2017 World Championships Field Guide: Men Part 3

Welcome to the third and final section of my guide to the men’s event at 2017 Worlds. We’re down to 36 competitors, as Han Yan confirmed on Saturday that a shoulder injury will keep him from participating, and China has not assigned an alternate in his place. (If you’re wondering what he needs his shoulder for, watch how skaters pull their arms in as they launch a jump – without that quick snap, you can’t rotate in the air.) This part of the field guide includes everyone else in the last third of the alphabet. If you haven’t read the previous two sections, check out Part One and Part Two before moving on to this one. Part One gives a more detailed explanation of how these field guides are structured, and how my five-point rating system works.

Since the start of the competition is closing in, I’ll keep the preamble short. On with the skaters!

Kevin Reynolds

The Basics: Reynolds is 26 years old and represents Canada. He’s from Vancouver and trains in nearby Burnaby, where he’s coached by Joanne McLeod. He competed in five consecutive World Championships from 2010-2014; his highest placement was 5th in 2013.

Season So Far: Reynolds won a medal at his first competition of the season, a silver at the Ondrej Nepela Memorial, despite some messy jumps. He was still a bit awkward at Skate Canada but fought for every landing, and that mental toughness earned him a bronze medal – amazingly, the first Grand Prix medal of his long career. Domestically, Reynolds is no stranger to the podium, and he was terrific at Nationals this season, securing his fourth Canadian silver medal. He couldn’t keep up with the field at Four Continents, though, and finished only 12th, his worst result in six appearances at that event.

The Quad Factor: Others have surpassed Reynolds as the “Quad King,” but his jumps are still impressive. He’s been competing both a toe loop and a salchow for years, and he’ll max out both jumps at Worlds: one of each in his short program, two of each in his free skate.

Outlook for Worlds: If any veteran skater can be forgiven for not upgrading in awhile, it’s Reynolds. For one thing, this is his first full season since 2012-13, as he’s been fighting a string of injuries and equipment problems. For another, he’s never lost his terrific jumping ability, which has kept him relevant. He’s also matured into a more musical skater and has clearly been working on his speed and edges, although he’s still not the kind of athlete who can recoup lost technical points with his components scores. His base value and his best results make him a dark horse, but it’s hard to trust that math when he almost never skates a clean program. I also suspect that whatever his own goals are, Skate Canada really just wants him to do well enough to earn a third men’s spot for the Olympics, then kindly get out of Patrick Chan’s way. There’s no good reason to believe he’ll pull a big enough upset to reach the podium, but there’s no reason to believe he can’t. Since I can’t write my way out of that possibility, I have no choice but to accept that Reynolds is Why I Drink.

Igor Reznichenko

The Basics: Reznichenko is 22 years old and represents Poland. Originally from Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine, he lives in St. Petersburg, Russia, where he’s coached by Evgeni Rukavicin. He competed for Ukraine through the 2013-14 season. This will be his World Championships debut.

Season So Far: Reznichenko began with so-so results on the senior B circuit, placing 9th at the Ondrej Nepela Memorial and 10th at the Coupe de Nice. But he stood up on both of his quads at the Warsaw Cup, blowing his previous career-best scores out of the water and placing 4th. He was unsteady at the Four National Championships, taking bronze overall and placing second among the Polish skaters. But the man who finished ahead of him didn’t have the minimum international scores, so Reznichenko went on to Euros. There, he placed 25th, just missing the cut for the free skate.

The Quad Factor: Reznichenko will attempt one quad toe loop in each program. If he lands them cleanly, it will be a first.

Outlook for Worlds: Reznichenko has become a more powerful and confident skater since switching federations. He has one of the iffiest quads in the field, but he proved at the Warsaw Cup that he can get it all the way around, even if he has to perform some acrobatics to hang onto the landing. There’s not a whole lot to Reznichenko’s skating beyond the jumps, and that, more than the awkward landings, might be his downfall. Reaching the free skate will be a big deal for him, which makes him Just Happy to Be Here.

Matteo Rizzo

The Basics: Rizzo is 18 years old and represents Italy. He comes from Rome but now lives in Bergamo, where he trains with Franca Bianconi. This is his first trip to Worlds.

Season So Far: Rizzo suffered some stumbles at his first Junior Grand Prix event, JGP Ljubljana, placing 8th, and really struggled at JGP Dresden, where he finished all the way down in 12th. Moving up to the senior level at Golden Bear, Rizzo recovered from big mistakes in his short program to perform a strong 2nd-place free skate and finish 4th overall. The tough field at Warsaw Cup held him to 6th, although he earned some of his best scores of the season. He was also 6th in an easier field at the NRW Trophy. After earning his third consecutive silver medal at Nationals, Rizzo won the most prestigious international gold medal of his career at the Mentor Torun Cup, racking up personal best scores along the way. He was less impressive at the Bavarian Open, placing 5th. He skated well at the World Junior Championships, but so did everyone else, and small errors added up to an 11th-place finish.

The Quad Factor: Rizzo does not compete a quadruple jump.

Outlook for Worlds: Here as a replacement for the injured Ivan Righini, Rizzo should look at his first Worlds as an opportunity to gain experience. More and more, he gets his feet under his triple Axel, but a lack of speed and snap in his jumps often leads to awkward landings and nitpicky deductions. Rizzo has a talent for capturing the mood of his music, and both of his programs are full of personality. But his choreography isn’t quite at the senior level yet, and his components are likely to stay low even if he performs well technically. This last-minute alternate is Just Happy to Be Here, and reaching the free skate would be a big accomplishment.

Keiji Tanaka

The Basics: Tanaka is 22 years old and comes from Kurashiki, Okayama. He now lives primarily in Osaka, coached by Yusuke Hayashi and Utako Nagamitsu. This will be his World Championships debut.

Season So Far: Tanaka began his season with a commanding, if relatively easy, win at the Asian Open. He proceeded to a pair of disasters, stumbling his way to 10th place at the U. S. Classic and 7th at the Rostelecom Cup. At the NHK Trophy, however, he was extraordinary, beating out a number of bigger names for a bronze medal and making his first appearance on a Grand Prix podium. The terrific performances continued at the Japan Championships, where he took silver and became a national medalist for the first time, and at the Winter Universiade, where a career-best score brought him silver again. Just as things had begun to look rosy for him, though, he gave an underwhelming performance in a stacked field at Four Continents and finished only 13th.

The Quad Factor: Tanaka competes a quad salchow, which he will attempt once in his short program and twice in his free skate.

Outlook for Worlds: Tanaka is one of the most exhaustingly unreliable athletes in men’s figure skating. One week, his quads and triple Axels seem to float on air; the next week, he’s sprawled across the ice after missing easy jumps. His best results have never been better, and he’s proven he can skate well under pressure – sometimes. Even when Tanaka unravels, he’s a bundle of charisma, skipping gleefully through his Fellini-themed free skate and mastering every twitch and turn in his choreography. This is starting to translate into high components scores, a just reward for a compelling skater who glides through challenging transitions. It will be great if his jumps are as crowd-pleasing as his performances, but I’m unwilling to count on that, which is Why I Drink.

Denis Ten

The Basics: Ten is 23 years old and represents Kazakhstan. He has lived in the United States for a number of years and now trains primarily in New Jersey with Nikolai Morozov. Ten has competed at seven World Championships and stood on the podium twice, taking silver in 2013 and bronze in 2015.

Season So Far: Injuries and coaching changes have kept Ten off the ice for most of the season. After withdrawing from his first Grand Prix assignment, he performed brilliantly at the Trophée de France; his silver medal was his best placement at a Grand Prix event to date. Ten missed a jump or two at the Winter Universiade but was mostly excellent, and did more than enough for a gold medal. But he imploded at the Asian Winter Games, finishing a dismal 10th after a free skate in which he landed only one clean jumping pass.

The Quad Factor: Ten will attempt one quad toe loop in his short program and at least one in his free skate. He’s capable of a salchow, as well, but he’s unlikely to include it here.

Outlook for Worlds: If it sounds like I’m blaming everyone in this post for Why I Drink, it’s not them, it’s the alphabet. Ten, who is frequently injured, has become notorious for his sporadic competition record, and for results that range from an Olympic bronze medal to whatever the heck happened at Worlds last year, where his 11th-place finish was a gift. He’s goofed during even his best performances this season, and he’s put the brakes on his technical difficulty, competing only one quad instead of his usual two. But Ten looks like a totally different skater every time he takes the ice, so his prior results are meaningless. If it’s a good week for him, he could win a medal. If not, well, l’chayim.

Chih-I Tsao

Chih-I TSAO (TPE) FP ― 2017 WJSC by shintorasports

The Basics: Tsao is 19 years old and represents Chinese Taipei. Originally from Taipei City, he lives and trains in Palm Springs, California, and his coach is Anthony Liu. This is his first World Championships.

Season So Far: Tsao started out with solid results on both the senior and junior levels, placing 5th at the Asian Open and 8th at JGP Yokohama. He stayed in the top ten at his next two senior B events, finishing 9th at Golden Bear and 7th at the Merano Cup, although his scores at both reflected big jump problems in his free skate. He gave far better performances at events with deeper fields, and his placements don’t reflect steady improvement in his technical consistency: 18th at the Winter Universiade, 19th at Four Continents, and 11th at the Asian Winter Games. He set a new personal best overall score at the World Junior Championships, but falls in both programs held him to 18th place there.

The Quad Factor: Tsao does not compete a quadruple jump.

Outlook for Worlds: One of the fun things about going through the Worlds roster is seeing a name that’s been on my radar throughout the year and saying to myself, “Oh, cool, he made the cut!” Tsao is the kind of skater who has to really work for the required minimum technical scores, and who therefore has achieved the biggest goal of his season by doing enough to qualify for Worlds. With a shaky triple Axel and less overall difficulty than most of his competitors, Tsao will have to perform a flawless short program in order to make it to the free skate. If he manages to do that, it will say a lot about his persistence and growth as an athlete, and be a major victory for an athlete who’s Just Happy to Be Here.

Shoma Uno

The Basics: Uno is 19 years old and represents Japan. He still lives in his hometown of Nagoya, where he trains with Machiko Yamada and Mihoko Higuchi. He placed 7th at his Worlds debut last year.

Season So Far: Uno won his first meet of the season, the Lombardia Trophy, although by a narrower margin than expected, losing ground on messy landings and beating Jason Brown by only a couple of points. He sailed past Brown at Skate America though, taking the first Grand Prix gold of the year. He couldn’t keep up with Javier Fernandez at the Rostelecom Cup, placing second, but he shined at the Grand Prix Final, winning bronze for the second year in a row. With Yuzuru Hanyu out of the picture, Uno had no trouble claiming his first national title at the Japan Championships. But Hanyu was back at Four Continents, as was Nathan Chen – the two men who’d beaten him at the Grand Prix Final – and he settled for bronze despite two strong skates. Uno wrapped things up with a pair of easier but still meaningful wins: he edged out Boyang Jin for gold at the Asian Winter Games, then crossed the 300-point threshold for the first time at the Coupe de Printemps.

The Quad Factor: Uno is capable of every type of quadruple jump except the lutz, although he doesn’t compete a salchow. He’s the first man ever to land a quad flip in competition, and he’s added a loop this season as well. It’s hard to predict his program layouts because he tends to improvise, but he’ll most likely attempt the flip and the toe loop in his short program, and one loop, one flip, and two toe loops in his free skate.

Outlook for Worlds: These days, Uno is figure skating’s greatest daredevil, and also one of the shyest, gentlest personalities in the sport. Of the teen jumping prodigies, he’s the most classically artistic, with gorgeous lines and crowd-pleasing flexibility moves. His edge control and dancer-like style earn him points, too: when he bungles his jumps, it’s often because he’s raising his grades of execution and components scores with tricky entrances and transitions. That intricacy sometimes means Uno has to correct his jumps in the air and save his landings, so they can look messy despite strong underlying technique. But the biggest wildcard, when it comes to Uno, is his ability to adjust his program layouts on the fly. Usually, he’s compensating for prior mistakes, but sometimes, he’s just showing off. Uno’s volatility makes him a Dark Horse, but on the right day, he could tango his way to a dramatic victory.

Deniss Vasiljevs

The Basics: Vasiljevs is 17 years old and represents Latvia. He’s from Daugavpils but has relocated to Champéry, Switzerland, to train with Stéphane Lambiel. He placed 14th at his World Championships debut in 2016.

Season So Far: Things looked dicey for Vasiljevs at the Rostelecom Cup, where he struggled to an 11th-place finish. At the NHK Trophy, a rough short program made it look like he’d fall to the bottom again, but he fought his way up to 6th overall with a lovely, clean free skate. He easily won his second consecutive senior-level Latvian championship, then impressed at Euros, finishing 7th with a pair of solid performances. But he was best at his lowest-stakes event, the Cup of Tyrol, where he earned the highest overall score of his career, plus his first international gold medal.

The Quad Factor: Vasiljevs is reportedly training a quad, but he hasn’t attempted one in competition yet.

Outlook for Worlds: Although Vasiljevs has been on the international scene for a few years, he burst into the spotlight last season, as his unique performance style and dazzling spins endeared him to fans. While other skaters his age are busy one-upping each other with enormous jumps, Vasiljevs’ technical content maxes out at a triple Axel. He’s an innovator in other ways, however, developing some of the most creative and beautifully executed spins and steps in the sport. As a result, he can build up impressive components scores, especially for an athlete of his age and reputation level. He’ll have to be damn near flawless to crack the top 10, but his results late in the season put him in the conversation. Vasiljevs is On the Bubble this year, and we’ll be taking him even more seriously in a season or two.

Valtter Virtanen

The Basics: Virtanen is 29 years old, beating out Alexei Bychenko for oldest man in the field. He represents Finland and comes from Kerava, but he’s lived in Oberstdorf, Germany, for many years, coached by Karel Fajfr and by his wife, Alina Mayer-Virtanen. Although he’s been competing internationally for a decade, this is his first World Championships.

Season So Far: Virtanen placed only 10th at the Tallinn Trophy, but it was nonetheless a victory for him, as he achieved a career-best overall score. He improved on that number at the NRW Trophy and finished fifth with one of his strongest performances to date. Since then, he’s struggled more with his jumps, placing 7th at both the Mentor Torun Cup and the Bavarian Open. After becoming Finnish champion for the fourth time, Virtanen made it to the free skate at Euros, reaching 23rd place overall. Most recently, he looked shaky at the Cup of Tyrol, where he finished 10th.

The Quad Factor: Virtanen has been trying for a quad toe loop in his free skate, although he usually underrotates it and falls. His short program layout leaves room for him to give the quad a shot there, too.

Outlook for Worlds: It’s incredible that a skater with such a long career has never made it to Worlds before now, and kudos to Virtanen for the accomplishment, even if it’s possibly just as a host pick. With some of the weakest technical content in the field – he competes only a double Axel, and his quad is unproven, to say the least – he’ll have a hard time reaching the free skate this year. Still, he’s been exceeding expectations throughout this season. If he risks that quad in his short program, and hits it, he could get surprisingly far. Nonetheless, it looks like qualifying for Worlds was the real goal for Virtanen, and he’ll be Just Happy to Be Here no matter how he ranks in the end.

Nicholas Vrdoljak

The Basics: Vrdoljak is 20 years old and represents Croatia. An American of Croatian descent, he represented the United States until 2015. He lives in the Chicago area, where he trains with Evgeni Martynov. This will be his first World Championships.

Season So Far: Vrdoljak was solid at the Autumn Classic, where he finished 8th, and terrific at Ice Star, earning career-best scores and placing 5th. He struggled much more at Golden Spin and was only 13th. At Euros, he tripped over all of his jump landings in the short program and narrowly missed the cut for the free skate. His 26th-place finish there was a disappointment.

The Quad Factor: Vrdoljak has attempted a quad toe loop in his free skate throughout the season but has yet to receive credit for fully rotating it.

Outlook for Worlds: Contrary to popular complaint, it’s rare for North American skaters to develop successful international careers after switching to a more favorable country. Competing for Croatia has opened up opportunities for Vrdoljak, but he’s earning those minimum scores and developing that quad all on his own. With no triple Axel, he’ll have to perform one hell of a short program to reach the free skate. His artistry and stamina improve every time he hits the ice, though, and he’s making progress on his hardest jumps. Vrdoljak is Just Happy to Be Here this time, but it’s likely we’ll be seeing him at Worlds a lot in the future, with steadily rising results.

Stephane Walker

The Basics: Walker is 26 years old and represents Switzerland. He’s from Sion but lives in Bergamo, Italy, where he trains with Franca Bianconi. He has competed at Worlds twice before, and his best result was 23rd in 2014.

Season So Far: Walker began with a surprise 4th-place finish at the Lombardia Trophy, and he kept up his momentum with strong senior B results throughout the season. A bit of a mess at the Ondrej Nepela Memorial, he settled for 7th, but he was great at Golden Bear, taking a bronze medal. Messy jumps at the Merano Cup brought him a score well below his best, but it was enough for a gold medal. He skated much better at the Warsaw Cup, and huge triple Axels earned him bronze. After becoming Swiss champion for the fourth time, Walker headed to Euros, where he finished 17th, the best result of his career. He tested some technical upgrades at Cup of Tyrol; they weren’t enough to catch the biggest names in the field, but he did earn a personal best overall score.

The Quad Factor: Walker does not compete a quadruple jump.

Outlook for Worlds: Walker has been around for years, but you’d be forgiven for never having noticed him until now. There’s far more finesse in his jumps this season, and his lovely triple Axel technique has brought him great success with his most difficult jump. He’s an excellent spinner, too, and his grades of execution will give him a much-needed boost, especially in the short program. If he skates as well in Helsinki as he has at lower-pressure events this season, he’ll be on track for his highest Worlds placement ever, which puts him On the Bubble.

Julian Zhi Jie Yee

The Basics: Yee is 19 years old and represents Malaysia. He comes from Kuala Lumpur but now lives primarily in Barrie, Ontario, where he trains with Michael Hopfes and Doug Leigh. He competed at Worlds for the first time last year and finished 21st.

Season So Far: Yee started his season off strong with a bronze medal at the Asian Open, followed by a surprise 4th-place finish in a tough field at the Nebelhorn Trophy. He continued to perform well at the Warsaw Cup, especially in the short program, and placed 5th overall. After a solid 15th-place result at Four Continents, he had his best skate of the season at the Asian Winter Games. 8th overall, he posted his highest scores to date and performed an almost-clean free skate.

The Quad Factor: Yee has never attempted a quadruple jump in competition.

Outlook for Worlds: It’s hard to make a bigger splash in your Worlds debut than Yee did in 2016, when the crowd fell in love with him so instantly and completely that they booed his scores. Yee still doesn’t receive a huge amount of love from the judges in his components scores: he’s a phenomenal performer, but his choreography lacks the difficult twists and turns that the judges are looking for. He’s improved his jump technique this season, and as a result, he’s begun to earn the high grades of execution he needs to stay in the conversation without a quad. It will be tough for him to move up in this field, but he’s shown in his best performances that he’s On the Bubble.

The men’s short program at the World Figure Skating Championships will start at 12:10 PM Helsinki time on Thursday, March 30, which is 5:10 AM in Chicago. The free skate begins at 10:50 AM on Saturday, April 1, or 3:50 AM in the Midwest. The event will stream live on IceNetwork for subscribers, and here are a whole bunch of other ways to watch.

Next on The Finer Sports: frequent Worlds recaps, as I’ve cleared my schedule to watch the whole thing live. I won’t be there in person, but I’ll be operating on Helsinki time for the rest of this week.

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