2017 World Championships Field Guide: Men Part 1

How is it time for Worlds already? It feels like just last week, I was booking a flight for Boston. Now, skaters are on their way to Helsinki to do it all over again. Although I won’t be there to witness the magic in person this year, I’ll still do my best to provide complete coverage of the biggest figure skating event of the season. And that starts with field guides, as many as I can finish before the competition begins.

With 10 days to go, there are 37 men on the roster for the 2017 World Figure Skating Championships, representing a total of 30 countries. As much as I’d love to trim things down the way I did for my World Junior Championships Men’s Field Guide, there’s no way to do it for senior-level Worlds. The minimum technical scores required are so high that any skater who competes at Worlds is capable of phenomenal jumps, and most of the guys on the list are fantastic performers to boot. So I’m splitting this into a series of three posts and covering every athlete in the event.

For the most part, this will look like the field guides I’ve written for U. S. Nationals and Junior Worlds. For each skater, I’ll provide basic background information, YouTube videos of recent performances, and a summary of his season so far. I’ll also analyze each athlete’s chances on a five-point scale. Four of the categories are the same as usual: Front Runners at the top, Dark Horses with an outside chance, Just Happy to Be Here who have already achieved their season goals by qualifying for Worlds, and Why I Drink for the wildcards so wild that I have no idea how they’ll perform. But since an athlete at Worlds is, by definition, at the top of his game, it doesn’t make sense to refer to any of these skaters as “on the rise.” Instead, I’ll rate the mid-range as On the Bubble: striving for more than just an appearance on the ice, but not on par with the top tier. I’m also adding one new section to each skater’s profile. Since quadruple jumps are such a defining aspect of men’s skating these days, I’ll discuss which quads each athlete is likely to attempt, and his chances of rotating and landing them.

This post features the first 12 men’s skaters in alphabetical order, which includes a lot of the heavy hitters. Here we go!

Chafik Besseghier

The Basics: Besseghier is 27 years old and represents France. He’s originally from Grenoble but trains in Courchevel and Paris, with Stannick Jeannette as his primary coach. This is his 4th consecutive trip to Worlds; his highest placement to date was 9th in 2014.

Season So Far: Besseghier kicked off his season with a win, landing two clean quads on his way to a gold medal at Cup of Nice. Facing stiffer competition and greater pressure during the Grand Prix series, he struggled with his jumps in the free skate at both the Rostelecom Cup and Trophée de France, and he placed 8th overall at both events. When Besseghier returned to smaller-scale international competitions, he found his groove again, taking gold at both the FBMA Trophy and the Nordics Open, and earning career-best scores at the former. At Nationals, Besseghier went for broke with a three-quad free skate and landed them all, but he struggled with stamina and with easier jumps in the second half of his free skate. Those mistakes, along with a popped salchow in his short program, made him the national silver medalist behind Kevin Aymoz. At the European Championships, he was strong but not perfect in both programs, good enough for 9th place, the highest finish of his career.

The Quad Factor: Besseghier competes two types of quads, a toe loop and a salchow. If he goes for the ambitious program layouts he attempted at Nationals, he’ll attempt five quads total: a toe loop and a salchow in the short program, and both of those plus a second quad toe loop in the free skate. If he plays it safe, he’ll try one quad toe loop in each program.

Outlook for Worlds: When the stakes are low, Besseghier is hard to beat, but his nerves seem to take over at major competitions. He has the jumping ability to contend with the top men, and over the past year, he’s made remarkable improvements to the speed and difficulty of his spins. But he has a tendency to pop jumps – an error more costly than a fall – and to struggle with takeoff edges and landing check-outs as his energy wanes at the end of his programs. He also doesn’t have the transitions, choreographic complexity, or range of expression to stay competitive in program components. As a result, his scores don’t keep pace with the top of the field even when he skates clean. Still, it’s hard to dismiss a skater capable of three quads in his free skate, which puts Besseghier On the Bubble.

Michal Brezina

The Basics: Brezina is 26 years old and represents the Czech Republic. A native of Brno, he moved to the Los Angeles area in 2016 to train with Rafael Arutunian. Brezina has competed at six World Championships, placing as high as 4th in both 2010 and 2011.

Season So Far: Usually a fixture on the senior B circuit, Brezina kept a lower profile this year. He began his season at the Grand Prix, pulling up from a 9th-place short program to 4th overall at Skate Canada with a terrific free skate. He couldn’t repeat that comeback feat at Cup of China, where he finished dead last after an invalid combination in his short program and three popped jumps in his free skate. At the Four National Championships, Brezina took the lead in the short program, on track for his fourth career national title, but he injured his arm during the free skate and withdrew. A month later, favored to win a medal at the Winter Universiade, Brezina made costly errors in both programs and finished only 7th. The story was much the same at the European Championships, where he came in only 12th, his worst result since 2008.

The Quad Factor: Brezina will almost definitely attempt a quad salchow in his free skate, and probably put one in his short program as well. He’s missed the jump more often than he’s landed it this season.

Outlook for Worlds: Brezina has spent his long career on the verge of greatness, seldom living up to the potential he’s shown in his finest moments. His fans had hoped that his move to a new country and coach might rejuvenate his declining results, but instead, Brezina has been less consistent and less steady than ever. Once one of the most impressive jumpers in men’s skating, Brezina hasn’t upgraded significantly since 2011, and in fact is attempting less difficult jumps now. As a result, it’s likely that he will continue his downward slide through the rankings even if he skates well. I hate to count out an athlete with Brezina’s resume and high components scores, but at this point, it seems like he’s just holding the fort for the Czech Republic until some of his country’s emerging teenage talents gain the technical skills to take over for him. I suspect that this year, his renewed love for the sport will stand out more than his jumps, and he’ll be Just Happy to Be Here.

Jason Brown

The Basics: Brown is 22 years old and represents the United States of America. He’s originally from the Chicago suburbs but relocated to the Colorado Springs area with his lifelong coach, Kori Ade, a few years ago. At his only previous Worlds appearance, in 2015, Brown placed 4th.

Season So Far: Brown looked a little unsteady early in the season but achieved great results, taking silver at the Lombardia Trophy and gold at the U.S. Classic. At Skate America, he performed a stunning free skate and won a silver medal with a career-best overall score. But an undiagnosed stress fracture took him down at his other Grand Prix event, NHK Trophy, where he made uncharacteristic errors and placed only 7th. Brown was still on the mend at Nationals and struggled more than usual with his jumps, but he nonetheless pulled off a bronze medal. He finished a solid 6th at the Four Continents Championships, although he was visibly hurting toward the end of his free skate.

The Quad Factor: Brown is one of the few current top skaters who has never landed a clean quadruple jump in international competition. At Skate America, he came close, although he got a deduction for underrotation. He will probably attempt a quad toe loop in both programs, and it will be a huge step forward for him if he lands them.

Outlook for Worlds: Brown used to be one of the most consistent athletes in figure skating, but for the past two years, injuries have interfered with his training routines. He’s also struggled to keep up technically, to the point where his lack of a quadruple jump all but ensures he can’t reach a World podium. On the other hand, Brown is one of the only skaters who can make up for his limited jumps by earning enormous grades of execution, maxing out the points on his non-jump elements, and leveraging his difficult choreography and expressive style into giant components scores. Brown frequently downplays his injuries to the press, so it’s hard to tell whether he’s back to full strength yet. It’s also hard to say how far his beautiful execution can take him when he’s up against guys who will attempt five quads in their free skates. With so many unknown variables in play – and some personal affection for his effervescent personality and roots in my hometown – Brown is one of this year’s principal reasons Why I Drink.

Alexei Bychenko

The Basics: At 29, Bychenko is the oldest competitor in the men’s field. Originally from Kiev, he represented Ukraine until 2009, but has had far more success competing for Israel. He now lives in Hackensack, New Jersey, USA, where he trains with Galit Chait Moracci. This will be his 6th consecutive Worlds; his highest placement was 13th in 2016.

Season So Far: Bychenko looked unsteady at his first meet of the season, the Finlandia Trophy, where he missed all of his quad attempts and placed only 7th. But he was back on track for the Grand Prix, with a solid 4th-place finish at the NHK Trophy and a bronze medal at Rostelecom Cup, the first Grand Prix medal of his career. His performances and scores at Rostelecom remained his best of the season, but he continued to skate well, taking gold in a tough field at Golden Spin, silver at Cup of Tyrol, and 5th place at the European Championships. Although he beat Daniel Samohin, Israel’s other top men’s skater, at all three of those events, Samohin got ahead of him at Nationals, making Bychenko the current Israeli silver medalist.

The Quad Factor: Bychenko’s quad toe loop isn’t the most consistent, nor the most smoothly landed when he does hit it, but it gets him pretty far. He’ll attempt one in his short program and two in his free skate.

Outlook for Worlds: There’s no late bloomer in figure skating like Bychenko. He seems to get more consistent and more powerful with age, and while he’s not a natural artist, he’s grown into a charming, self-deprecating persona on the ice. His free skate is smartly constructed, with both triple Axels and a high-scoring three-jump combination in the second half, and more than ever, his choreography and music choices click with his personality. He’s not really a medal threat, but he’s proven time and time again that it’s foolish to count him out. It would be so much fun to see Bychenko crack the top 10 that I’m going to call him a Dark Horse, long shot though he may be.

Patrick Chan

The Basics: Chan is 26 years old and represents Canada. He was born in Ottawa and spent his early years in Toronto. At the beginning of this season, he moved to the Detroit area in the United States to train with Marina Zueva. Chan has appeared at seven World Championships and stood on the podium five times: he won silver in 2009 and 2010, and gold in 2011, 2012, and 2013. He returned in 2016 after a two-year hiatus and finished 5th.

Season So Far: For the first time ever, Chan began his competitive season before the Grand Prix series, at the Finlandia Trophy. He struggled with his jump landings there but did enough for a silver medal. At his Grand Prix events, Chan seemed bulletproof, winning gold at Skate Canada and Cup of China despite falling on his quad salchow in the free skate at both. After the short program at the Grand Prix Final, Chan had gold in his sights with a career-best score, but he disintegrated in the free skate and plunged down to 5th place. He finally connected with his quad salchow at Nationals; small errors in both programs hardly mattered, and he won his 9th senior-level national title by over 40 points. Chan couldn’t repeat the magic at Four Continents, where he fell on all but one of his quad attempts and settled for 4th place.

The Quad Factor: Chan has been competing a quad toe loop for several years and has added a quad salchow this season. He has trouble with consistency on both, although his posture and glide are extraordinary when he does land them. He’s most likely to attempt one toe loop in the short program, then two toe loops and one salchow in his free skate, although there have been rumblings that he might add an extra salchow to one or both programs.

Outlook for Worlds: Five years ago, Chan was the undisputed king of men’s figure skating, capable of World Championships gold even when he fell multiple times. Others have always presented more difficult technical content, but Chan’s exceptional speed, edge control, and transitions guarantee him huge components scores. He launches jumps seamlessly from intricate choreography that gives him scant opportunities to breathe. But he’s no longer the only top athlete to bank on that strategy, and unlike many others, he can’t bank on his jumps. He’s fallen on at least one quad attempt at every international competition this season. It’s possible that he’ll break that curse at Worlds, but throughout the year, he’s choked hardest when the stakes were highest. A fourth World title would be a great comeback story, but until he proves he has the goods, he’s a Dark Horse.

Nathan Chen

The Basics: Chen is 17 years old and represents the United States of America. He’s from Salt Lake City, but he now splits his time between Los Angeles, where he trains with Rafael Arutunian, and the Detroit area, where he works with Marina Zueva. This is his World Championships debut.

Season So Far: Chen began his senior-level career at the top, winning gold in his international debut at the Finlandia Trophy despite a few falls. Those technical jitters were more of a problem at the Grand Prix: tumbles in his free skate at Trophée de France took him down to 4th place, and he couldn’t catch a red-hot Yuzuru Hanyu at the NHK Trophy. Nerves struck again at the Grand Prix Final, where he struggled in the short program, but he got himself together for a clean free skate, winning the segment and placing a surprise 2nd overall. (Who beat him? Hanyu again.) But Chen’s freshman jitters had disappeared in time for Nationals, where he performed back-to-back flawless skates on his way to his first senior national title. As if to prove this wasn’t a fluke, Chen was almost as perfect at Four Continents, winning gold and finally getting ahead of Hanyu.

The Quad Factor: Chen’s middle name might as well be “the quad factor.” He competes four different kinds, including the two commonly seen as most difficult. He’ll attempt those two hardest – the lutz and the flip – in his short program. In his free skate, he’ll do those again, and he’ll add two toe loops and a salchow. And there’s a strong chance he’ll land them all.

Outlook for Worlds: For those of us who’ve had an eye on Chen since he was a tiny 10-year-old throwing triple toe-double toes to the Kung Fu Panda soundtrack, it’s no surprise that he’s matured into the man most likely to land five clean quads in his free skate. Chen is one of the most technically gifted athletes in the history of figure skating; those big jumps soar with both height and amplitude. On the other hand, his relatively simple choreography and lack of musical expression are reminders that he’s one of the youngest in this year’s field. Chen would be the first to tell you that his components scores are sometimes a gift, and one he might not receive when the judges are comparing him with the sport’s most artistically adept veterans. Unlike almost anyone else, however, he’s peaking at the right moment, and I have to believe this Front Runner is saving his best for Worlds.

Paul Fentz

The Basics: Fentz is 24 years old and represents Germany. He lives in his hometown of Berlin, where he trains with Romy Oesterreich. Although he’s been competing at the senior level since 2011, this is the first time he’s made it to Worlds.

Season So Far: Fentz has been a fixture at senior B events all season. He began with so-so results at the Nebelhorn Trophy and Finlandia Trophy, finishing 8th at both. At the Warsaw Cup, he recovered from a disastrous short program with a strong free skate that included a gnarly but legitimate quad toe loop, and placed 7th overall. The quad attempts kept coming at the NRW Trophy and Mentor Torun Cup, and in those easier fields, Fentz took home a silver and a bronze medal, respectively. It was silver again for him at Nationals, for the third time in a row. But his real coming out party was Europeans, where he fought for every jump, posted career-best scores, and placed 10th. He filled the long hiatus between Euros and Worlds with the Cup of Tyrol, where he struggled with his jumps and placed 5th.

The Quad Factor: Fentz has been gradually introducing his quad toe loop into his programs throughout the year, a strategy that has served him well. He’ll probably go for one quad toe in his short program and two in his free skate.

Outlook for Worlds: Nobody lands an uglier quad than Paul Fentz. Loose and tilted in the air, he crashes down deep into his knee, bending and flailing to stay on his blade. His triple Axel, on the other hand, is gorgeous, an indication that those quads will be a whole lot prettier with another season to build his self-confidence. Fentz’s best performances – particularly his great free skate at Euros – mean he’s not totally out of the conversation. His choreography is low on transitions, though, and he often loses focus late in his programs. That leaves him with little leeway in components. It’s hard to imagine anyone else fighting harder for a landing, though, which puts him On the Bubble.

Javier Fernandez

The Basics: Fernandez is 25 years old and represents Spain. He comes from Madrid but now spends most of the year in Toronto, training with Brian Orser. This is his 11th consecutive World Championships, the greatest number of appearances by any skater in the field. He’s won twice, in 2015 and 2016, and is going for the three-peat.

Season So Far: Fernandez kicked things off with a pair of Grand Prix wins. At the Rostelecom Cup, he missed a quad in his short program but roared back with a near-perfect free skate. He looked less polished at Trophée de France, with falls in both programs, but the mistakes were no problem at an event where everyone was a bit of a mess. At the Grand Prix Final, he was on track for a medal despite a short program fall, but an epic meltdown in the free skate took him down to 4th place. After stopping to win Nationals for the sixth year in a row, Fernandez headed to Euros, where he finally nailed down a clean short program. Things got a little hairy in his free skate, but not enough to prevent him from winning his fifth consecutive European title by a margin of almost 30 points.

The Quad Factor: Fernandez competes a quad toe loop and a quad salchow. He includes one of each in his short program. In his free skate, he’ll probably attempt a toe loop and two salchows. He lands them more often than not, although not always with the utmost grace.

Outlook for Worlds: Fernandez always looks like a mess until Worlds. Sometimes – last year, for example – he’s still a mess in the short program. He always seems to save his best material for that last free skate of the season, and that’s why he’s on a World Championships win streak that might be hard to break. Fernandez isn’t really the best in the world at any one aspect of skating. Many other skaters compete more difficult jumps, and more of them. He earns high components scores for his affable, upbeat performance style and rapid shifts in speed and direction, but others have developed more nuanced and varied interpretation, not to mention far superior fundamental skills. He loses levels on his spins; his hardest jumps are less than reliable. But it’s tough to think of a more well-rounded athlete in this sport, or one with a cooler head under pressure. I can’t predict whether he’ll take the crown for a third time, but he’s certainly a Front Runner.

Misha Ge

The Basics: Ge is 25 years old and represents Uzbekistan. He was born in Moscow, spent much of his childhood in Beijing, and now trains primarily in Los Angeles. He’s coached by his father, Jun Ge. This will be his 7th consecutive World Championships; his highest placement was 6th in 2015.

Season So Far: Ge’s first competition of the season, the Autumn Classic, brought him his highest placement. Despite stumbles in both programs, he held steady for a silver medal. He didn’t skate poorly at either of his Grand Prix events, but his limited technical difficulty placed him in the middle of the pack, 6th at Skate Canada and 7th at Trophée de France. At Four Continents, Ge went for cleanliness and elegance rather than big jumps, a strategy good enough for his best result ever at the event, 7th place. A similar approach to the Asian Winter Games brought a similar outcome, 6th in a tough field.

The Quad Factor: Ge has attempted a quad toe loop at a number of competitions this season, most recently at Trophée de France, but has underrotated it every time he’s included it. Judging from his improved results from quad-free routines later in the season, he’ll probably leave it out.

Outlook for Worlds: Ge has made some noise lately about retirement, so this Worlds might be his swan song. A graceful and charismatic performer who has always appealed more to fans than to judges, it’s likely that he’ll try to say goodbye as beautifully as possible, even if that means sacrificing a few technical points. Despite his mesmerizing style, his components won’t make up for sticking to triple jumps: his choreography lacks difficult turns and transitions, and he skates more slowly than most of his competitors. Nonetheless, if Ge achieves perfection while others struggle – as he did in 2015 – he could place surprisingly high. That would be icing on the cake for an athlete who seems Just Happy to Be Here for his fans this time.

Yuzuru Hanyu

The Basics: Hanyu is 22 years old and represents Japan. He’s originally from Sendai but now lives in Toronto, where he trains with Brian Orser. He has competed at Worlds five times before and stood on the podium all but once. Hanyu won gold in 2014, took silver in both 2015 and 2016, and is the reigning Olympic champion.

Season So Far: Hanyu won his first competition of the season, the Autumn Classic, despite falls in both programs and surprisingly low components scores. His performances didn’t get cleaner as the season progressed, although that didn’t stop him from collecting hardware. Hanyu took a silver medal at Skate Canada, then gold twice in a row at the NHK Trophy and Grand Prix Final, despite falling in every free skate. A case of the flu kept him away from Nationals, but that didn’t stop Japan from naming him to their World team. Fully recovered in time for Four Continents, Hanyu aimed for five quads in his free skate, landed four of them, and posted his best score of the season. But he couldn’t quite keep up with a lights-out Nathan Chen and settled for silver.

The Quad Factor: At the 2016 Autumn Classic, Hanyu became the first man in history to land a ratified quadruple loop at an international competition. He also competes a salchow and a toe loop. If he maintains his current level of ambition, he’ll do the loop and the salchow in his short program and a loop, two salchows, and two toe loops in his free skate.

Outlook for Worlds: Hanyu has never been the cleanest skater, but that’s seldom been a problem for him. His enormous components scores and grades of execution – well deserved for the most complex and innovative choreography and transitions in the sport – mean he can absorb several errors and come out ahead. This season, he has yet to perform a clean free skate, and his short programs have mostly been dodgy, too. His chief nemesis has been the second quad salchow in his free skate, which he hasn’t executed correctly all year, falling or popping the jump every time. If he can regain his confidence in that jump and finally complete the error-free program his fans have been waiting for, he’ll be impossible to beat. If he bungles it yet again, he still has a good shot at a World title. Hanyu is a perpetual Front Runner, and maybe this is his year.

Slavik Hayrapetyan

The Basics: Hayrapetyan is 21 years old and represents Armenia. He’s from Yerevan, where he still lives and trains for most of the year. His primary coach is his father, Samvel Hayrapetyan. This is his third trip to Worlds; his best result was 30th in 2016.

Season So Far: Hayrapetyan has built up experience at a number of senior B events throughout the season. He got off to a rough start at the Tallinn Trophy, placing 12th after struggling with his hardest jumps. Although he was only 14th at Golden Spin, he performed the highest-scoring short program of his career. After another rough skate at the Mentor Torun Cup, he headed to the European Championships. There, he performed a strong free skate and achieved both a career-best overall score and his highest Euros placement to date, 21st. He wasn’t as confident at the Sofia Trophy or the Coupe de Printemps, but in those smaller fields, he did enough for bronze medals at both.

The Quad Factor: Hayrapetyan has never attempted a quad in competition.

Outlook for Worlds: Although his technical skills lag behind those of most of his competitors, Hayrapetyan will arrive in Helsinki in the wake of his most accomplished international season. Reaching the free skate at Euros was a big step forward for him, and his triple Axel is getting more and more consistent. While his choreography and transitions are too simple to help him in the components department, there’s an appealing intensity and determination to his skating. He’s shooting for a top-24 short program, which would be a first for him. Hayrapetyan is a classic example of a Just Happy to Be Here skater, and it’s hard not to cheer him on in his quest to qualify through to the free skate.

Jorik Hendrickx

The Basics: Hendrickx is 24 years old and represents Belgium. He’s originally from Turnhout, which is still his primary residence and training location. Carine Herrygers has coached him since he was a child. This will be Hendrickx’s 5th World Championships; his best result to date was 16th in 2016.

Season So Far: Hendrickx has had a busy season, and a largely successful one. He started it with a silver medal at the Nebelhorn Trophy, mostly on the strength of a nearly flawless free skate. A few shaky jumps and a much tougher field took him down to 5th place at the Finlandia Trophy. Mostly outclassed at the Grand Prix, he placed 9th at Skate America and 6th at Trophée de France. His third national title was an easy victory, however. That brought Hendrickx to Euros, where he performed two stunning programs and rocketed to 4th place with the highest scores of his career by far. He completed his season with an easy gold medal at the Hague Challenge Cup.

The Quad Factor: Hendrickx does not currently attempt any quads in competition, and has been doing just fine without them.

Outlook for Worlds: Hendrickx can’t do a quad in competition and doesn’t seem bothered by it. He’s gotten awfully far on a slate of consistent, well-executed triple jumps, boosting his grades of execution with strong transitions and a dancer’s grace. By focusing on his fundamentals and presentation, Hendrickx builds up a nest egg of components that often holds him up when others make mistakes. It’s a fragile strategy, because an error or two will take him out of the running, but an exciting one when the stars align for him as they did at Euros. His overall placement will depend on how well the big jumpers deliver, which puts him 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 I’m sure the list of other ways to watch will be posted soon.

Next on The Finer Sports: part 2 of my men’s field guide for Worlds.

3 thoughts on “2017 World Championships Field Guide: Men Part 1”

  1. Your posts are fun to read. ^_^ Can’t help but notice this little boo-boo here, tho:

    “Fully recovered in time for Four Continents, Hanyu aimed for five quads in his free skate, landed four of them, and posted his best score of the season.”

    He wasn’t competing 5, he was competing 4, as per usual. He decided to attempt 5 in total after he bungled his 4S3T and improvised almost all of his tech on the second half on the fly, to make room for a 4T2T. This way, that he was able to still say he landed 4 quads in a 4-quad program. That 3A right at the end (a space usually occupied by a 3Z) was a result of this mid-skate reshuffle as well.

    1. I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog! You’re right that the wording isn’t perfect here. However, explaining the full story, as you did, takes a paragraph, which I didn’t have room for in a field guide with 12 athletes to cover. Yuzuru did attempt 5 quads and land 4 at 4CC, even if that wasn’t the original plan.

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