Kurt Browning believes Patrick Chan is favoured to win the world championships this year because he's much more like Kristy Yamaguchi than Kurt Browning.
There is no doubt Chan, the young Canadian, is going to Moscow with gold as the goal, but he's also looking to skate as clean and near-perfect a program as he did back in Victoria at the January national championships.
Japan's Oda returns to form
Every competition you go looking for potential surprises, and at the 2011 worlds it could be Japan's Nobunari Oda.
Oda has been through enough personal drama to fill a day of Kabuki, including a bright start to his career, a moped DUI (just a trace amount of alcohol, but in Japan that's enough), a change of coaches that left some shaking their heads, and then a broken lace at the 2010 Olympics.
It climaxed last spring with one of the worst performances at a world championship that anyone can remember.
Now, he's found himself again. He has apologized to coach Lee Barkell at the Mariposa club in Barrie, Ont., and returned to his mentorship after two years; he has married and had a beautiful baby boy; and he is coming off an excellent Grand Prix season that included three silver medals.
He was second in the Japanese championship to Daisuke Takahashi.
"At the Olympics and the worlds, I had a very sad feeling about the  season, and then I was thinking I would quit skating," said Oda, sitting in a quiet room at the Barrie rink recently. "But I had a new family and I decided to skate for them, to be a good daddy."
Things have changed massively for the Japanese skaters at the worlds, not just because of the switch to Moscow but because their country was ravaged by the earthquake and tsunami.
But wherever the ice pad, the job still has to be done.
"I feel very ready for the worlds right now," he said. "I did a lot of good practice in Barrie. I feel the pressure, but I feel I can handle this."
And that, Browning believes, is what puts him in the same category as the 1992 Olympic and two-time world ladies champion from the United States.
"Kristy Yamaguchi skated clean at 8 a.m. every morning," he says. "She skated it the way she expected it to be.
"And I think Patrick is quite similar. I think he sees the ability to skate clean as a tangible object he can reach out and grab."
Skating clean while presenting a jaw-dropping program was what caught the figure skating world's attention back in January at Victoria, when Chan put down one of the best free skate routines anyone can remember.
It included two quads, a nicely executed triple axel (previously his one weakness) and a strength and confidence that showed he's ready to do it again — and again.
"I always thought as a competitor that skating clean was kind of out of reach, and a little bit unexpected," Browning says. "I just didn't do it enough to start believing in it. But I think [Patrick] does."
Ready to win
The 2009-2010 season saw Chan, probably unrealistically, heavily touted for an Olympic medal (he finished fifth), and then bounce back for a second at the worlds.
After a summer of work with coach Christy Krall at Colorado Springs, a new skater emerged, winning the Grand Prix final before nailing the Canadians.
He's going to the worlds to win.
"The goal is to go out and skate the way I do in practice — clean programs, good musicality, good performance, and of course the jumps should be there," Chan said last week.
"I really want to come home with a gold medal from the worlds. I feel like it's time. I think it can be done."
Browning, who has become good friends with Chan, puts it slightly more directly.
"This year is kind of wide open. I mean, I think everyone thinks Patrick has the best chance of winning," he says. "And I think Patrick thinks he has the best chance of winning.
"He's not going there to see what happens; he's going there to win it."
"They always say courage is one step ahead of fear."
Doug Leigh speaks in metaphors such as these, and lives to create champions, something he has been exceptionally good at over more than 30 years running his Mariposa School of Skating, having turned out three global gold medal winners in Brian Orser, Elvis Stojko and (with Lee Barkell) Jeffrey Buttle.
He is not a believer in shooting for that one year at the worlds where you may suddenly realize you have a chance to win. You show up ready to win regardless, even if you are making your maiden appearance.
"You are there to do the deal, and if the cards line up and your mental fitness is in place, and your emotional fitness is in place, and you've gone to the gene bank and you are lucky that you are healthy, then on that day, who knows?" says Leigh, down the phone from Barrie, Ont.
It's a matter of not cancelling yourself out of the equation, he believes.
For any top skater gaining experience on the world stage, the odds "become a little more in your favour" as experience is gained. And that means the percentages on whether you win or not, will change for the better.
"You see the result, or feel the result [gold] just a little bit closer, knowing you have started to acquire the knack of how to finish," Leigh says. "But, in the meantime, in the process, you didn't get there without doing the other steps in the ladder.
"You didn't just walk in and take over."
Chan both understands that and recognizes the change that has occurred over the season when it comes to being ready to win.
"Definitely, that's the biggest thing that happened this year," he says. "I think that's how the best become the best. The greatest athletes, like [Roger] Federer and [Tiger] Woods and [Wayne] Gretzky, they know if they step on the ice or the field they can win."
Field getting smaller
Pundits were all over the place as the field headed for Vancouver last year, with as many as eight men considered legitimate Olympic medal contenders.
Since then, winner Evan Lysacek has retired (he went on to win Dancing with the Stars ), silver medalist Evgeni Plushenko is gone, and fourth place Stephane Lambiel has hung up the skates.
That leaves the rest of the field, including silver medalist Daisuke Takahashi, his teammates Nobunari Oda and Takahiko Kazuka, France's Brian Joubert and Florent Amodio, Czech Tomas Verner and Chan.
But Browning thinks the pool of people who can win in Moscow is much smaller because of what has happened this season.
"[Patrick should be thinking] this is the natural evolution of what I'm doing right now, how hard I've worked, and what I've placed [in worlds] before, which was second," he says. "Now, it's time to place first."
And there's nothing in the number Chan has put up this season that would indicate otherwise.
"If he lays it down, I don't know what Nobunari Oda could do … what Daisuke can do. Daisuke, maybe if he hits the quad, has a shot, but no one else really can touch [Chan] if he does it again."
It will come down to whether Chan repeats the long skate he pulled off at Canadians.
"And I think he can, because he's sort of like Kristy Yamaguchi, not like Kurt Browning."