Kozuka upsets at 2008 Skate America; takes gold

Japan's Takahiko Kozuka, 19, won the Men's event after his performance to music from the Romeo and Juliet soundtrack by Nino Rota.

Japan’s Takahiko Kozuka pulled off the upset of the competition thus far in winning the gold medal over USA’s Johnny Weir and Evan Lysacek. Kozuka has established himself as a contender to make a splash at the Grand Prix Final.

“The main thing is that I skated well, and was able to keep my head in my skating,” said the Japanese silver medalist. “That makes me happier than winning, but don’t get me wrong, I am very happy to win.”

Kozuka opened his Romeo and Juliet program with an attempt on a quadruple toe loop, but underrotated the jump and then fell. Immediately afterwards, however, he landed a beauty of a triple Axel-triple toe loop combination.

“I am not happy with falling on the quad,” admitted Kozuka, “but the rest of the program was clean, so that is something to take away from this event.”

In all, Kozuka landed eight triple jumps and earned high levels on his spins on the way to the title. His competition score of 226.18 barely edged Weir, who in his first Skate America, won the silver medal.

Weir also opened with a quadruple toe loop attempt, and like Kozuka, underrotated the jump. The Worlds bronze medalist then easily completed a triple Axel-triple toe loop combination and a solo triple Axel in his routine to Notre Dame de Paris.

“I think my performance was good for the first time out this season,” Weir said. “Of course, so many things need work. So many things need refining and polishing.”

The U.S. silver medalist had the opportunity to win the title, but omitted a double toe loop off the end of both his triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination and a solo triple flip. Had Weir tacked the jump onto either of these jumping passes, he would have earned enough points to win the title.

“This is the second time that I have missed earning a title by omitting the double toe,” admitted the 24-year-old, who also left out the jump en route to winning the silver medal at last year’s U.S. Championships. “Two times is enough, and I hope that this doesn’t start to become habit.”

Weir earned a competition total of 225.20 points. His countryman and chief rival Lysacek had some problems of his own, and had to settle for the bronze medal in a controversial decision that had the audience perplexed.

“I have not seen the score sheets yet,” said Lysacek. “So I have to assume that the result was fair. I am just disappointed that the crowd was disappointed. We are trying to get more people to come watch skating, and something like this can cause people to turn their backs on the sport. I hope that the results are explained well on television so that people can gain some clarity.”

Lysacek fell on his opening quadruple toe loop attempt, but went on to land a nice triple Axel immediately after. In all, the U.S. Champion landed six clean triple jumps, and was downgraded on another in his program to Rhapsody in Blue.

“I’m quite happy with where I am so early in the season,” the 23-year-old later stated. “I now know what needs some work, and it will only get better from here.”

Lysacek earned a competition total of 223.21 points on his way to finishing just ahead of Canada’s Kevin Reynolds.

Reynolds skated a technically demanding program that opened with two different quadruple jumps – a Salchow and a toe loop, both of which were done with ease. He then underrotated a triple Axel attempt, but did land seven clean triple jumps, and was rewarded with much improved component scores due to his obvious improvement in all areas of his skating.

“To see the sixes for components is very exciting for me,” said the jumping bean. “I have worked so hard since Junior Worlds last year to improve those marks, and I am just so excited that it paid off.”

Reynolds scored a total of 204.89 points, some 18 points higher than his previous personal best.

In fifth place was Reynold’s teammate Shawn Sawyer, who skated a balletic program to Amadeus. Using his trademark flexibility and smooth edges, he moved up from 6th place after the short program with a program that included seven clean triple jumps. The Canadian bronze medalist’s competition total of 199.98 is a new personal best for him.

Finishing in sixth place was Russian Alexander Uspenski, while Sweden’s Adrian Schultheiss was seventh. Rounding out the standings was USA’s Adam Rippon, Slovakian Igor Macypura, and Canada’s Ian Martinez who placed eight, ninth, and tenth respectively.

The competition continues with the Free Dance and the Ladies Long Program.

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