Daisuke Takahashi of Japan put out an excellent performance to earn a strong lead in the Men’s Short Program at the 2011 ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships on Friday. USA’s Jeremy Abbott and Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan finished second and third.
Takahashi was on in his Latin program. He not only nailed the jumps: triple flip-triple toe, triple Axel and triple Lutz, but also got a level four on two spins. The footwork certainly was a highlight of the performance as the reigning World Champion felt every beat of the music and really danced. He was obviously was enjoying himself, and achieved a new season’s best of 83.49 points.
“This was the first time for me to do a clean short program this season and so I’m very pleased with that,” said the 24-year-old. “I felt comfortable and confident throughout the performance. This is the last competition before the World Championships and I feel very confident now.”
“I didn’t feel so confident for the short program at Nationals and I was fourth in the short,” he added. “I wasn’t a 100 percent into [the short], but [afterwards] I changed my mindset, and now I’m a 100 percent into the competition.”
Abbott appeared shaky in his Viejos Aires routine. He landed the same jumps as Takahashi, but there were a few slips in the performance and he struggled with the flying upright spin that merited only a level one. The two-time U.S. Champion scored 76.73 points.
“Today was very shaky,” Abbott admitted. “Usually in this program I have a lot of fire and it’s explosive. Today from the get-go I had no feet on the ice. I landed my jumps, but sometimes it’s about more than that. The victory was to be on my feet at the end of the program. I wasn’t my best, but it was good enough.”
Coming to Four Continents wasn’t easy for Abbott after losing his National title last month and being left off the U.S. World team.
“It was very disappointing for me not to be on the U.S. World team,” admitted the 25-year-old. “When I got back home, I was very upset and I didn’t have the motivation to come here. But after a couple of days I stopped feeling sorry for myself. I kind of looked at it as a start to next season. Although I won’t be going to the World Championships, I think this is kind of a new step toward next year. I just want to skate well here and move on to next season and have a good start.”
World Junior Champion Hanyu upset the more experienced competitors and produced a triple Axel, triple Lutz-triple toe and two level-four spins to score 76.43 points. However, he came dangerously close to the boards on his triple flip for which he received an edge call.
“The flip was scary,”the 16-year-old admitted. “I was surprised about my high score and I’m very happy. After Daisuke (Takahashi) skated, the atmosphere was so energetic and that helped me, too.”
USA’s Adam Rippon missed his triple Axel, but landed a triple flip-triple toe combination as well as his “Rippon” Lutz with both arms over his head. The defending champion sits in fourth place at 72.71 points.
“I had a little trouble on the triple Axel,” said Rippon. “I stepped out and then just fell after the step out. It was kind of a spooky fall, but I put it behind me. After the triple Axel, I felt I skated really strong and I was really happy with the rest of the program. The triple Axel, obviously, is a big mistake but my score isn’t terrible, and I know I can pull up for the free skate.”
Teammate Armin Mahbanoozadeh is sitting in fifth with 66.40 points. He put out a seemingly clean performance with a triple flip-triple toe, triple Axel and triple flip, but the Technical Panel deemed his Axel as underrotated. Both Mahbanoozadeh and his coach Priscilla Hill were shocked to find out about that.
“I’m really disappointed about that,” said the 19-year-old. “On the triple Axel, I’ve never gotten it underrotated before. I have to go back and look at it.”
“I skated well,” Mahbanoozadeh continued. “Sometimes you get marks and sometimes you don’t. I felt very excited and I was very comfortable. I’ve had ups and downs this week in practice, but I was glad to pull out a vertical program without any major mistakes.”
Japanese Champion Takahiko Kozuka came in as one of the top contenders to Taipei, but he didn’t meet the expectations. The 21-year-old didn’t add the triple toe to the triple Lutz for his combination and stumbled out of his triple Axel, putting both hands on the ice. He is ranked sixth with 66.25 points. Kozuka didn’t look at the top of his game in practice either and admitted that readily.
“I haven’t been in a good condition recently,” he confessed, “especially for the jumps. It is a mental game. But I did pretty well considering my bad condition.”
Shawn Sawyer of Canada is currently seventh (65.71). He doubled his opening triple Axel and two-footed an underrotated triple Lutz.
“I’m a little disappointed with my short program,” the national silver medalist commented. “My practice was good, I felt good in the warm up, but I don’t know really what happened to my Axel and to my Lutz. It was maybe too quick. My strength of this season is the free skating. I’m looking forward doing better tomorrow and I still feel good for the free.”
Teammate Kevin Reynolds was the only skater to go for a quad – two of them. While he hit the quad Salchow-triple toe combination, he fell and under-rotated the quad toe as well as the triple Axel. The Canadian is currently ranked 8th (65.47 points).
Jinlin Guan of China finished 9th with a clean performance, however, it lacked a triple Axel.