Buttle leads men in Sweden

Canada's Jeffrey Buttle, 25, is currently in first place after his performance to Adios Nonino in the Short Program.

For the first time since the 1977 World Championships in Tokyo, the men’s event was held last. The decision was most likely spurred by the fact that it’s the strongest skating discipline for Sweden. This proved to be true as no other discipline can boast so many strong Swedish competitors who could finish in the top three.

In the Short Program, Canada’s Jeffrey Buttle prevailed over his rivals and currently leads the field with 82.10
(44.07/38.03) points. Though Buttle was the only skater in top ten not to receive a single negative grade of execution, his lead is more of a formality since less than five points separate first and sixth place.

The 2008 Four Continents silver medalist, who went back to last year’s short program to Adios Nonino after his newer program to Il Pagliacci didn’t ‘compete well’, opened with a strong triple flip-triple toeloop combination and proceeded to execute his other elements flawlessly. He also landed a triple Axel and a triple Lutz out of steps, received a level 3 for both his step sequences and change of foot sit spin, and earned a level 4 on two other spins.

Surprisingly enough, Buttle, known for his intricate choreography and strong interpretation skills, won this event on the strength on his technical elements score even though his program was one of the most sophisticated among all competitors.

“I felt very comfortable today on the ice,” said the 25-year-old at the post-event press conference. “I had been practicing hard and training well, so I went out there today knowing that all the hard training was over. I was just going to enjoy myself and have a good skate.”

When asked about closing the competition he said: “Well, I guess there were two options: to come here a little bit later and not have the opportunity to skate on the main ice, or to come a bit earlier and have that opportunity. So I guess I know now how the ladies feel… But you know, it has been great, it has given me enough time to adjust to the time, to the surroundings, and it has been nice.”

The 2008 Canadian silver medalist is looking forward to repeating a comfortable performance tomorrow.

“I can rely on my training,” noted Buttle, “knowing that I have been skating really well in practices at home. So tomorrow I just want to focus on the same feeling that I felt today; feeling comfortable and confident. That will be my main focus.”

USA’s Johnny Weir is currently second after a solid performance in which he earned a new personal best of 80.79 (42.64/38.15) points. The 2007-08 Grand Prix finalist landed a strong triple Lutz-triple toeloop and triple Axel, earning an additional +1.29 points each for grades of execution. However, he was then penalized with a -1.00 deduction for using the the wrong takeoff edge on a triple flip. The American also received a level four on his flying sit spin and change of foot sit spin, while his other elements were graded level 3.

“I felt fantastic on the ice today,” said the 2008 U.S. silver medalist. “The audience helped me through this performance and I felt like it was a regular run-through. I did everything I am trained to do.”

Weir stated that he was happy to be competing in Sweden. “I’m comfortable here. I am not rushed. The short program came at the perfect time, just when I was getting at the point when I’m a little bit too comfortable. With the long program tomorrow, I’m excited to get that over with. Of course it’s difficult to be the last event and see all your friends and countrymen in your team finish before you and you have to still go to bed on time, but it’s worth it. It’s great to show that the men’s competition is probably the most exciting event of this week. I’m glad we get to be the finale. ”

On his preparation for Worlds in Russia, Weir commented: “Coming to Europe is always difficult for the Americans and Canadians because you loose half a day instead of a full day. We came to Russia two weeks ago and then flew here from Moscow. It’s been so helpful and so easy to adjust to being in Europe and being at a competition in Europe, feeling my legs, feeling that I’m able to sleep at the right times and wake up at right times. Going to Moscow was definitely beneficial for me.”

Not only has Weir had a lifestyle change, but a new training regiment as well. “Galina Zmievskaya and Viktor Petrenko have helped me so much to be very serious about my training and be very serious about what I do off the ice too. I have a more mature look on how hard this sport is and how hard you have to train to be at the top levels of this sport. I always knew that of course, but I didn’t really want to realize it and have to work as hard as necessary. It’s a step in the right direction. Life spent in sport is so short, so I need to maximize everything I can.”

Japan’s Daisuke Takahashi, who was considered to be a favorite to win the title, finished third with 80.40 (41.15/39.25) points after he fell out of his triple Axel landing. The 2008 Four Continents Champion otherwise landed a solid triple flip-triple toeloop combination and triple Lutz. He also achieved levels 3 and 4 on his non-jumping elements, but his excellent interpretation to a ‘Hip-Hop’ version of Swan Lake was what really set him apart from the rest. The music was especially arranged for him and he danced through every single bit of it. His step sequences were especially remarkable and the judges were impressed with his rather extravagant style and awarded him the highest presentation score of the night.

Overall, the 22-year-old was happy with his performance. “I was a little nervous but I enjoyed it a lot and the audience helped a lot. I missed the triple Axel so that wasn’t very good. I’ve been in Sweden for quite a long time to prepare for this competition and at first I found it hard, but today I was ready.”

Surprisingly, the 2008 Japanese champion initially didn’t like the idea of the program. “From the beginning it was Nikolai’s (Morozov) idea to do the hip-hop and I didn’t like it at all. He practically forced me to do it, so I did. I went to New York Broadway for a dance program for three months, and from there I added the movements to my program.”

Takahashi is considering using the program as an exhibition in the future as it has became a sort of signature piece for him.

Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic finished fourth with a new personal best of 79.87 (41.44/38.43) points. The 2008 European Champion landed all his jumps well, but received a -1.00 deduction for using the wrong take off edge on his triple flip. Verner also produced a level 4 flying sit spin and entertained the audience with spectacular steps sequences.

“It was a bit more difficult than what I expected,” admitted the 21-year-old. “I have a responsibility for European figure skating. It was a good program and I am happy that I stayed clean. The technical score was a bit low though. I need to figure about what levels I got. I am a bit sad that it was the last time I’ve skated this program.”

Switzerland’s Stephane Lambiel is currently fifth with 79.12 (40.57/38.55) points. The 2008 Grand Prix Final champion stepped out of his opening triple Axel, but received credit for a fully rotated attempt. He went on to perform a quadruple toe loop-triple toe loop combination, but the landing of the quad was flawed and the triple was underrotated. The 22-year-old landed a clean triple Lutz and received a level 4 for all of his impressive spins, but the overall impression of his skating was subdued compared to his sharp and passionate performances of the same program in other competitions.

“I don’t know what happened,” said the 2008 European silver medalist, regarding his mistake on the Axel. “Actually we didn’t skate a lot in the main arena and I’m not used to the ice. At home it is completely different, but it was a good try since I didn’t have the possibility to do a triple on the warm-up because I had a problem with take off.”

When asked about skating right after Verner’s strong performance, the 2008 Swiss champion replied: “I didn’t feel pressure. More like the right motivation to do my best and I’m quite satisfied with what I did today and I hope I will do well tomorrow.”

Brian Joubert of France is in a disappointing sixth with 77.75 (41.14/38.61) points after receiving an additional deduction for using a vocal music on the top falling on a triple Lutz. The French Federation filed a protest against this decision, but at press time, the outcome remained unknown. The 2008 European bronze medalist, who looked well-rested and refreshed compared to his performances at the European Championships, otherwise landed a strong quadruple toe loop-triple toe loop combination and triple Axel, but received a level 2 on two of this spins and a level 3 on all other non-jumping elements.

“It was the first time I tried this ice,” explained the 23-year-old, “and I think it is a lot better than the practice rink. Of course I’m disappointed that I fell on my Lutz. I did some mistakes in the steps before. The timing was off and I didn’t have my balance. I am disappointed on the Lutz, but the audience was great and I had a lot of fun.”

However, the French champion didn’t understand the deduction on the music. “I had the same music the whole season and I never got a deduction.”

Patrick Chan made a good debut at the World Championships, landing a triple Axel and a solid triple flip-triple toe loop combination. The 2008 Canadian champion also received a level 3 on all his non-jumping elements. Despite skating right after the leaders, he didn’t appear intimidated and delivered his routine with excellent flow and attention to detail. He is currently seventh with a new personal best of 72.81 (38.66/34.15) points.

“As I got closer to the Lutz, I think I wasn’t under myself as much as I should be,” explained Chan. “Next time I won’t miss it.”

When asked how he felt so far about his first appearance at this event, the 17-year-old replied: “It’s really good. It’s like a mini Olympics I think, because there’s a lot of skaters, a lot of people here watching. This is the most people that have ever come to watch me. It’s a very good experience.”

Japan’s Takahiko Kozuka, another debutant, sits in eighth place with a new personal best of 70.91 points. The 19-year-old landed a triple Axel, but popped his second jump on what was intended to be a triple Lutz-triple toeloop combination, and received a -1.00 point deduction for use of the wrong take-off edge on a triple flip.

“I felt great,” said the 2006 World Junior champion. “I always try to do my best. When I landed the Lutz, I had a little overweight forward, so I decided to do only a triple-double to be on the safe side.”

Kevin Van der Perren of Belgium is currently in ninth place with 70.91 points. The 2008 European bronze medalist landed a triple-flip-triple toeloop, a triple Axel, and a triple Lutz, however the landings appeared tight. Nevertheless, he earned a level 4 on all his spins.

“I’m satisfied,” said Van der Perren, “because I’m in the top ten and that’s where I wanted to be.”

The two-time Olympian said he felt more confident with a triple flip than with a quad. “If you do a quad, it has to be a quad toeloop- triple toe loop. Otherwise, you’re better off with the triple flip-triple toe. It’s the same points as quad-double.”

Sweden’s Kristoffer Berntsson rounds out the top ten with a new personal best of 69.02 points. The 25-year-old from Göteborg delivered an excellent and upbeat program which featured a triple Lutz-triple toeloop, but he turned out the landing of his triple Axel and had a tight landing on a triple flip.

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