Five Favorites for Olympic Gold in Men's Figure Skating at Sochi 2014

New Stars, Familiar Names, and a Pair of Americans Highlight the Contenders in This Challenging Competition

Yahoo Contributor Network

Figure skating is one of the signature events of any Olympics, since even casual fans tend to follow the competition's high drama and tense moments.

Without equipment to hide emotions, these top-notch participants must flawlessly execute stunningly difficult moves, and then remain composed while awaiting harsh judgment before the cameras.

Men's figure skating should supply its usual excitement at this year's Sochi Games, and the event is scheduled for February 13 and 14. In looking at the field, while a handful of rising stars look to claim their first Olympic medal, there will also be familiar names hoping to recapture glory. Many even believe the two American entrants give the United States a capable chance at retaining gold.

Here is a look at five athletes to watch during men's figure skating at Sochi 2014:

Jeremy Abbott (USA)

Coming off his fourth national title at the United States Figure Skating Championships in January, the 28-year-old will be seeking his first Olympic medal at Sochi. Abbott impressively pulled off a flawless quadruple toe-triple toe combination at the recent event in Boston, which helped set an American record for points in a short program. This was believed to be his last appearance at the U.S. Nationals before retirement, so the Colorado native appears to carry definite momentum into the Winter Games, and he was an obvious selection after his latest triumph.

Abbott also represented the United States during men's competition in Vancouver, but finished a disappointing ninth place back in 2010. Nevertheless, by capturing four of the past six national championships, the veteran may still represent America's best hope for another gold. Abbott is the longtime rival of Evan Lysacek, who is the defending 2010 Olympic champion, but he will not compete in Sochi due to a hip injury suffered in September.

Jason Brown (USA)

While Abbott and Lysacek have represented the best in American men's figure skating for the past decade, the future appears to reside with this 19-year-old upstart who cemented his case for a spot in Sochi by finishing second at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. During the weekend performance, Brown followed a third-place finish in the short program with a blistering first-place showing in the free skate. It was not enough to catch Abbott, but the California native electrified the crowd and it did enable him to exceed defending champion Max Aaron.

Even without a prior trip to the Olympic stage, the teenager already offers no shortage of charisma with flashy outfits, a ponytail, and plenty of youthful enthusiasm. Brown additionally possesses an already-impressive international resume that includes a silver medal at the 2013 World Junior Championships and a bronze at the 2012 event.

Patrick Chan (Canada)

Many think Sochi will be the year this Canadian skater truly breaks into the elite ranks of men's figure skating. Still only 23 years old, Chan competed in his home country's Winter Games in 2010, where he finished in a respectable fifth place. The Canadian team may prove to be the best squad at Sochi and the country is widely expected to win gold in the new team event, which combines men's, women's, pairs, and ice dance events. Chan will be a part of that competition and could land a medal even before the men's skating begins.

Perhaps the top reason Chan is considered a prohibitive favorite to succeed in Sochi is that he has thrived in international competition since the Vancouver Games. The affable skater is the three-time defending champion at the World Figure Skating Championships, which is held annually in March, and in that venue he has outperformed most of the leading contenders who will again challenge him in Sochi. Chan is a native of Ottawa, speaks three languages, has served as a motivational speaker, and is the son of immigrants from Hong Kong.

Evgeni Plushenko (Russia)

Plushenko is one of the most accomplished figure skaters in modern history, but it is still unknown if the superstar will skate at the Sochi Games. The 31-year-old has dealt with numerous injuries and briefly lost his eligibility to compete in 2010. Plushenko already captured gold in the men's event at the 2006 Games in Turin and earned silver at both Salt Lake City in 2002 and Vancouver in 2010. Additionally, he is a three-time winner at the World Championships, but his last victory did occur a decade ago in 2004.

Plushenko is noted for his ability to execute moves that few other males are flexible enough to land, including a rare Biellmann spin. Thought nearing retirement, the chance to capture a final medal in his native Russia is motivation to work for one final performance on the big stage. The issue is not without controversy, however, as Russia only holds a single spot in men's competition. Furthermore, at the recent Russian National Championships in January, Plushenko skated capably, but finished second to 18-year-old Maxim Kovtun. It is still unknown if Russia will choose the rising sensation or decorated past champion to skate at Sochi.

Yuzuru Hanyu (Japan)

Another youthful skater with a chance to become a legend at the Sochi Games, Hanyu will represent Japan in the Olympics for the first time. Despite being 19 years old, he is seen by many as the primary threat to deny Patrick Chan a gold medal.

In fact, as recently as December, Hanyu exceeded Chan by claiming first place at the Grand Prix Finals, held in his native Japan. This was the last international event prior to Sochi and the Japanese skater impressively overcame an early fall on a quad salchow by completing all other jumps, including seven triple-jumps and a difficult quad toe loop.

Further padding his achievements, Hanyu took bronze at the 2012 World Championships and claimed gold at the 2010 World Junior Championships. Adding even more intrigue to the drama, the teenager is currently coached by former star Brian Orser, who captured two silver Olympic medals for Canada (Chan's home country) in the 1980s. Orser previously coached Kim Yu Na to gold in ladies singles in Vancouver 2010, and believes Hanyu can match that success by similarly focusing on grade of execution under the current scoring system.

Jeff Briscoe is a longtime fan of Olympic competition and a regular contributor to the Yahoo Contributor Network. He will be talking Sochi 2014 on The Sports Train radio show in Southwest Florida.

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