The 2011 Four Continents Championship kicks off next week from Chinese Taipei. In the past the US has not sent its top flight to this event, but the ISU has been encouraging federations to send their World championship team in an effort to make this event an equivalent of the European Championships. The US will not be sending its World team, but rather the men who finished 4th, 5th & 6th at Nationals and the men that many thought would be going to worlds. These men will have to go big or go home to prove to USFS that they are better than their performances at Nationals. They will get a chance to do just that against the mighty Japanese. While Canada's Patrick Chan will not be competing, their number 2 and 3 men will be there and both can be dark horses.
My Predictions for the top 6: My USFSA Fantasy Skating Picks:
1) Takahiko Kozuka A) Takahiko Kozuka, JPN
2) Daisuke Takahashi B) Kevin Reynolds, CAN
3) Jeremy Abbott C) Stephen Li-Ching Kuo, TPE
4) Adam Rippon
5) Kevin Reynolds
6) Armin Mahbanoozadeh
At age 21, Takahiko Kozuka is certainly not a newcomer to the sport, but I think he finally hit his stride this season. He has been successful in the past but he really came into his own this season with two Grand Prix gold medals and a bronze at the final. While the other Japanese men have been volatile in competition this season, he is cool as a cucumber and I think that quite, consistent approach is just what he needs. He is a fabulous technician training with Nobuo Sato alongside Mao Asada. He also works with Yuka Sato for choreography and she has really helped him to develop his artistry and come out of his shell. He is the newly crowned Japanese National champion so he has the momentum over Takahashi and Hanyu who are also competing here. I think he'll stay calm under pressure to win the title in Taipei which could set him up for a podium finish at Worlds on home ice in Tokyo next month.
Daisuke Takahshi certainly has the most experience and past success of the field competing at Four Continents, but he has struggled with consistency this season. He did take home two Grand Prix golds this season, but his Skate America win came after an error-filled free skate and he struggled at the final, failing to make the podium. He finished third at Japanese Nationals last month in what I hear was a complete splat fest. Though he has struggled with his jumps this season, including that quad flip, we must not forget that he is the reigning world champion and he knows how to turn it on when it counts. If he can land his jumps, he should have no problem winning here because he is twice the performer of any other man in this field and can sell a program like no other.
Jeremy Abbott has struggled this season with boot issues that have caused him to abandon his quad. He, like Takahashi, has been incredibly inconsistent, though he did take a silver and a bronze from the Grand Prix season. After an inspired short program, it seemed he was in line for a 3rd US National title, though falls in the free skate kept him off of the podium and off of the World team. This competition will be a chance for him to redeem himself and if he can skate the way I know he can skate, he'll be on the podium with Kozuka and Takahashi. Yuka Sato and Jason Dungjen completely transformed Alissa Czisny as a skater and I think they'll do the same for Jeremy. A strong finish here can help to restore Jeremy's self-confidence and set him up for a strong 2011-2012 season.
I don't want to say he has disappointed me this season because that is a lot of pressure to put on a skater, but Adam Rippon broke my heart when he botched his short program at US Nationals and failed to make the World team. He is just so immensely talented and his skating is a thing of beauty when he just lets the movement happen. It is when he starts to think and analyze too much that he allows mistakes to happen and drops out of the performance. I think he is a very emotional skater and I hope that he can work on his mental toughness. He'll need to put Nationals behind him to skate cleanly here. He won the event last year so he has the potential to make the podium if he can get out of his own head and just skate. He is still very young and has a bright future in the sport if he can improve his mental game.
Kevin Reynolds has become known as the Canadian quad king after performing the first ever short program with two quadruple jumps at 2010 Skate Canada. He is very consistent technically and has even pushed his countryman Patrick Chan to add a second quad to his free skate just to keep up. He is young for a male figure skater at 20, though he's always been eclipsed at home by Chan. He is the best Canadian hope at this competition with Chan sitting out, but he'll need to be perfect to top the Americans and the Japanese. I hope he'll continue to work on his artistry to meet his technical arsenal because he'll need both sides to compete against the upper echelon of male skaters internationally.
Armin Mahbanoozadeh definitely has the potential to play spoiler at this competition, just as he did at Skate America earlier this season. Nobody expected him to make an impact, but when he skated a clean program after Adam Rippon made mistakes, he walked away with a bronze medal. He does not have a quad yet, but he has very clean technique, lovely spins, and great presence on the ice. He has all of the qualities of a champion, all he needs is more international experience. This will be a good event for him to get his feet wet in preparation for next season and if the top contenders make mistakes, he could even pull up for a medal. He should get two Grand Prix assignments next season and I think 2011-2012 will be his time to start making moves toward Sochi in 2014.
Other competitors in the event include:
Brendan Kerry (AUS)
Mark Webster (AUS)
Joey Russell (CAN)
Shawn Sawyer (CAN)
Jinlin Guan (CHN)
Nan Song (CHN)
Jialian Wu (CHN)
Jordan Ju (TPE)
Steph Li-Chung Kuo (TPE)
Wun-Chang Shih (TPE)
Yuzuru Hanhu (JPN)
Abzal Ramikgaliev (KAZ)
Min-Seok Kim (KOR)
Misha Ge (UZB)