Golden Skate

Buttle takes World title with points to spare

Canada's Jeffrey Buttle, 25, performs his long program to music from the Ararat soundtrack.

The 2008 ISU World Figure Skating Championships concluded with the Men’s Long Program.

Overnight leader Jeffrey Buttle, who was the last to skate, provided an excellent closure to an error-filled competition as he delivered a flawless performance, earning a new personal best of 163.07 (84.29/78.78) points. With a total score of 245.17 points, he won the his first World title by nearly 14 points.

Though the 2008 Canadian silver medalist didn’t attempt a quadruple jump, he still earned the highest technical score of the night thanks to excellent execution of all his jumps. His eight jumps included a triple Axel-double toeloop-double loop, a triple flip-triple toeloop, and a solo triple Axel.

Buttle also earned a level 4 on all his spins and a level 3 on both footwork sequences. The intricate choreography of his Ararat routine was the highlight of the entire Men’s event as he moved from one element to another through a series of complex connecting moves.

“It doesn’t feel real yet,” said the The 2006 Olympic bronze medalist. “I was just very happy with how I skated. That’s how I’ve been training at home. When I went on the ice, it felt just like home.”

When asked how he felt about the technical score in terms of not doing a quad, the 25-year-old replied: “It’s a testimony to the fact that I worked hard on everything. In skating everything is important, not just jumps. Sometimes I spend the whole session just working on spins. I feel this is what figure skating is about – not just jumps – as well as other things in between like stroking.”

France’s Brian Joubert, who skated right before Buttle and saw the skaters before him falling apart, skated a clean, but somewhat conservative program. He nailed his opening quadruple toeloop, and then landed seven triples. Two of those jumps were flips in which he received a deduction each for use of the wrong take-off edge.

In contrast to Buttle, however, the 2008 European bronze medalist earned lower levels on his spins and other non-jumping elements, and his technical score was only the fourth highest in the field. However, Joubert’s powerful and confident performance appealed to the judges, and he was awarded the highest presentation score. He earned a new season best of 153.47 (74.11/79.36) for his routine, and with a total of 231.22 points, moved up from sixth to second overall to win the silver.

“I was so happy because I did a clean program,” said Joubert. “When I saw the components it was great. When I finished, I didn’t think that I’d win the gold… I was just happy with the way I skated.”

Joubert, wasn’t worried about his sixth place finish in the short. “With the new judging system, the placement doesn’t matter, it’s just the score. I knew I was close to Jeffrey and I knew I could win. I saw how people skated before me and I had to think about what I should do. I wanted to skate a clean program and I didn’t go for other quads.”

The Frenchman, however, was angry when he saw Buttle’s scores.

“Jeffrey didn’t make any mistakes, but he didn’t go for a quad,” said Joubert. “I was disappointed [because] the new judging system is like that… it’s better to be simple and clean. You saw Stephane [go] for two quads, and Daisuke and I were just upset on behalf of the figure skating. We should get more points for the quad in the future.”

“I [didn’t] bet on Jeffrey to win when I arrived here,” added Joubert, “but I’d like to congratulate him. He did a great job.”

Belgium’s Kevin Van den Perren delivered an engaging new routine to music by Safri Duo which featured eight triple jumps, including two triple Axels and an impressive triple flip-triple toe loop-triple loop combination in the second half of the program. He also received a level four on three of his spins, but his circular step sequence and change of foot combination spin was only rated a level 1.

The 25-year-old, who was ninth after the short, placed third in the long with a new personal best of 145.78 (78.78/67.00) points, and moved up to sixth overall with a total score of 216.02 points.

“Finally I did what I wanted to do all the season,” said Van der Perren. “The quad didn’t work today, so I didn’t try it. If I fell on my hip, it would have been over… I’d have to withdraw.”

It took Van der Perren two hours to develop his new program. “I created it last week. I found out that I will need surgery so I thought that this might be my last chance to skate. I wanted to skate the program I want to the music I like. The levels were not that important. My hip is doing better than yesterday, but I missed the spin… that kills me.”

Sergei Voronov recovered from a poor showing after the short program to deliver a clean performance to a selection of Piazzolla tangos. The 2008 Russian champion opened his program with a strong quad toeloop, followed by an impressive triple Axel and six more triples. He also produced level 3 and 4 spins, however, his footwork was only rated a level 2, and he picked up 144.67 (77.17/67.50) points for a fourth place finish in the long. In doing so, the 20-year-old catapulted from 15th to seventh overall (209.93 points), and secured two spots for Russia for the 2009 World Championships.

“I’m not so euphoric because I got 144 points and I didn’t beat my personal best (of 145.87),” said Voronov. “If I had done that, I would have been euphoric. It was hard to skate today physically, and I feel I could have skated better for the components. But overall I’m pleased. I wanted to do a clean program at the end of the season and I did it.”

USA’s Johnny Weir, who was second after the short, delivered an intense performance to Love is War by Yoav Goren. His only major mistake was the opening quadruple toeloop attempt which was two-footed and underrotated. His other jumps, including two triple Axels, were strong, but he received a penalty for using the wrong take-off edge on a triple flip.

However, the U.S. silver medalist didn’t perform a third allowed jump combination, and his circular step sequence only received a level 2 which cost him a lot in terms of basic value of the program. He finished fifth in the long with 141.05 (67.21/73.84) points, but his combined score of 221.84 was enough to win the bronze – his first World Championships medal.

“I was a little tired towards the end and I had a lot of nervous energy,” admitted the 23-year-old. “When I was going into my starting positions, my legs were still shaking. Two years ago, I definitely would have fallen apart. I tried to be as spectacular as possible.”

“It’s a natural progression,” replied Weir, when asked about attempting the quad. “It is a strong competition and you have to put your cards on the table.”

Weir felt relieved that this difficult season has come to an end, but is happy with his training regime and coaches Galina Zmievskaya and Viktor Petrenko.

“It’s a pleasure to work with them,” said Weir. “They are my second family as I’m not living close to my real family at home, but I know that everything I need, they will provide. Of course it’s difficult at times. It’s stressful and hard work, but I couldn’t have asked for better coaches. They were really like angels to me and helped me to rebound my career.”

Based on his strong performances this season, Japan’s Daisuke Takahashi was the favorite to win the title. Unfortunately he skated his worst long program of the year, finishing sixth in the long with 139.71 (64.15/76.56) points – a far cry from his 175.84 World record set less than a month ago in South Korea.

Takahashi nailed his opening quadruple toeloop, but then underrotated and fell on the next. While he recovered to land a triple Axel, he fell out of the second attempt of the same jump. Later in the program he tried to salvage some points by tacking on a double toeloop at the end of his last triple Lutz. As a result, he ended up loosing points for the Lutz altogether as he had already occupied all three allowable slots for jump combinations. With a total score of 220.11 points, he missed the podium by 1.7 points for fourth place.

“It was not good,” noted the 2008 Japanese champion. “I missed two jumps and my skate was not that good. I don’t know what happened. I think I was too nervous.”

Switzerland’s Stephane Lambiel, who was fifth after the short program, remained in the same place in overall standings (217.88 points) despite finishing seventh (138.76 points) in the long program. The former World champion had a disappointing skate in which five of his jumping passed were somehow flawed. He fell out of his opening triple Axel, put a hand down on a quad toeloop, two-footed a triple loop, underrotated and stepped out of his second quad attempt, and put his hand down on a triple flip.

“I have no explanation,” said the 22-year-old. “I did not feel any pressure from anyone but myself. All the pressure come from me.”

Takahiko Kozuka of Japan fell on a triple Salchow and triple Lutz, but otherwise landed two solid triple Axels (one in combination with a triple toeloop), and earned levels 3 and 4 on his spins and footwork. He placed eighth in the long (134.24 points) and overall (205.15 points) in his first World Championships.

“It is not easy,” said the 2006 World Junior champion. “I learned a lot from this experience.”

Canada’s Patrick Chan, who was seventh coming into the long, slipped to 10th place overall after finishing 12th in the long program.

“It is pretty much the same thing with every competition,” said the 17-year-old, when asked about his Worlds experience. “Trust your training. If you work hard, than you should be ok. Just enjoy it. That is why we do the sport, because we enjoy it.”

Skating in the second warm-up group, Sweden’s Adrian Schultheiss rose to the occasion and delivered a nearly clean program, despite enormous pressure from the home crowd. The audience’s reaction for his every move was so loud that one could barely hear the music in some sections of his program. The Worlds debutant was tense and focused throughout in contrast to a much more relaxed and entertaining performance at the European Championships. Despite the pressure, he landed eight triple jumps, including two triple Axels, and set a new personal best of 127.93 (70.08.57.86) points for 13th place in the long and overall (194.39 points).

“I did not really feel anything,” Schultheiss responded, when asked how it felt when he heard the crowd screaming his name. “It was nothing like yesterday when I felt really nervous. The difference from yesterday is that I had skated on the ice and tested the arena, so I felt more confident today. I did not feel any pressure.”

Teammate Kristoffer Berntsson was more relaxed and entertaining, but he had to fight for the landings of his jumps and missed two of them to finish 15th in the long program and 14th overall.

“It was tough,” said the 2008 Swedish champion. “I am a bit speechless right now. I am thrilled… really, really thrilled.”

The pressure of being in contest for a medal proved to be too much for Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic, who was fourth coming into the long program. The 2008 European champion placed 20th in the long and fell to 15th overall.

“I do not know what happened today,” said Verner. “I do not know if it was the draw, but something definitely affected me. It was a total change from yesterday. I wanted to show a good program today but… I cannot find the words, at least not any good words.”

USA’s Stephen Carriere finished 10th overall, followed by teammate Jeremy Abbott.

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