Skating to "First Knight" one last time, Todd Eldredge gave the performance one would have hoped for in his last major eligible competition. He completed eight triples including two triple-triple combinations. He made only one minor error in another combination, and was otherwise right-on for the entire program with both triple Axels rock solid. He attacked the program from start to finish with complete confidence and was clearly thrilled by the experience. At the end the crowd jumped to its feet and began calling for sixes and pounding their feet. It was one of the best performances of his career. He received marks of 5.7-5.9 in the first mark and 5.8-5.9 in the second mark. No six thought, even though with three skaters left to compete but only one with any chance of beating him there would have been plenty of room left in the marks to do it. Seems the ISU has told its judges to stop giving out sixes.
Alexei Urmanov had the second best skate of the night with eight triples including one triple-triple combination (Axel-toe loop). His program is a latin number that still need a lot of work on presentation, but it is new, of course, and it is clear he is back in shape and will be one of the top men this season. His marks were typically just 0.1 below Todd's.
Evgeni Plushenko held onto third place with a program including seven triples and only a few small problems. He two footed his attempt at quad toe loop, and had a little bit of a reach for the ice on a solo triple Salchow. It was last year's program, playfully executed in parts but a little flat in others. On the first mark he matched or beat Urmanov, but in the second mark he was down 1-2 tenths dropping him into third place.
Below third place there was a fair bit of movement. Michael Weiss moved up one spot to fourth place with a decent skate of his Beethoven program. He once again attempted to join the quad club, this time trying a quad toe loop which he two footed and then stepped out of. Later in the program he put a hand down on triple flip and then doubled the planned subsequent triple toe loop. At the end of the program he threw in a triple Lutz with was completed except for a minor dragging of the free toe on the check out.
Also moving up a spot was Timothy Goebel. Skating second in the first warmup he opened with triple flip followed by triple Axel - triple toe loop. After all that he threw a quad Salchow, which was the only clean quad of the night, and the first of the season. Mid-way through the program he popped a triple Salchow and at the very end simplified a planned triple-double combination to a solo triple toe loop. In terms of presentation, his inexperience at senior clearly shows through but he is making good progress.
Takeshi Honda dropped three places in the long to sixth overall. He unveiled a new program to "The Man in the Iron Mask" through which he struggled. He stepped out of the opening triple Axel and left out the following triple toe loop. He fell on quad toe loop, stepped out of triple Lutz and again on another triple Axel. Near the end he popped a triple Lutz and left out the subsequent double toe loop. He also omitted a planned final triple toe loop. In all he only managed to land three clean triples. His program looks like it has promise but it needs a lot of work, and is a bit of a "copy-cat" routine after Candeloro's d'Artangan routine from last season.
Evgeny Pliuta placed one spot higher than his short program result, but still did not manage to move up in overall standings. His performance was capable but little more. He landed six triples, but not the triple Axel, which he popped, and made two other minor errors. His performance to "Hamlet" was also capable, but a bit too melodramatic and over-the-top. Needs work.
Yunfei Li moved up one spot thanks mostly to decent tricks. He landed seven triples, including a triple Axel - triple toe loop jump combination. In between the tricks, however, there was nothing to speak of. All his camel spins were a little wobbly, he had no presence on the ice, and was mostly skating to background music. This was reflected in his marks which were 5.2-5.3 in the first mark, but only 5.1 in the second mark. Perhaps the only reason he did not end op last was the fact that Steven Cousins was so unprepared. Cousins, skating to last season's "Gone With the Wind" program, mostly seemed to be going through the motions. He landed only three triples (Lutz, Salchow, and flip) and omitted or made serious errors on six others. His presentation was slow, lackluster and half-hearted.
With five strong competitors and a few new-comers, this event was the most interesting of the first night of competition. Eldredge looked every bit as strong as he did at the end of last season. His only problem tonight was a minor lack of flow out of the second jump in his triple Axel - triple toe loop combination. He skated with speed and strength with an enthusiastic circular foot sequence a highlight of the middle section of the program. He seemed very relaxed and looked as though he had not a care in the world as he performed. He received the only standing ovation of the entire evening and marks of 5.8 and 5.9.
This competition is the first event of Alexei Urmanov's comeback season after a debilitating groin injury suffered at the 1997 World Championships in Lausanne. His only error tonight was a small hop on the landing of the second jump of his triple Axel - triple toe loop combination. It was vintage Urmanov with his signature costume, gloves, and quirky gestures and movements. He seems in generally good shape and prepared for the new season.
Evgeni Plushenko also gave as strong performance but had a few small "whoops" in two elements. On his opening jump combination he reached for the ice on triple Axel (and may have touched the ice) and then doubled the planned triple toe loop. His triple jump out of footwork was a perfectly execute flutz, and then in his closing combination spin he fell out of position trying to get into his signature Biellmann position, but still managed to save the spin. Overall, though, he skated with meticulous technique and good speed.
A triple Axel - triple toe loop combination was also turned in by Takeshi Honda who skated with speed and strong footwork. He also landed triple Lutz and a nice death drop for his flying spin, but despite his speed the program still lacked a the spark needed to move him up into medal territory. His successful jump combination was a first for him. Afterwards he said, "Almost every time I do it in practice I fall. I am a bit of a novice, but I concentrated tonight and hit it."
The other two U.S. men had their share of problems tonight. Michael Weiss blew the takeoff of his opening triple Lutz then reached for the ice on his triple Axel, and doubled the planned triple toe loop to complete the combination. His circular footwork sequence was boring, but at least he skated with speed. Timothy Goebel had a more interesting program but was just too slow. He put two hands down in his opening triple Lutz and then doubled the second jump of his planned triple Axel - triple toe loop combination. This was the first time he has performed this routine in competition.
Britain's Steven Cousins and Ukraine's Evgeny Pliuta both struggled. Cousins falling on triple Axel in his combination and turning out of the landing on triple Lutz. Pliuta two footed his triple Axel and doubled the following triple toe loop. His triple Lutz was an obvious flutz and his combination spin was wobbly. It was mediocre skating at best with everything just a little off.
Bring up the rear was newcomer Yungfei Li of China. He fell on his opening triple Axel and later showed his inexperience by attempting the combination spin twice. He fell pushing into his first attempt, took a few steps along a half circle and then tried it again - a 0.4 deduction for missing the first attempt and a 0.2 deduction for an extra element in the second attempt. With total deduction of at least 1.0 he was slaughtered in the first mark.
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