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2013 Skate America:  Men's Free Skate

by Alexandra Stevenson

Unheralded Tatsuki Machida, who previously trained in Lake Arrowhead, wins; Adam Rippon transforms two third places into silver;

Max Aaron soars to take lowest rung of the rostrum with second-ranked Free, refuses to get upset by nasty, negative internet reaction.

1.  Overall 265.38; 1.FS 174.20 (90.84+83.36) Tatsuki Machida, Japan, who is 23, skating last of the reduced field of eight, to ďFirebirdĒ with lots of red feathers and gold on a black costume, began with a quad toe loop which was so good two judges punched in the maximum +3 GoE, while four others gave +2 and the other three gave +1. However, he did not add the planned double toe loop jump to his initial jump. His second element was a far weaker quad toe which lost a minimal -0.14 but it meant he, again, was unable to add that double.

His next three jumping elements, triple Axel to triple toe loop, second triple Axel, and a triple loop, along with a Level 4 flying sit spin, Level 3 straight line steps, and Level 2 change foot camel spin, all gained substantial Grades of Execution. However, his ninth and tenth moves were flawed. The triple Lutz had a shaky and scratchy landing and got -0.50 removed from its base value, and a triple flip to double toe loop to double loop received and ďeĒ for wrong edge takeoff on the flip. The following triple Salchow, however, earned +0.70 over its base. After the choreographed section, he finished with a Level 4, +0.43 change foot combination spin. His components ranged from one 9.25 down to one 6.25.

He received a standing ovation with lots of big Japanese flags being waived and items thrown on the ice. He said, ďIím so glad that I was able to make a much better personal score here today. But, this winning doesnít necessarily mean that it gives me an advantage to make the Olympic team. I want to aim for Japanese nationals and also go to the GP Final. And I want to focus on Sochi. Iím a step closer to the Final for now, but I donít want to take it easy. I shouldnít relax too much. I still want to stand at the edge of the cliff. I will keep on working hard.

ďThis is my third competition of the season, but the first major one, so, I was very nervous. I donít think that I am strong enough to make the Olympic team at this point, yet. I donít feel that I have enough (marks). So, Iím going to work and my goal will be to make the Olympic team this season.Ē He had previously been training in Lake Arrowhead. ďSince this April, I reconsidered and really wanted to rebuild my technique. I changed my training base to Osaka.Ē

2.  Overall 241.24; 3.FS 160.98 (79.90+82.08 -1) Adam Rippon, USA, who now trains in Artesia, will turn 24 on November 11. He skated to ďLíApres-Midi díun FaunĒ, Debussyís very ethereal music, dressed in an orange-y outfit. He fell on his opening quad Lutz, and the jump got an arrow for slight under-rotation. That cost him three full points, along with the -1 for a fall. But since he was over 24 points behind Machida, doing the move successfully would not have made a difference.

None of his other moves were given a negative. However, although he bought off a triple Axel to double toe, his second attempt at the triple Axel was singled. Two of his spins and the straight lines steps earned the maximum Level 4. His first spin was a good Level 3. After doing a triple Lutz to double toe loop to double loop, he repeated the triple Lutz, this time with both arms raised over his head. His last spin even earned one maximum +3 GoE. It was a very interesting program, with him doing something worth watching for almost every second.

He said, ďIt was definitely not my best, but I just want to thank Jackson Skates for getting me through this competition (with a replacement), and my coach, Rafael Artunian, who has the patience of a saint for dealing with my broken equipment and for me almost breaking the Joe Louis Arena boards (which he crashed into). Iím thankful for that but I gave 100% and I fought through and pick up the program up after that dangerous looking fall and just keep it going to finish strong. I didnít hit my head on the boards, but maybe if I had, I wouldnít have popped that second (intended triple) Axel. Overall, Iím pleased with what I did and intend to do even better in my next Grand Prix (NHK in Japan).

Honestly, everytime I have gone to a compeititon recently, Iíve had no expectations on how my score was going to be. When the marks came up, I was pleased but I was thinking about the second triple Axel. It was the first thing Rafael and I talked about. We didnít even talk about me almost destroying the wall.Ē He was awarded components ranging from lows of three 7.50 up to highs of two 8.75. They were the third highest behind Takahashi and Machida. The Program Component Scores were incredibly satisfying. It is something that I have worked on this summer. I think I had a big head start because I had to pull out of the Four Continents because I sprained my left foot pretty badly. It was a set back but allowed me to get started on the programs. I can not thank my choreographer, Tom Dickson enough. Heís the most insane person but most brilliant Iíve ever met. We put together a really great program. It was Rafaelís idea. It was really great that it all got that it all came together.

Winning silver is huge. Itís my best finish on the Grand Prix scene so far. Iím really pleased with that because I know that I can skate so much better.Ē

3.  Overall 238.36; 2.FS 162.45 (90.47+72.98 -1) Max Aaron, USA, all in black, including gloves, performed to music from the Opera, ďCarmenĒ. He readily admitted, ďIt didnít go as planned today. I opened with a (bad) fall on the Quad toe (loop).Ē And then, on his second element, he put a hand on the ice landing his Quad Salchow which was meant to be combined with a triple toe loop. ďThatís OK. Iím going to constantly learn from this program. It is an ambitious program and Iím not going to back down. Iím not afraid of it. Once again, I fell on my first jump pass. Letís see what Iím going to do now. Iím glad I stuck with it. Iím looking forward to every event.Ē

After a +0.10 triple loop, he executed a base value Level 4 flying change foot combination spin, Level 3 straight line steps which earned an extra +0.43, as did the following Level 3 flying change foot sit spin. He reached the halfway stage and successfully completed a quad Salchow to double toe loop which earned a total of 12.98 points.

That amazing achievement was followed by a triple Axel to double toe loop, a triple Lutz to loop to triple Salchow, and a second triple Axel. Then came the choreographed section and a triple flip which got an ďeĒ for wrong edge take-off. He concluded with an applause-gaining Level 4, +0.43 change foot combination spin, which received +3 from two of the judges.

His components ranged from the low of one judge giving his/her five marks all in the sixes, while six others gave marks all in the sevens, and two others gave one mark in the six range but whose next lowest mark was 7.25 or above.

Aaron said, ďYes, the scores were very similar to what I did in Salt Lake, and close to my World Championship performance, which was my highest score. But, we are not looking back. We are looking forward. We are looking for a bigger score in the 260ís range because we want to be Olympic champion one of these days.

ďWhen you take a hard fall like that on a quad, you have to get into your knees. Itís easy to freak out, and I donít want that to happen. I take a deep breath after a hard fall, continue on, and tell myself, ĎLetís finish strong.í

ďI will tell you this. I have seen a lot of Tweets and emails directly to me saying that I donít deserve to be where I am or deserve the scores I get. Thatís OK. It happens. It is going to make me a lot stronger. I donít know if they know that I take that into my training every day. Iím going to train super-hard and show them that I am deserving of the scores I get. Match up the numbers. They are not going to lie. Iím getting the scores I get based off of what Iím doing.Ē

ďWe are committed to keeping it in and not taking it out. Maybe it will be ready by Boston, maybe not. By then we will reassess. Right now for these Grand Prix events itís about learning. Either way Iím happy with it. I want that three quad program because it is going to set me apart in the U.S. and I want to defend my title and make the Olympic team, and that is what it is going to take.

4. 236.21; FS 159.12 (72.40+86.72) Daisuke Takahashi, the 27-year-old Japanese 2010 Olympic silver medalist and world champion, began with the Beatlesí ďYesterdayĒ. Heís certainly had some better performances in the past. It was immediately apparent, that this was not a good day. He got full credit for the rotation on the quad toe loop but it was a messy landing. He had planned to do a second quad toe, combined with a double toe loop but substituted a triple Lutz which earned an extra +1.10. He lost -0.57 on the triple Axel which followed.

After Level 4 steps, which earned five +3s and four +2s, which converted into +1.80 points over the base value of 3.90, and a Level 4 flying change foot sit spin, which earned +0.71, he presented a second triple Axel with a double toe loop, which lost a full point off its base value. A triple Lutz to triple toe loop earned its base value but then he singled a loop. After a +0.70 triple flip, he doubled a Salchow. The flying change foot combination spin which followed was only Level 2 with +0.14. He did earn four +3s and the rest +2s for his choreographed section. He finished with a Level 3 change foot combination spin which received an extra +0.86. His components were the highest by 3.36.

5. Overall 231.03; 6.FS 147.25 (68.69+79.56 -1) Jason Brown, USA, skated to ďReel Around the SunĒ by Bill Whelan, in a green satin shirt with gold trimming. He opened with a planned double Axel, which earned one +3 and six +2s (along with two +1s) from the judging panel. The tall 18-year-old, who will turn 19 in December, has great flexibility and natural dance talent. But he dropped from second after the SP to fifth overall with a sixth place in the Free.

He fell on his second element, a planned triple Axel, and couldnít do the planned triple toe loop. He also received a double arrow for a downgrade. A Level 3 change foot camel spin gained three +3s and six +2s for an extra 1.14. But then he messed up a his second triple Axel and could only add a single toe loop. His Level 3 change foot combination spin and Level 4 straight line steps received +0.93 and 1.40 respectively, but his triple Lutz to loop to triple Salchow had -1.20 removed from its base value plus 10% of 11.77. His triple flip to double toe loop gained only an extra 0.10 but the following double Axel earned an extra 0.50 and a triple Lutz received +0.60. His choreographed section gained +1.20 over its only base value of 2. His final jump, a triple loop, earned an extra +0.30. He left the audience cheering with a Level 4 flying change foot combination spin which received +0.86. While it was flawed, heís working his whole body the whole time and thereís a lot of flexibility. He was smiling while waiting for his marks.

He admitted, ďIt wasnít my best performance with what happened at the beginning. I had a few bobbles, but I kept fighting and kept pushing through as if nothing had happened. Thatís my main goal that whatever happens, leave it there, and keep moving forward.Ē Asked what his impressions were of his first Skate America, he said, ďThis is more than I had hoped for. I loved every minute. Itís so cool to have my first Grand Prix in the United States. Iím going to work on attacking the long program even more. I was excited at being able to push through the whole time. Iím going to go home and really work on having a huge, strong start and keep it going through the rest of the program.

6.  Overall 230.95; 5.FS 153.20 (72.28+80.92) Takahiko Kozuka, 24, Japan, skated to a violin classic, Saint-Saensí Rondo Capriccioso, in a blue blouse, with a silver band vertically down the center of his back. He was unlucky in that he placed fourth in the SP and fifth in the FS but ended up 6th overall. He had an unimpressive start, however, doubling his intended quad toe loop. He actually received only one negative average GoE. That was for his eleventh element, a triple Lutz to a planned triple toe loop, for which the second jump was given a double arrow by the Technical Panel and classed as a double. That lost him -1.40. Since he finished overall only 0.08 behind Jason Brown, it was a costly error. His routine definitely has good possibilities. One judge gave him a +3 for his final Level 3 spin and six others punched in +2.

7.  Overall 208.72; 8 FS 133.75 (67.03+67.72 -1); Alexander Majorov, Sweden, fell on his first move, a quad toe loop after getting the full rotation, and had negatives on only three other moves, including a hand down on a triple Axel. He accomplished with the base value or better, triple Lutz to triple toe loop, triple loop, a second triple Lutz to two double toe loops, and a double Axel, along with two Level 4 spins and Level 3 steps, which demonstrates just what a high level this competition involved. Dressed in black with gold around his shoulders, he performed to Archangel by T.J. Bergersen. At the end he pulled up his gold hood.

8.  Overall 208.16; 7 FS 138.35 (70.35+68.00) Artur Gachinski, Russia, skating first to music from the movie, Anna Karenina, in a blue long-sleeved shirt under a gray and blue waist coat, began with a good quad which earned him 11.73. That was followed by a triple Axel to double toe loop which banked 10.66. But then he did a double flip which got an ďeĒ for wrong edge take-off . That was followed by a +0.57 triple Axel, a Level 4 butterfly into a back camel spin which earned its base value, and Level 2 steps which received +0.43 added to the base value. At the halfway point, he executed a base value triple Lutz to double toe , but he nearly fell on the following triple loop and lost -1.90. A triple Lutz earned its base value but a sequence of two double Axels lost -0.29. His change foot sit spin was only Level 1 and lost -0.09. After the choreographed section, he finished with a Level 3 change foot combination spin. At the end, he had a dramatic pose, which was completely spoiled because he looked totally shattered. His components went from a 5.50 up to a 7.75. Although he was seventh in the Free, it was not enough to advance him over the Swede, and Majorov held onto seventh place by a mere 0.56.

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