Maybe it's just me, but the men became my favorite discipline starting sometime last season and it has definitely continued into this season. The first two Grand Prix stops in particular featured some amazing skating, and I'm looking forward to seeing more of the same here. Current World Champion and Olympic Bronze Medalist Daisuke Takahashi leads the way, while last years Grand Prix Final silver medalist Nobunari Oda follows close behind. Adam Rippon looks to improve upon his bronze medal at Skate Canada, and several other skaters have a chance to sneak on to the podium.
En route to easily winning the NHK Trophy, Daisuke landed a clean quad toe loop in the free skate. However, both programs weren't without fault, and he is going to have to step up his game against more serious competition here. Looking at the final competition scores for Takahashi, Oda, and Rippon from their first events, there is only a three point difference between them (score-dragging issues aside). While I'm not blown away by either of his programs this season, I think they have enough flair and audience involvement that he could bring the house down in Portland if he is on his game.
Nobu won the short program at Skate Canada, but finished second overall after a fall on the triple Axel in the free skate. His problem during the last few seasons has been that he doesn't skate with much emotion, and his new programs come across as cold and uninteresting. He also had small issues with his spins in Kingston, losing points on almost every one of those elements. What Oda does have working for him are some of the most gorgeous basics and jumps in the world, if not the best on the latter. He includes steps in and out of most of them, and his landing position with such a deep knee bend is amazing. If he can relax a little bit and try to engage himself in his programs, I think Nobu can give his country mate a run for his money this week.
Kevin Van der Perren has flashes of brilliance all throughout each season he competes, so he can never be counted out. He had a disappointing short program in Japan, but climbed back to finish fifth in the free skate. I've always questioned his high scores for components, but at least he has made a small effort to address the problem this year.
Shawn Sawyer found himself in the top three after the short program at NHK, but too many mistakes in the free skate dropped him to fifth overall. He looks closer than ever to landing the triple Axel cleanly, and his long program to Alice in Wonderland is excellent. It should play well with the American audience.
Denis Ten has a new coach in Frank Carroll, and a new choreographer (for the short program) in Stephane Lambiel. Both programs fell flat at NHK, and the jumps really let him down in the free skate, where he dropped to last place overall. However, this is the skater that finished 6th in the long program at the World Championships two seasons ago-- as a 15 year old.
Armin Mahbanoozadeh had a great showing in the free skate at the Nebelhorn Trophy earlier this year, just missing out on the podium. Teammate Stephen Carriere has won two medals on the senior Grand Prix, and looks to start his comeback in Portland. He was a US-World Team member in 2008.
The "other" Daisuke, Daisuke Murakami, might have the lowest World Ranking of any of the men on the Grand Prix this season, but he had an impressive short program at the Finlandia Trophy last month.
Adrian Schultheiss of Sweden has opted for more traditional (by his standards) programs this season, but he finished a disappointing 10th at the NHK Trophy. He was 9th in the World last season, so he can't be counted out just yet.
Nan Song comes in relatively unknown, but he is the current World Junior Silver Medalist, and he was in second place following the short program at last years Four Continents Championships. This will be his international season debut.