Takahiko Kozuka spent his pre-season lowering expectations and said he was taking his season slow. He's coming off a silver medal finish at Worlds and is pacing his season to peak at Worlds again. He did take home the bronze medal at Skate America, but that was one of the lowest scoring events of the first half of the season. The Japanese field is very deep and he'll have to be careful not to pace himself out of contention for the World team. He has a very elegant style and a very nice flow in his jumps and is always a contender for the podium.
Ross Miner started his season with a 6th place finish in a deep field at Skate Canada. He is another skater who really feels his music and is committed to his programs. He came back from a disappointing short program at Skate Canada to finish 5th in the free skate and was only 15 points behind his career best finish at Worlds and finished well above the marks he set on the Grand Prix last season.
Two skaters are making their season debuts with a shot at the podium. Tomas Verner earned a trip to the Grand Prix Final last season with one of my favorite programs of the season: his Singin in the Rain short program. He has been struggling with injury throughout the off season and may not be back to his best here.
Brandon Mroz is also making his season debut with a brand new jump in his arsenal. He is down in the history books for landing the first quad lutz in competition. He went on to land the jump in both of his programs in U.S. qualifying competition, even earning positive GOEs. He's been working with Sandra Bezic to improve his performance skills. If he lands the quad lutz here, he'll be the first to land it in an ISU competition.
My podium predictions:
Gold: Daisuke Takahashi
Silver: Tomas Verner
Bronze: Brandon Mroz
Bios of the competitors:
Tomas Verner, CZE: He finished 12th at Worlds and is the reigning European bronze medalist. He won bronze at Cup of Russia and gold at Cup of Russia last season to qualify for the Grand Prix Final where he finished 5th. He is the 2008 European Champion and 2007 European silver medalist. His personal best is 232.67. He is 25 years old.
Samuel Contesti, ITA: He finished 18th at Worlds and 6th at Europeans. He placed 8th at Skate America. He is the 2009 European silver medalist. His personal best is 226.97. He is 28 years old.
Takahiko Kozuka, JPN: He is the reigning World silver medalist and finished 4th at Four Continents. He won bronze at Skate America. He qualified for the Grand Prix Final last season and won bronze. He is the 2009 Four Continents bronze medalist and 2006 World Junior Champion. His personal best is 258.41. He is 22 years old.
Tatsuki Machida, JPN: He placed 5th at Cup of China and 11th at Cup of Russia last season. He is the 2010 Four Continents Silver Medalist. His personal best is 217.48. He is 21 years old.
Daisuke Takahashi, JPN: He finished 5th at Worlds and is the reigning Four Continents Champion. He won bronze at Skate Canada. He qualified for the Grand Prix Final last season and finished 4th. He is the 2010 Olympic bronze medalist, 2010 World Champion, 2007 World silver medalist, 2008 Four Continents Champion, 2005 Four Continents bronze medalist and 2002 World Junior Champion. His personal best is 264.41. He is 25 years old.
Konstantin Menshov, RUS: He placed 7th at Europeans. He finished 10th at Cup of Russia last season. His personal best is 202.62. He is 28 years old.
Armin Mahbanoozadeh, USA: He finished 7th at Four Continents. He finished 10th at Skate America. His personal best is 211.17. He is 20 years old.
Ross Miner, USA: He finished 11th at Worlds. He placed 6th at Skate Canada. His personal best is 217.93. He is 20 years old.
Brandon, Mroz, USA: He won silver at Cup of China and bronze at Trophee Eric Bompard last season. His personal best is 216.80. He is 20 years old.