Ryan Bradley (USA)
The 2007 U.S. silver medalist's quirky style and crowd-pleasing charm make him an ideal show skater, but his relatively weak basic skating skills and inconsistent jumps do not make him the dream competitive skater. Bradley has a respectable competitive track record, having placed in the top five at the last three U.S. Championships and 15th at the 2007 World Championships. Bradley has already competed once this year, finishing 4th at the Nebelhorn Trophy, where he did manage to pull off a quad in the short. While it is always ideal to train with someone who is a top skater to motivate you further, it would seem probable that Bradley gets passed under the dust by his current coach, Tom Zakrajsek, because he does not have as strong an Olympic bid as his training mates, Rachael Flatt and Brandon Mroz. With the current depth in U.S. men's skating, Bradley seems to rank behind five men (Jeremy Abbott, Evan Lysacek, Mroz, Adam Rippon, and Johnny Weir) to get one of the three spots on the Olympic team, and thus a major upset would be in order for Bradley to compete in Vancouver. Nonetheless, Bradley has pulled off a major upset once, at 2007 nationals, where he was only expected to be an outside contender for the world team and ended up finishing 2nd and beating Johnny Weir in the process.
Vaughn Chipeur (Canada)
Armed with jumps that launch to the sky, it is peculiar that the reigning Canadian silver medalist does not have a quadruple jump in his repetoire. Chipeur has a rough, unpolished style, muscles all of his elements, and carries a tremedous amount of tension in his upper body (particularly his shoulders), but is a good competitor, has a stellar, delayed triple axel, and has excellent speed across the ice. Chipeur finished 12th at his first world championship in Los Angeles, coming just one placement shy of helping Patrick Chan secure three Olympic berths for Canada in the Olympics. Chipeur will be fending off Jeremy Ten, Shawn Sawyer, and Kevin Reynolds for the 2nd spot on the Canadian Olympic team, and while Chipeur by no means has it sewn up, he is favored for it based on his performances at last year's Canadian Nationals, Four Continents Championships, and World Championships. Chipeur will be the lone Canadian male competing in Paris, and his result here, if poor, will not necessarily foreshadow whether he makes the Olympic team. Chipeur appears to be a skater who performs better at home then overseas, and his performances at the end of last season were far superior to those at the beginning.
Brian Joubert (France)
The French heart-throb had nearly every opportunity handed to him on a platter to win his second world championship title in Los Angeles last season. Evgeni Plushenko and Stephane Lambel had yet to announce their return to skating, and Daisuke Takahashi was out because of an injury. The judges were clearly rewarding Joubert's experience, and the fact that he was trying quads in both programs, over pre-competition favorite Patrick Chan of Canada. He was even leading the field going into a long program with a program that included a botched combination with an under rotated second jump that was ratified as a complete jump. However, in the long program, Joubert succumbed to the pressure brought about by Evan Lysacek's clean performance, fell on an easy double axel, and fell to third. This disappointment led the French federation to give Joubert a new coach, Laurent Depouilly, and have former world ice dance champions Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski choreograph his programs for the Olympic season. Although it is not ideal for one to peak at the beginning of the season, it is worth noting that, in previous seasons, Joubert's first event foreshadowed the success or failure of the rest of his season. In 2005, he only placed 3rd at Skate America, and ended up finishing 6th at the Olympics, although he did salvage his season with a silver at worlds. In 2006, he won Trophée Eric Bompard and ended up going undefeated that season. In 2008, he was only 4th at this event and went on to finish only 3rd at Worlds. If this pattern continues, much will be at skate for Joubert's confidence at his opening Grand Prix.
Oda could be a force to be reckoned with if he just the learned the simplistic art of how to count. Oda is capable of landing quad+triple combinations and is blessed with good flexibility and deep knees, which enable him to land his jumps softly and securely. He arrived to the recent Stars, Stripes, and Skates show with his new Charlie Chaplin long program and eight cleanly landed triple jumps in tow. Unfortunately, Oda often forgets that there are only a maximum of three combinations allowed in the long program, and that if one repeats a jump twice without doing it in combination, the second jump is counted as a combination. Oda has made this mistake at four major competitions (2006 nationals, 2006 worlds, 2007 worlds, and 2009 worlds) and lost the 2006 national title, 2006 world bronze medal and a 2006 Olympic team berth because of his inept ability to work around the jump rules of the code of points. Oda's 7th place finish at 2009 Worlds, along with Takahiko Kozuka's 6th place finish, mean that Japan will have three berths for the men at the 2010 Winter Olympics, and Oda will most likely receive one of them. In Paris, Oda will be up against a deep field that includes Joubert, Adam Rippon, and Tomas Verner. He does have the capability of winning this event if he skates well, and based on his recent show performance, he should, at the very least, be in contention to do so.
Yannick Ponsero (France)
Ponsero has to be one of the sport's premier headcases, which is a real shame because he is capable of having one of the most breathtaking quadruple jumps in the sport (and is the only skater besides Evgeni Plushenko who has received a final mark of +2 GOE for that element), and has excellent speed and commendable edge work. Ponsero won the free skate at last year's Europeans, but missed the podium by .06 because of a double lutz in his short. Unfortunately, his overall Europeans performance was far superior to his showing in Los Angeles at Worlds, where he finished 16th. Ponsero did not start off this season well at the French Masters competition, taking a nasty fall on his triple axel in his long program and finishing 4th behind Florent Amodio, Joubert, and Alban Preaubert. Ponsero is competing against a deep field in Paris, and will compete with many creditable skaters at his next event, Cup of China, so his aspirations for qualifying to the Grand Prix Final are relatively dim. He has every capability to attain the second spot on the 2010 French Olympic team; however, if he finishes 3rd at the 2010 French Nationals, he will also have his lackluster showing in Los Angeles to blame for an Olympic dream taken away.
Alban Préaubert (France)
A native of Grenoble, the host city for the 1968 Winter Olympics, Préaubert has demonstrated that he is an Olympic caliber skater, but will need to perform especially well at French nationals to be named to the Olympic team. The 24-year-old has competed in two world championships, placing 8th in 2006 and 11th in 2007, and was scheduled to compete in 2008 but withdrew. He did not qualify to the world team last season, but did crack the top five at the European Championships. Préaubert is comparable to Ryan Bradley with his entertaining, yet unpolished, artistry, and also considering the fact that the two have had commendable careers without accomplishing anything spectacular in the sport. Préaubert is not as talented of a skater as Yannick Ponsero, but the former has been more consistent throughout his career, which will be a necessary aid for Préaubert come French nationals. Préabert beat Ponsero slightly at French Masters, and the judges' marks could be swayed in Préaubert's favor at French nationals for him to make the Olympic team if he were to beat Ponsero at this event also.
Adam Rippon (USA)
Rippon struggled throughout the bulk of last season, until he switched coaches from Nikolai Morozov to Brian Orser, the latter of whom is a two-time Olympic silver medalist and coach of reigning world champion Yu-Na Kim. Rippon competed at the 2009 U.S. Championships immediately following his switch to Orser, and had a shaky outing with a 7th place finish. However, by the time Junior Worlds rolled around, Rippon had transformed, landing two triple axels in his long program for the first time and handily winning the title by over 17 points. Rippon, just 19 years of age, is already a very polished, lyrical skater who resembles the Japanese skaters very much with his soft jump landings and superior edge quality. Rippon's total score of 222.00 at Junior Worlds would have placed him 7th at Worlds, ahead of where Brandon Mroz and Jeremy Abbott finished, and he actually would have placed 6th adding back the points he lost for not doing an additional footwork sequence at Junior Worlds (only one footwork sequence is allowed in a men's long program at junior worlds, two footwork sequences are allowed for senior men). The question that will begin to be answered at TEB is whether Rippon's performance at Junior Worlds was a fluke. Consistency will be imperative for Rippon at his two Grand Prixs, in order to be marked favorably at nationals if he is to have a legitimate opportunity to make the 2010 Olympic team. Rippon did not have a stellar Grand Prix season last year, but with a new coach will look to start off on the right track and stay there.
Tomas Verner (Czech Republic)
Verner would be wise to leave his current coach, Michael Huth, something Carolina Kostner did over the summer, because the Czech's consistency has been nothing to swoon over throughout his entire career. Verner is very much the equivalent of Carolina Kostner on the men's side, as both skaters have fine jumping ability (when they're on) and have made many strides artistically over the past several seasons, but both skaters have always struggled with poor consistency and have lost several medals in major competitions because of that foible. Verner is one of the few men who consistently attempts quads in both programs, and actually landed them both at Worlds in Los Angeles, where he finished 4th. Verner actually had one of his better competitions in Los Angeles, but taking into the account that he was off the podium there with Lambiel, Plushenko, and Takahashi not present, it wouldn't be wise to bet money on him to medal at the Olympics. At his peak, Verner beat Lambiel and Joubert to take the 2008 European title, only to hit rock bottom at Worlds with a 15th place finish (he was 20th in the long). Verner could feasibly win this competition, but is seldom ever at his optimum early in the season, having finished 6th at this event in 2007.
Sergei Voronov (Russia)
Although by no means a poor skater, Voronov's presence as the Russian national champion has brought much encouragment for 2006 Olympic champion Evgeni Plushenko to come out of retirement. Having competed at three world championships, Voronov's results have been up and down, finishing 19th in 2007, 7th in 2008, and 13th in 2009. Vornov has won the last two Russian national titles; however, he was beaten by Andrei Lutai at the 2009 Worlds by three placements. As Russia has only two spots for the Olympics, and with Plushenko more than a lock for the first one, Voronov and Lutai are in direct battle for the second. Voronov opened up his season this weekend at the Finandia Trophy, skating solidly and finishing 2nd, ahead of Stephen Carriere of the United States. Voronov will compete next at Cup of China.
Gold: Nobunari Oda (Japan)
Silver: Brian Joubert (France)
Bronze: Adam Rippon (USA)
4th: Tomas Verner (Czech Republic)
5th: Alban Preaubert (France)
6th: Ryan Bradley (USA)
Next post: TEB Ladies Preview
That is all.