Chan leads men in Nice

Patrick Chan

Canada's Patrick Chan performs to "Take Five" at the 2012 World Figure Skating Championships.

Patrick Chan took the first step in defending his World title by winning the Men’s Short Program event on Friday afternoon. He is followed by Michal Brezina from the Czech Republic and Japan’s Daisuke Takahashi.

Chan had a shaky landing on his opening quad toe loop and decided to forgo the second jump. The student of Christy Krall later landed an effortless triple Lutz – triple toe loop combination, thus ensuring that he would not lose any points because of his choice.

“The initial plan is always to put the triple toe on the end of the quad toe if it’s good,”said the 21-year-old. “This is what I do, even in practices at home, but sometimes things do not work. Sometimes the jump is not perfect or I am too close to the boards, so I have to resort to a triple Lutz-triple toe. If it happens as quickly as it did today, I don’t even have to think about it, it’s automatic.”

One of the highlights of his jazzy routine to Take Five was his straight line step sequence, which proved to be a perfect expression of light and carefree character of the music. This time, however, Chan had to take care as he lost his balance during the opening steps and had to fight gravity to avoid a fall. Though he succeeded and finished on a high note, the mistake cost him a few points as the element received a level three and lower than usual Grade of Execution (GOE).

“I slipped off the edge on the first edge going forwards,” explained the skater, “and then I tried to get my balance back by turning backwards and I ended up being more off balance. So I had to put my foot down. It was supposed to be my one-foot sequence, but I decided to put a foot down, just to play it safe.”

“I was worried about the level,” he continued. “I am not that technical. I feared that I lost the entire footwork and I was a bit upset, but when I learned that it was only downgraded to level three, I felt a lot better. And the crowd really got into it, despite my stumble, so it was a bit funny.”

Overall, the 2012 Four Continents Champion was pleased with his final performance.

“I was a bit more nervous this time out of all the competitions this season because a lot of people were talking about me defending my title,” admitted Chan. “It hasn’t been done in a long time and it’s not easy to not think about it. I was especially nervous about the short program because it is the deciding program, while in the free program, you can rely on just doing what you do in practice. In the short there’s no room for mistakes. Overall, I am very happy with the outcome.”

The skater believes that competing at the Grand Prix events in the fall is an excellent stepping stone for a good performance at the World Championships—a part of a learning curve.

“For me, the Grand Prix season has a lot less pressure and I can make mistakes and it’s fine,” said the reigning Grand Prix Final Champion. “As for Worlds, it’s very different. As a champion athlete, not simply a World Champion, but a champion athlete, you have to be able to make the best out of every situation. Certain things weren’t great today, but the spins were still strong, and the entire package that I gave to the judges was still positive. Everything counts, and as long as you keep your head together, you can get all the points that can be squeezed out.”

Chan squeezed out a total of 89.41 points for a new season best, and earned the highest program components score of the afternoon (43.17) and the second highest technical score (46.24). He currently leads the field by 1.74 points.

Brezina, who had promised to put a quad Salchow into his short program back in the fall, finally did it in Nice and in a pretty impressive manner. Unlike nearly all other skaters who do quads as the first element of their routine, the 22-year-old saved it for his last jumping pass. The unusual layout did not prevent him from landing it clean, and its quality was just as high as that of his other jumps.

“Actually, the program was built for two quads,” revealed the Czech. “The first jumping pass was supposed to be a combination, but I did a triple-triple combination. I know that most of the skaters put a quad first, because it is the hardest element in the program for all of us. For some reason, I feel better doing the other elements first before going for the quad, knowing that I can relax and focus on it.”

It was the first clean short program that Brezina, who turned 22 today, delivered with a quad.

“I am very happy that it had happened at Worlds,” said Brezina. “Besides, I think that I will change the short program next season, so it is a great way to skate it for the last time.”

“Now I have this shiny little medal,” he added, referring to a small silver medal he received for finishing second in the short program. “It is the best possible birthday present for me, and I hope to keep the level up for the free skating tomorrow.”

The skater, who finished fourth at the last two World Championships, posted the highest technical score of the event (48.70) and finished a close second (87.67).

“I really tried to show good skating today,” Brezina summed up. “It’s not only my season’s best, but my personal best too. I am only two points behind Patrick Chan, so I am really proud of myself.”

Unlike the Czech, Takahashi entered the season with no plans to go for a quad in his short program. Over the course of the Grand Prix season, he realized that he may have erred.

“I felt a bit uncertain about my quads,” Takahashi said, “so I did not plan to put one in the short program. I thought that maybe I would put one in the long, but during the Grand Prix events, I felt that I really need this jump, so I started to train more.”

The 2010 Olympic bronze medalist, who nailed a quad toe loop – triple toe loop combination at the National Championships, stumbled out of the underrotated triple toe loop at the end in Nice, and the second jump was downgraded by the technical panel.

“I felt good about my quad toe and then calculated if I should add the triple toe after it,” explained the 26-year-old. “It could be better in order to get a higher score. That is what caused my mistake on the triple toe. I should not have been thinking like that. I am not happy about it, but my overall performance was quite good. I am satisfied that I was able to include a quad toe in my short program.”

Despite the mistake, Takahashi is currently sitting in a close third (85.72) after picking up the second highest program components score. His interpretation of In the Garden of Souls, with it’s never-ending stream of transitions, was flawless. The skater claims that he does not find his complex choreography especially challenging.

“David Wilson, my choreographer, is really good with working on the upper body as well as using pauses in the program,” he said, “but I do not feel challenged by all upper body work. It feels very natural for me to move like that to this music.”

The performance itself was not easy, however.

“I didn’t feel pressure before the competition, but right before the six minute warm-up today, all of a sudden my legs started shaking and I felt very nervous,” the Japanese Champion admitted. “However, the audience got into my music and pushed me through.”

Skating in the second warm up group, France’s Brian Joubert put a lot of pressure on his rivals as he brought the house down with his energetic performance to Justice by Genesis and Aerodynamic by Daft Punk.

The eight-time French Champion, who has been struggling with jumps this season, brought his best game to Nice. He nailed a quad-triple, a triple Axel, and a triple Lutz out of steps, and improved his season’s by 15 points with a fourth place finish (83.47).

“I am very pleased with this performance today,” said the 27-year-old. “I am happy that I finally could put it all together after two seasons where it just wouldn’t happen. I was very focused, but I felt good and my knee is ok. I had to find the middle between being joyful and concentrated.”

“It is of course the highlight of my career to skate a World Championship here in France,” Joubert added. “My scores are rather not too important to me now at the moment. This short program was a good first step and I am relieved, but the competition is not over yet.”

Spain’s Javier Fernandez, who is enjoying by far the best season of his career, kept the momentum going in Nice. He had minor problems with the landing of his triple Axel, but otherwise his program to I love Paris and Petit Fleur was one of the highlights of the afternoon. Smooth and easy-going, it matched the music perfectly and kept the audience’s attention all the way through. He scored 81.87 to finish fifth. He was the last participant to receive more than 80 points.

“I feel good,” said the 2011 Grand Prix Final bronze medalist. “I did a good program with just little mistakes, but was not happy with the score. I have no pressure here and will do the best I can tomorrow. A clean program is my goal.”

The Spanish team has a group of loud and colorful supporters in Nice, dressed in bright colors of the Spanish national flag.

“I really like it when people come to see me and the Spanish team,” admitted the student of Brian Orser. “It makes me feel important and I really appreciate it.”

Florent Amodio of France rounds up the final flight for the free skate. The 2011 European Champion fell on the opening quad Salchow, but was otherwise clean and confident, and scored 79.96 points to finish sixth.

“I am quite satisfied with this program,” said the 21-year-old. “It doesn’t matter to me if I skate in France or somewhere else. I didn’t want to think too much about that. The job has to be done.”

“It’s a pity that I fell on the quad,” lamented the student of Nikolai Morozov. “In practice I do it at a 100 percent. Of course I had to do the quad. It’s in my jumping panel now. I landed it in competition before. It will be done in tomorrow’s free skate.”

He is not upset about the placement, either.

“I like better to come from behind and fight,” Amodio explained. “I’m sure there’ll be a nice battle tomorrow. I’m in a good shape, anyway, and I’ll stay positive. Whatever happens tomorrow, I am so glad to be able to be here in Nice performing in front of my home crowd.”

Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu looked like he might upset more experienced skaters as he landed a quad – double combination and a solid triple Axel in his performance to Etude in D Sharp Minor Patetico, but the 17-year-old debutant then popped his Lutz into a single. The mistake seemed to surprise the skater as he landed the jump with a perplexed expression. Nevertheless, all other aspects of his performance were right on par with those of the best skaters in the world. He is currently seventh with 77.07 points.

“Although this is my first World Championships, I stayed calm and I was trying hard to put everything in it,” said the student of Nanami Abe. “I am really disappointed about the Lutz. Maybe my concentration was off. This is a very good learning experience and I think this is like my baptism for Worlds. Hopefully the Lutz will be the key element for me, so I want to stay concentrated and try to show my best tomorrow.”

Denis Ten from Kazakhstan skated a clean, but conservative program to finish eighth with 76.00 points.

“The performance was not perfect,” said the skater who trains in the USA with Frank Caroll “I am glad that I could do everything I planned despite the tiredness. This season was a very long one for me. I started competing already in August, and this is my tenth competition so far. It is very difficult to make yourself work after the Junior Worlds.”

The skater stayed in Europe after competing in Minsk.

“We wanted to meet with Frank Carroll in Europe before the competition,” Ten explained, “but he could not come, so I went to Switzerland alone. I trained there for a week by myself, although there was Stephane Lambiel, who helped me with some advice, so I am grateful to him and to Peter Gruetter.”

Today was not a good day for the U.S. skaters. Jeremy Abbott and Adam Rippon each missed two out of three jumping passes in their programs, and are currently ninth (74.85) and tenth (73.55).

“I’m feeling sheer disappointment, I’m horrified,” stated Abbott. “I’ve never been more prepared – physically, mentally and emotionally – for a competition, and I was ready to bring it. I landed the triple flip off-balance and tried to pull off the triple toe. I haven’t fallen on this combination, ever.”

“The more the program went on, the more comfortable I felt,” claimed Rippon. “This was the best performed short program of the season. I did a good triple Axel in the warm-up, but have been having a few problems with the jump since I’ve been here. The step out on the ‘Rippon’ Lutz (his trademark jump done with both arms overhead) was an unfortunate mistake, but at least I didn’t fall on it like I did at Four Continents. Going into tomorrow’s free skate, I know I’m really well trained – both physically and mentally, and will come back strong.”

The day, however, was even worse for two reigning World Championship medalists.

Japan’s Takahiko Kozuka is 13th (71.78) after falling on an underrotated quad toe loop and triple Axel, while Russia’s Artur Gachinski is 16th (68.50) after he popped his combination into double-double.

“I was feeling very good all week until today,”said Kozuka, “but now, judging after this performance, maybe I was too defensive. It was a really disappointing short program for me, especially with the jumps. Figure skating is not only about jumps, but they are the key elements. I wanted to land them so badly, but I didn’t today, so I lost my flow totally.”

“A very stupid mistake happened,” said Gachinski. “I didn’t expect that. Shame on me. I have been doings quads for a long time, and to make a mistake on it is not my level. I am very disappointed. I cannot blame the ice, my boots, or blades on my mistake. It was me, who did it.”

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