Men's Qualifying Round

by Alexandra Stevenson

Japanese champion wins Prelim by huge margin. Swede making his senior debut emerges to claim second spot while Czech star crashes on ice some skaters are saying is faster than usual.

Despite fears that it could not be done, the rescheduled World championships are taking place in Moscow with less than a month of preparation. While it is true that not everything is perfect, that is the case with most events. Judging by the first day, the level of organization is definitely above average. The country’s government appears anxious that the event will go smoothly and provide good publicity for the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in Sochi in the south of Russia in 2014.

The Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, who is also the President of the Olympic Committee of Russia, Alexander Zhukov, was drafted to the Chair of the Organizing Committee. That appointment, and a commitment by the country’s President to make funds available to do what was necessary, was an essential major factor.

New to the World championships this season are the return of qualifying rounds. Eighteen established singles skaters get a pass straight into the Short Program. This "Direct" qualification is based on the place that skater’s country gained in the previous year’s world championship, along with the skater’s ISU ranking.

Others must qualify by showing off their Free Skate programs. On Monday, 24 men performed this "audition" at the MegaSport Arena, which was built in 2007 for the world hockey championships. Only a very sparse crowd attended, perhaps a thousand spectators at best. The Arena staff has had figure skating event experience. The last three Grand Prix Cup of Russia events were held here.

The top 12 on Monday earned entry into Wednesday’s Short Program while the others were discarded. Since the scores in the qualification rounds are not carried forward, it doesn’t really matter whether you are first or twelfth.

The most well-known of the competitors in Monday’s men's qualification were the new Japanese champion, Takahiko Kozuka, and Michal Brezina of the Czech Republic.

The 22 year old Kozuka, who is from Nagoya and is trained by Nobuo Sato, earned 165.00 points for his dynamic, polished performance set to Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1.

Although Kozuka’s opening move, a quad toe loop, received only seventy percent of its base value because it was slightly under-rotated, the Grades of Execution of his other 12 elements were all positive. The four-minute, forty-second routine included two triple Axels. The second was performed after the half way stage when the bonus ten percent kicks in, and was combined with two other jumps, a double toe to double loop. This combination earned a huge 14.30 points. He also received two maximum +3 GoEs for his final Level 4 flying change foot camel spin. None of the other competitors earned a +3.

Kozuka said, "I felt nervous because this was a competition. But I felt very comfortable with my program. Of course, it is tiring to do an extra competition but it is good practice for Thursday’s Free, and those marks will count. So there is a plus and a minus and that evens it out. I like to think in a positive way, so it is more of a plus to me."

Although he is the national champion, and has finished eighth, sixth and tenth in the last three world championships, Kozuka was saddled with having to qualify because he was outranked in the ISU’s standings by his teammates, Daisuke Takahashi, the defending world champion, and Nobunari Oda. This was despite Oda doing so badly in the 2010 worlds that he did not qualify for the Free Skate. Oda has a better ISU ranking because he has been in more high level events.

All members of the Japanese team are wearing black ribbons on the left arm of their team jackets and the men will be a part of a program to raise donations and well wishes for those who are suffering in Japan.

Alexander Majorov, who won bronze in the recent world junior championship, was second with 136.64. The Russian-born 19 year old Swede is making his debut in the senior world championship. Taught by his father, he presented a polished routine with great expression, choreographed by his mother to Borodin’s Polovestian Dances.

He said, "I came here in a good mood. My concentration is not super because of the little break we had (when the championships were in limbo before the Moscow replacement site stepped in). I don’t see much difference between the Junior Worlds and this one. Maybe this is a bit bigger. Because I came home with a medal from Junior Worlds, they gave me a welcome reception at the Stockholm Airport. All the members of my (skating) club were there to meet me with flags, flowers. The media was also there. I didn’t expect to get my personal score in the preliminary round. I will try to do the same in the Free in the championship."

Michal Brezina’s fourth place in his first worlds in 2010 earned two places for the Czech team this year. However, in a strange twist of fate, it is his team mate, Tomas Verner, who got the "bye" for a Direct entry to the Short Program because he has the higher ISU ranking. Brezina, then, had to qualify.

Performing to Gershwin’s An American in Paris, Brezina had a subpar showing, falling on his quad toe attempt and on his triple Lutz. However, he brought off two triple Axels. The first gained +1.86 GoE but the received a negative (-0.57) because he could tag only an off-balance single toe loop to it. Three of his combinations were reduced in difficulty with triples reduced to doubles. He, and several other skaters, complained it was too hot in the Arena and at one point there was a pool of water on the ice surface.

He said, "It was the first time I did a quad in competition. I was not very calm. It was a shame I fell on it, it is a quite consistent jump on practice. I lost a lot of points for not doing any triple-triple combination. I know I can do better. I have no injury problems but I put ice on my leg after practice. Now I hope for a clean short program."

Also qualifying were:

Peter Liebers from Germany was fourth with 129.89. He received an "e" for wrong edge call on his first move, a triple flip to triple toe loop and fell on the second move, a triple Axel. He said, "I wanted to stay calm and maybe I was too calm in the beginning. After the the flip combination and the Axel I woke up. I took my breath and the second Axel went well. I changed a few things in my program since Europeans and I now have more rest before the second Axel. Now I want to attack in the short program and I will see what happens."

Viktor Pfeifer of Austria was fifth with 123.22. He also received an edge call on his triple flip but had only one other minor error.

Pablo Bacchini of Italy was sixth with 122.29. He messed up his triple Axel but got credit for the rotation. He also received an edge call.

Joey Russell, 22 year old Canadian bronze medalist, who is taking part in his first world championship, fell on his triple Axel and had five other negatives. He was seventh with 118.37. The 22 year old said he was thrilled to be taking part in his first Worlds and readily admitted, "There is room for improvement. The point of qualifying is to do one program and get it out of the way." He attributed the fall to being too slow. "I think I was backing off a little bit. I have a tendency to be cautious. I skate better when I attack more and I need to attack a little more for the short program. It hit me when I took my starting pose, - here I am at Worlds."

Kim Lucine, who formerly skated for France, now represents Monaco. He finished eighth with 117.78; Maxim Shipov, Israel, was ninth with 116.42; Jorik Hendrickk of Belgium was 10th with 109.59; Misha Ge of Uzbekhistan was 11th with 109.39 and Min-Seok Kim from South Korea, earned the final place with 98.67.

The 194 competitors from 43 ISU countries are housed in the Aerostar Hotel a very short walk from the MegaSport Arena. The arena is light, bright and cheerful with 11,000 steeply inclined plastic seats in randomly selected colors of white, canary yellow, fire-engine red, mid-blue and purple plastic. The ISU has its separate section with a block of royal blue superior seats. The practice rink is connected to the main arena. Even the weather has cooperated. Two weeks ago, snow fell. But, for the past two days bright sunlight has shone through.

The British team manger, Annie Veck, has already written "Wow" on her event critique. Apparently the arena ice is "springier" than usual. She explained, "They put a special chemical in the final spraying of water. Everyone is saying the skaters get to the end of their routines and are less tired."

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