium at these worlds, with the other being Isabelle Pieman. Despite having an excellent quadruple toe loop and very suspended triple jumps in the air, van der Perren has been unable to reach the top tier of male figure skaters at very many points in his career. This has not been helped by the fact that van der Perren suffered a hip injury after the 2006 Olympics, having surgery on it following the conclusion of the 2008 World Championships.
Pros: While winning the bronze medals at the 2007 and 2009 European Championships, his preparation that preceded his skates at those events was, in both cases, tumultuous. In 2007, van der Perren was suffering from his aforementioned hip injury, and in 2009 was battling a virus, and yet in both cases he was able to fight and medal. Among the elements in his bag of tricks are a quadruple toe loop, an improved triple axel, as well as all of the other triple jumps. He also performs an extremely difficult triple salchow+triple toe+triple loop after the half-way point of his long program, which received an eye-popping 15.25 points during the long program at the 2009 Europeans. Van der Perren placed an impressive 6th at last year's World Championships, while also placing 3rd in the long program. The first Belgian skater to win a European figure skating medal since 1947, this fact is supported by Kevin's ability to rotate his jumps consistently and to avoid wrong-edge penalties.
Cons: Van der Perren's personal best in the long program is only a 145.78, which was recorded for an essentially error-free skate. Van der Perren's non-jump elements are comparatively weak against his fellow competitors, as reiterated by the judges when van der Perren received three level 1s at last year's worlds and one level 1 at this year's Europeans. Van der Perren has yet to break 70 internationally in terms of PCS marks, scoring an indifferent 66.70 during his long program at Europeans. His lower PCS marks are largely a reflection of van der Perren's weak transitions and skating skills, and areas in his programs where he is moving his body, but not actually skating. Having only competed twice this season, van der Perren seems to have abandoned his quadruple toe loop from his jumping repertoire, despite its increase in value. The last time he attempted the jump was at the 2008 Europeans, and he also backed off from trying a second triple axel during his long at this year's Europeans.
Outlook: Although van der Perren scored a very respectable 76.86 for TES during the long at Europeans (also the second highest TES score of the day), van der Perren has room for improvement when it comes to the content of his long program. With nothing to lose in regards to getting a medal or attaining a certain number of Olympic berths next year, if he is healthy, van der Perren would be astute to bring back his quadruple toe loop into his jump layout for the long program. Such a change could be made reasonably by van der Perren subbing in his quad for what was his double axel at Europeans, thereby gathering 6.3 more points by upgrading just one jumping pass. Interestingly enough, the World Championships really isn't the greatest pressure event in van der Perren's season, instead it is European Championships. This is based on the reasoning that he can feasibly medal at Europeans, but unfortunately not at worlds. However, looking back to his surprisingly high finish at this event last year, he may just be inclined to perform better without that added pressure.
Yannick Ponsero (France)
Expectations Going In: Ponsero will be making his third trip to the World Figure Skating Championships this March, having placed 14th in 2007 and 18th in 2008. Having placed 12th at the European Figure Skating Championships for the last two years, Ponsero came strikingly close to the podium this year, missing the bronze medal by the microscopic margin of .06. Having had a decent Grand Prix season, placing 4th at Skate Canada and 3rd at the NHK Trophy, Ponsero won his first French title this year with the absence of defending champion Brian Joubert. Ponsero's inability to put together two clean programs in a single competition makes a placement around 7th-12th the most probable.
Pros: When in the zone, Ponsero's jumps are brilliant. The 22-year-old Annecy native received a +2 GOE for his quad at Europeans, a mark that no other skater has achieved for a quadruple jump in an ISU judged event (besides Evgeni Plushenko). The combined total of Ponsero's personal best scores of 78.05 (SP, 2008 Skate Canada) and 151.85 (FS, 2009 Europeans) would have easily been good enough to have won bronze at last year's World Championships. Ponsero was the winner of the short program at Skate Canada and the long program at Europeans, and has fully-rotated eight out of eight quad attempts this season. Ponsero also garners inordinate GOEs for his triple axels when completed to his potential, and sticks all of his combination jumping passes after the half-way point of his long program, thus accumulating additional bonus points.
Cons: Despite skating nearly the best he was capable of during the free at Europeans, Ponsero barely broke 70 points in PCS marks under a lenient panel, and his score of 151.85 in the long is below the seasons best scores of Chan (160.29), Abbott (159.46), Lysacek (155.50), Oda (154.55), and Kozuka (153.78). Ponsero has delivered relatively poor performances the last two years he has competed at this championship, and issues with nerves cost him a medal at this season's Skate Canada, after a flawed free skate dropped him from 1st to 4th. Issues were present with his short program at this year's French Nationals (being downgraded on the back-end of his quad-triple combination; doubling his axel) and at this year's Europeans (doubling his lutz). A flawed short program in Los Angeles would put Ponsero in an earlier group in the free skate, thus deflating his potential to score highly in an early skating position. Ponsero does not have a triple flip in his current jumping repertoire and repeats one of the easier triples, the salchow, twice in his free skate.
Outlook: Ponsero could stand to improve his transitional choreography, musicality, and overall consistency. However, brilliant speed and potentially opulent jumps could definitely shoot him into the top 10 when all is said and done. Ponsero's poor showing last year means that France will only be sending two men (Joubert and Ponsero) to these World Championships. With Joubert's uneven season and his recent injury, Ponsero could have much less breathing room than he would like to place high enough for France to get three Olympic berths for next year. Skaters like Vaughn Chipeur, Samuel Contesti, Brandon Mroz, Kevin van der Perren, and Tomas Verner will likely have the biggest say over where Ponsero is to place at this event, but a top 8 finish from Yannick should secure three Olympic berths easily. While France is not overly dependent on getting a third Olympic berth, Ponsero's performance in Los Angeles could decide his fate for going to the Olympics, if he is to finish 3rd at French Nationals next year.
Tomas Verner (Czech Republic)
Expectations Going In: At times brilliant and at times humiliating, Verner's immense inconsistency has taken him from not making it out of qualifying at this event in 2005 to winning the European title in 2008. His highest finish at a World Championship was 4th in 2007, but the following year dropped to 15th. Verner's inconsistency has continued this season; after placing 2nd at Cup of Russia and finishing ahead of Jeremy Abbott, Verner finished 4th at the Grand Prix Final and 6th at Europeans. Verner has the technical and artistic goods to actually vie for a medal in Los Angeles, but his inability to stay clean throughout a competition makes him the ultimate wildcard.
Pros: Verner's personal best total of 232.67, recorded at the 2008 European Championships, would have won him silver at last year's World Championships. Verner's personal best score of 81.45 for his short program, recorded at the 2009 Europeans, is an extremely desirable score internationally, especially when one considers that he only did a triple toe+triple toe as his combination jumping pass. Not expected to be a medal threat at the 2007 World Championships, out of nowhere Verner unleashed an exceptional free skate, complete with two clean quadruple toe loops. He would finish the night in 4th place, while beating established names like Evan Lysacek, Jeffrey Buttle, and Johnny Weir. Always known to be a top-notch jumper and spinner, Verner has made applaudable improvement in his artistry, especially this season with a very mature, intricate new long program to music selections by Astor Piazolla and Matos Rodriguez.
Cons: Verner's colossal tendency to pop his jumps came to light specifically at both the 2008 World Championships and the 2009 European Championships. Three popped jumps, in addition to a fall, during his free at 2008 worlds kept him down in 20th place for the free skate, and 15th overall. During the free at the 2009 Europeans, a great skate from Verner could have met with gold. However, three popped jumps in the free, and an under rotated and two-footed quad, kept Verner down in 6th place overall. A single jump is more costly than a rotated jump with a fall, as for example a triple lutz with a fall receives three points (two points counting the one point deduction for falls) and a single lutz receives only 0.6. Both of these poor skates came after good short programs, and Verner's stellar long at 2007 Worlds came after a flawed short program. Verner has not broken 15o in the free skate thus far this season, and frecuently incurs an "e" wrong-edge deduction for his triple flip.
Outlook: The dark horse of this championship, Verner has good vehicles in terms of choreography this season, but it is unfortunate that he is unable to drive them by landing his jumps consistently. The judges have been very appreciative of Verner's choreographic composition of his programs, particularly in his long program where he scored a 76.70 for PCS at Cup of Russia, a full six points ahead of what Jeremy Abbott marked at that event. Verner also marked a very solid 37.55 (PCS) for his short at Europeans, and still marked a 72.30 for his long despite an extremely flawed skate technically. The bottom line is that Verner has the tools handy for him to make a splash this March in Los Angeles. In spite of his inconsistency, the judges still support him, and he has all of the technical ingredients to use. It is entirely his option whether he wants to put all of those tools together to become the first Czech man to win a world medal since Ondrej Nepela in 1973, or to leave them in the dust and not even instigate any hope for such a scenario.
Gold: Patrick Chan (Canada)- Chan's focus on quality, as opposed to quantity, looks to be paying off. While stacking up on GOE marks for all of his elements, Chan's PCS marks have the potential to go through the roof, at a point where most of the other men cannot realistically achieve. Meeting expectations has been a struggle for Chan, particularly at this event last year, but given how he was judged at the Four Continents Championships he could have breathing room to spare in his quest to win his first world title.
Silver: Jeremy Abbott (USA)- Despite finishing off the podium at two events, Cup of Russia and Four Continents, Abbott has won three important titles this year, and his great overall skating should help propel him to a medal or possibly even gold. Competing in the United States will hopefully boost Jeremy's confidence and desire to skate well, and possibly inflate his marks slightly. His quad is of concern, however, considering that he has not even attempted the jump since this event last year and it could have the ability to drop Abbott far down in the standings if not completed successfully.
Bronze: Brian Joubert (France)- Joubert's medal chances for worlds don't look entirely promising with him finishing off the podium at Trophee Eric Bompard, his close victory at Europeans, and his subsequent knee injury. However, one would be a fool to count Joubert out, especially considering how well he has performed at this competition for the last three seasons. His jumps will decide a lot, and Joubert will really be required to max out his difficulty to fend off higher GOEs and PCS marks from skaters like Chan.
4th: Nobunari Oda (Japan)- Oda is another skater who can take advantage of high GOEs for all of his elements, and is also a skater who has a quad in his arsenal. However, his lower PCS marks at the Four Continents Championships, inconsistency, and past inability to maximize his scoring potential with the current judging system could all collide in front of his path toward the medals stand.
5th: Evan Lysacek (USA)- Lysacek's quadruple toe loop and triple axel have been unsteady elements for him all season long. Lysacek will really need clean skates to get himself a medal in Los Angeles, as the other aspects of his skating aren't strong enough to back him up if an error is to occur. Lysacek's experience and ability to peak at the most necessary times should provide him an advantage over many of his top rivals.
6th: Takahiko Kozuka (Japan)- Kozuka is a finely developing talent, but simply doesn't have enough riches in his skating to take a medal back home. Issues with his quadruple toe loop, second triple axel, and regressing PCS marks look to do the trick to keep Kozuka off the podium. However, his decent consistency will pay dividends if other skaters commit errors and provide him an open door to a top 3 finish.
7th: Tomas Verner (Czech Republic)- It seems unlikely, with the way his season is going, that Verner will be able to medal in Los Angeles. Perhaps that will actually help him, although it remains an ongoing failure on Verner's part to produce two clean skates at a major championship. However, his potential ability to score well makes sure that no one forgets about him when thinking about possible medal contenders for these World Championships.
8th: Samuel Contesti (Italy)- Contesti is enjoyable to watch, has good jumps, and has no pressure going into L.A. Skating the best he has in possibly his entire career, the current European silver medalist should be pleased if he is to finish top 10 in Los Angeles, which seems likely.
9th: Yannick Ponsero (France)- Inconsistent, but has made improvements in several aspects of his skating and has brilliant jumps when he is in the zone. Much like Verner, putting together two decent programs continues to be a large plague for Ponsero, but can score well in the event when he is to go clean.
10th: Brandon Mroz (USA)- Showed dramatic improvement from the Grand Prix series to the U.S. Nationals, and while his Four Continents short was very creditable, his long was shaky once again. Mroz at his peak form should finish in the top 10, but it remains to be seen how he will battle off the nerves of his first World Championship, or whether he will have any at all.
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That is all.