Golden Skate

Verner leads men in Zagreb

Tomas Verner (21) of the Czech Republic performs to music by Django Reinhardt for his Short Program.

In the men’s error-ridden competition, Tomas Verner from the Czech Republic was one of the few to avoid major blunders, and is currently first with a new personal best of 79.03 (41.46/37.57) points.

Like last year, Verner was the last skate.

“The situation was worse than last year,” Verner said, regarding the pressure. “I knew two weeks before that I would skate either after Brian (Joubert) or Stephane (Lambiel), and that I would skate last.”

Though Verner didn’t see Lambiel’s score, he saw the skater’s face.

“I knew that he wasn’t perfect,” said Verner. “Then you know there is chance, but as soon as you think about it, everything is over.”

Performing to Melodie en Crepuscule and Gypsy Swing by Django Reinhardt, Verner opened his engaging program with an impressive triple flip-triple toeloop combination, but the landing of his triple Axel was tight.

The 21-year-old partially blamed the ice conditions for the less than flawless landing.

“We have to skate on clean edges,” Verner later explained, “and if you do it fast, there is a 90% chance that you slip and that would be a very costly mistake. Therefore, I skated slowly. It (triple Axel) felt very good in the air, and I wanted to land it securely without any extravagances!”

Though Verner later stumbled on a twizzle during his circular footwork, the defending silver medalist nonetheless earned both the highest technical and component scores of the evening. The 2007 NHK Trophy silver medalist received a level 3 for circular footwork and flying change of foot combination spin, and a level 4 for his straightline footwork and change of foot sit spin.

France’s Brian Joubert is currently second with 75.25 (39.43/36.82) points, despite making a mistake in his quad-triple combination jump (he put a three turn in between jumps) and falling on a triple Axel.

The current World Champion later admitted to being very nervous.

“That’s why I was very tired,” Joubert later explained. “I couldn’t breathe. I think the reason why I was nervous was that my last international competition (Skate Canada) was so long ago and I was sick.”

Despite the errors on the jumps, Joubert otherwise gained a level 3 on most of his non-jumping elements (except for a level 1straightline footwork sequence). The Frenchman was obviously winded towards the end of his performance to All For You.

The defending champion attributed his mistakes to the loss of training time due to a viral infection earlier this fall. The infection also forced him to withdraw from Trophee Eric Bompard and consequently, miss the Grand Prix Final.

“I am very disappointed,” said the 23-year-old, of his performance. “I was not really ready for this competition. It was hard.”

Stephane Lambiel of Switzerland is third with 71.78 (35.79/36.99) points after stumbling out of his opening triple Axel and turning his planned quad-triple combination into a triple-double. The 2007-08 Grand Prix Final champion nonetheless performed his program to Carne Cruda with lots of expression, while gaining a level 4 on all his spins and a level 3 on both step sequences. His program also stood out among the rest due to the intricate choreography which linked the required elements together.

“The triple Axel was a good attempt,” said the 22-year-old, “but I couldn’t catch it. Then I just hesitated on the quadruple toe loop, and only did a triple. It was hard to get into the program after that.”

Notwithstanding, Lambiel remains rather optimistic about his chances of winning the competition.

“I just want to do a clean long program tomorrow,” said the two-time and former European champion. “The most important thing is to do all the elements and the results will come. I will do my best to win the title.”

Belgium’s Kevin Van der Perren is currently 4th with 66.33 (34.97/31.36) points – just a notch below the top three competitors. The defending bronze medalist turned his planned quad-triple combination into quad-double and later doubled a planned triple Lutz out of footwork. His program to Xotica by Rene Dupere seemed empty compared to that of his rivals, but the Grand Prix finalist managed to gain a level 4 on all his spins. He also received a level 2 and 3 on his footwork, which fit the strong beat of the music well.

“It was the first Lutz I’ve missed this week,” said the 25-year-old. “But I’m still very happy with the way it went. As the competition approached, I became more and more nervous. The warm-up was really, really bad. If I want to medal, I can’t do any mistakes again.”

Van der Perren also claimed he is no longer bothered by his hip injury.

Kristopher Berntsson of Sweden finished fifth despite his low ISU World Standings, which placed him in the fourth of six groups. The 2007 Nordics champion gave a fairly solid performance which featured a triple Lutz-triple toe combination (tight landings on both jumps), a triple Axel, and very good level 4 spins and level 3 footwork. However, he put his hand down on the landing of a triple flip and the judges did not appear to enjoy his entertaining performance as much as the audience. He received a score of 65.62 (38.37/27.25) points, with the third highest technical score of the night.

Russia’s Sergei Voronov appeared to be nervous and reserved throughout his program to Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto, which put him in sixth place with 64.26 (31.12/33.14) points. The student of Alexei Urmanov competed at Worlds last year, but this event marks his debut at the continental championship. The Russian champion opened his program with a quad-double combination, but later had to fight for the landing of a triple Axel (later called as underrotated), while noticeably turning out of the jump in the process. He also had trouble maintaining balance on the landing of his triple loop, and had a minor stumble during the straightline step sequence (level 1).

“I did the quad before at Russian Nationals and I landed it there,” said Voronov. “I’ll try to do the triple flip tomorrow in the long program.”

The 20-year-old was not happy with the call on his triple Axel.

“It’s a nice feeling to be here at the Europeans,” said Voronov, “but it’s not nice if they count a clean triple as a double. That’s a minus. I am happy that I fully rotated all my jumps. My knee is really hurting and I didn’t know if I can compete here. I coped with my first program and I did all I can do.”

The highest ranked skater not to receive any negative Grades of Execution (GOE) on any elements, was Gregor Urbas from Slovenia. The 2007 Golden Spin champion, who is currently 7th with 63.43 (36.18/27.25) points, produced a triple Lutz-triple toeloop combination, a triple Axel, and a triple loop out of steps. His non-jumping elements, however, were relatively weak as his step sequences received only levels 1 and 2, and one of his spins was graded a level 2.

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