It would make a more interesting thread if some of those lists were explained.
Joe, you're right. I'm not sure I'm the best explainer, but I'll go back to my list and do my best, in hopes that it inspires more knowledgeable listers to explain their choices. As a general rule, one thing that puts people on my list is that I go back and re-watch one or more of their programs again and again, and they take me into their world each time.
I'll go backwards, starting with ice dance:
Klimova/Ponomarenko are probably the best examples of the lyrical, emotional approach that reaches me most deeply. They had such a powerful connection with each other, and they were just about the best exemplars of the Russian poetic soul. I can't imagine them doing some of the fiercer, more modernistic stuff that, say, Dom/Shabs would try, or Gritschuk/Platov.
Annissina/Piezerat are both lyrical and intense; I think their "Romeo and Juliet" is the pinnacle of their style. I didn't enjoy them at first, but they grew on me as I noticed their complexity and willingness to put it all out there. They made everyone else of their era look routine, and yet they remained smooth and musical.
The Duchesnays were both beautiful and innovative, and they were also able to portray characters and convey a narrative. For me, what put them on my list was "Missing."
Torvill and Dean belong on everyone's list. They are the root and first branch of today's ice dancing. The two of them together, and Dean as choreographer for other skaters, are responsible for some of the great moments in skating. There are so many pinnacles to their career, from their free dance in the Sarajevo Olympics to "Take Five" to "Missing," which Dean choreographed for the Duchesnays but which he and Torvill also perform beautifully.
The two modern pinnacles of ice dancing, Davis/White and Virtue/Moir, are both exquisite in different ways. I won't soon forget Tessa and Scott's Olympic program. I never thought I'd be able to watch the Mahler skated by anyone else besides Gordeyeva, but it worked in this new form as well, thanks to Virtue/Moir.
Roca/Sur have a smoothness and maturity that always draws me in.
Denkova/Staviski are both supple and emotionally true. Partly because of their physical similarity--similar size, both blond--they give the appealing impression of being two sides of the same coin, complete soulmates. Their top program for me is that Original Dance from 2003 that uses a march by the French Baroque composer Lully. I can't tell you how many times I go to watch it on YouTube.
Gordeyeva and Grinkov are as close to magic as you can get. Someone said that their hearts seemed to beat at the same rhythm. They're both exquisite and spontaneous. I can't explain their glorious essence, but fortunately, I don't have to, because just about everyone who sees them responds to it.
Shen and Zhao are another couple who grew on me (and I suspect on everyone). They were a workmanlike couple with great tricks at first. Then by some alchemy they attained an emotional height that gave them true greatness. They weren't as physically gorgeous as a lot of other skaters, until he looked at her. Then she glowed, and her radiance made him glow as well. Here's a test I give skaters: do they make me feel lucky to be there watching them? Well, you can bet Shen and Zhao did that.
The Moskvina pairs: Berezhnaya & Sikharulidze and Dmitriev and his two partners were the ideal vessels for Tamara's blend of poetic movement and sheer nailbiting adventurousness. Thank goodness both pairs won the OGM, because it would have been an injustice if they hadn't.
The Canadian pairs: Underhill/Martini and Sale/Pelletier both have that crisp, slightly jazzy quality that I associate with Canadian skaters, plus an emotional magnetism and an ability to convey an emotional narrative that comes only with artistic maturity. Underhill/Martini came into their own in their professional years. You could feel the electrical charge flowing between them when they skated. Sale/Pelletier would be on this list if all they'd done had been "Love Story," but fortunately they did a lot more.
Kurt Browning is skating. He shows you what skating is capable of, except that no one else in skating is capable of doing half the stuff he does. He can be impassioned (though he rarely goes in that direction; "Nyah" is probably the best example), he can be jazzy, he can be funny or just dizzyingly fast. He's Gene Kelly on blades; he's a surprise a minute. If he didn't do a single jump, he'd still be able to deliver a riveting program.
Paul Wylie is here for the emotional quality of his skating, for his gorgeous extensions, and for his quick footwork.
Alexei Yagudin is the ideal union of artistry and dazzling technique. He reminds me of Baryshnikov in that he projects an unfussy, un-theatrical humanity.
Ilya Kulik's jumps were textbook gorgeous when he was an amateur, but as a pro he developed an artistic maturity that made him even more compelling--and he kept his impeccable jumps. By all accounts he's been an eager student, for example of Browning in terms of footwork. My favorite program of his is that torrid duet with Gordeyeva from SOI, "Casi un bolero." If a skater can make the ice do that, he goes on my list.
Curry, Cousins, Cranston: the ones who made me realize what men's skating could be. You can watch Curry's 1976 Olympic long program today and still be mesmerized, even though jumps have progressed since his day. It's a masterful, magnificent skating event. Cranston is also technically incredible, and innovative in position. He and Curry are the Dionysus and Apollo of modern skating. Cousins has the sleek perfection of a matinee idol.
Takahashi--a modern master, technical and emotionally committed to the music. I hope he wins everything in sight.
Stephane Lambiel--such grace and charm, who will doubtless even better as a pro skater than he was as an elegible skater. I hope he has a long career, and that it all gets televised and posted on YouTube!
And the ladies:
Michelle Kwan: pure magic: beautiful technique and unparalleled artistry plus a mental toughness that doesn't usually go with such exquisite artistry.
Mao Asada: exquisite lightness on the ice, fluid musicality, a theatrical ability that brings music to life.
YuNa Kim: Artistry plus the most aerated jumps around. Athleticism never looked so good!
Yuka Sato: An emotional warmth plus technical purity that does her parents (her coaches) proud. She had the best footwork of any lady of her era, as well as gorgeous carriage and arm positions. Yet it all seemed spontaneous and fluid. And she learned pairs as an adult! Plus she seems on her way to becoming one of the great skating coaches.
Katia Gordeyeva: The way she moves across the ice makes me wonder if she's learned the secret to defying gravity. As a soloist, she projects a unique artistry and musicality, combined with a naturalistic quality of movement. She pulls me into the music every time.
Lucinda Ruh: The spins need no explanation. Indeed, they can't be explained. She's also a beautifully dancelike skater.
Sasha: Placement and flexibility, which she had in adult measure even when she was fourteen. She never looked coltish or juniorish.
Janet and Peggy: The early masters of artistic skating. Between them, they changed what skating could be.
Shizuka Arakawa: Good at everything! What a repertoire of jumps: several different combinations of triple-triples. Meticulous technique, a legendary layback and Ina Bauer, elegance, even majesty on the ice. And she'll be even more dynamic as a pro skater. Long may she flourish!
Honorable mention: Alissa Czisny. Such a treat to watch! One of the new Chrysler commercials ("imported from Detroit") focuses on Czisny and shows a camera angle of her spin. The grooves of her circle are all concentrated in one small ring, as if someone carved them with a pen and a round stencil.