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2013 Skate America:  Men's  Short Programs

by Alexandra Stevenson

Relatively Unknown Japanese, who Trained in Lake Arrowhead Before its Closure, Eclipses his Teammates, including the Favorite who lies Fifth

Americans Jason Brown and Adam Rippon Lie Second and Third. Max Aaron is Sixth

The seats in the Joe Louis Arena are blood red, in honor of the Detroit Red Wings, the hockey team whose home rink this is, and who, Thursday night, bested 4-2, the Colorado Avalanche, who had had an unbeaten record up to that. The second tier is three-quarters closed off with black curtaining, which shows the power of figure skating to attract a paying crowd, is, unfortunately, not growing. There were, however, a huge amount of Japanese and Asian press and TV journalists, who made the journey to Detroit to cover their competitors.

The event opened with the Mens Short Program on Friday evening. It was left with only eight entries after Denis Ten, a pupil of Frank Carroll, who represents Kazakhstan, withdrew due to “illness”, and the French former world champion Brian Joubert pulled out on instruction from the long-time President of his Federation, Didier Gailhaguet. A well-known French journalist told this reporter, there was definitely a row about Joubert choosing not taking part in the Masters event in France. Gailhaguet made it clearly apparent that if Joubert was NOT ready for the Masters, he was obviously also NOT ready for Skate America. Apart from sulking, there is little Joubert can do about this situation.

Unfortunately, neither withdrawal was received by the ISU in time to arrange for the next in line to be entered.

1.91.18 (50.08+41.10) Tatsuki Machida, whose hometown is Hiroshima, had been training in Lake Arrowhead, with Anthony Liu, but that rink has now closed. He had his choreography created by Stephane Lambiel and Phillipp Mills. His score was a Personal Best.

Skating seventh of the eight skaters with only his teammate, former world champion, Daisuke Takahashi, still to skate, the 23-year-old Machida seemed to be really feeling his music, “East of Eden”. Dressed in a white shirt with an interesting design printed on it in silver, he opened with the only good quad of the event. He soared through his quad toe loop with apparent ease and had no problem bouncing back into the air for a well-performed triple toe loop. One of the nine judges thought the element was executed so well he/she punched in the maximum Grade of Execution, +3. Seven others gave +2 and the remaining official awarded +1. (That same judge, along with one other, also gave him +3 for his Level 4 steps.)

“I know I am not well known,” Machida admitted. “But I do think I have a chance to make the Olympic team. I am quite happy I was able to skate my short program without major mistakes. I am very relieved now, but the free skating will come tomorrow. I should abandon the happy feeling and should focus on my program tomorrow.”

His combination was followed by a +1.71 triple Axel. His last jump was a +0.90, good triple Lutz. In addition to the steps, two of his three spins gained Level 4. His first spin, the Change foot Camel, was “only” Level 3 with +0.57. Although he had been second in the 2010 Four Continent, Japan has such a depth of talent, he ranked only ninth in the last Japanese championship.  

2. 83.78 (44.85+38.93) The replacement for Olympic champion Evan Lysacek is a delighted 18-year-old Jason Brown, who now trains in Monument, Colorado. He said, “It took a couple of days to sink in, that this was really happening. And then, I’m like, jumping up and down, ‘I'm going, I'm going!’”

Skating immediately after the second warm-up of four competitors, the tall Brown, who has his long hair tied back and used the music, “The Question of U” by Prince, wore an elaborate, see-thru sleeves with an elaborate sign on his back, silver down the outside of one leg and on the front of his right shoulder, a royal blue Bolero. Most importantly, he actually looked as if he was enjoying himself on the ice. It was his season’s best score

The current World Junior silver medalist opened with a +1.14 triple Axel, followed by a triple flip to triple toe loop which got a minimal -0.10 subtracted from its base value. All three spins and his footwork earned the maximum Level 4, with the flying camel gaining a +3 GoE from one of the judges. His soaring triple Lutz with an arm thrown soaring high above his head, got three +3s from the nine member judging panel. He also received two +3s for his steps and two more +3s for his final spin, the change foot combination.

He said, “I am really excited to be here. It is such an honor to compete here in Detroit and the support of the audience is so incredible. I was really excited to compete like I’ve been training and hope I can do the same for the long program. They (the three Japanese men) are three of the best in the world and it’s so incredible to be on the ice with them. It took me a couple of minutes at practice this morning, to be like, ‘I know this is real,’ because it can seem like a dream. Then I came back to reality and focused in.”

“The whole year, I’ve been telling myself that anything that happens was going to be an experience, good or bad. Finding out and then competing here two weeks later was a great learning experience to try to get ready in two weeks for an event. Of course, it would be a dream to go to Sochi. You always want to be considered as someone who can be on the Olympic team so it’s definitely a goal for me. I’m just going to keep training hard and try to be focused on my training and hopefully go to event by event and skate like I practice. Every day it seems like it could be possible.”

3. 80.26 (43.23+37.03) Adam Rippon, who will turn 24, on November 11, is now training in Artesia. The former twice World Junior champion (2008 & 2009) has competed in two world (senior) championships, placing sixth in 2010 and 13th in 2012. He was 5th in the U.S. national championships 2010, 2011 & 2013, but earned the runner-up place in 2012, and was 4th in the Four Continents and 13th in the World Championship that year. He performed to music from the famous opera, Carmen.

He opened with a quad Lutz but got an arrow for slight under-rotation. His triple Axel also got a slight negative (-0.43) but his combination, in the second half, of triple flip to triple toe loop earned an extra +0.70. His steps and two of his spins  were Level 4. His final spin, the change foot combination was Level 3. He said, “Coming in today’s Short Program, my main goal was to go for the quad Lutz and I put out a very good attempt. I was a little hesitant throughout, but I tried not to show that. I know I’ve trained the long incredibly well. I love my long and I know I can do an even better, cleaner attempt of the quad Lutz tomorrow.”

4. 77.75 (38.15+39.60) Takahiko Kozuka is the son of a Japanese champion who competed in the 1968 Winter Olympics in figure skating. The 24-year-old has done some of his training in the Detroit area. Shae-Lynn Bourne created his choreograph for his SP, which is set to Dave Brubeck’s “Unsquare Dance”.  His outfit was pretty unique, with white in front overlaying a black outfit with short sleeves, and patches in which yellow came into view from time to time.

His first jump, a quad toe was landed with an excessively steep edge. But then he brought off a very good triple Axel which gained one +3. All three spins were Level 4. His steps, which were his final move, were Level 3. However, he stepped out of his last jumping element, a triple Lutz meant to be a combination, which lost him a lot of points.

5. 77.09 (35.84+42.25 -1) Daisuki Takahashi, Japan, the 2010 world champion, who was only sixth in that event earlier this year, skated last, to “Sonatino for Violin by Mamoru Samuragochi”, all in black with a strange “mini-skirt” around his hips, flapping away. He fell on his first jump, the quad toe, which was given an arrow for slight under-rotation. The landing of his second jump, a triple Axel was very strained, as was the landing of his triple Lutz and he was only able to add a double toe instead of the planned triple toe loop. The program, despite all these errors was interesting and the spins good. Two were the maximum Level 4, as were his steps. The other spin, the change foot combination which was his concluding element, was Level 3 with a full point added. Two judges had given the maximum +3, six had punched in +2 and one gave only +1.

6. 75.91 (41.37+35.54 -1) Max Aaron, the current U.S. champion, was the first competitor to skate in this Season’s initial Grand Prix. Dressed in a white, long sleeved top with a black band around the neck line, he soared through his first jump, a Quad Salchow but skidded off the landing and fell flat onto a hip. Since that was meant to be his combination, he had to add the missing triple toe loop to his second jump, the triple Lutz, which he did successfully enough to have an extra +0.60 added to that combination’s base value.

But then his first spin was only Level 1 and the second Level 2. His triple Axel was good (+1.71 with six judges giving +2). His steps were Level 3 and his Final spin, a Change Foot Sit, was his only Level 4. He is taught by Tom Zakrajsek in Colorado Springs.

Aaron explained, “I’m not proud of how my performance went. I’ll tell you that and it’s definitely not going to happen again. It’s my fault right now and I take the blame, but once again I’m going to learn from it. I attack every moment and I think I’ll hold that moment back in my mind. I’m looking forward to my long program. We’re planning for everything. I make sure we walk through it. If I fall on a quad, what are we going to do? - make sure we get all the points we can. I don’t think I was nervous. I don’t think there are many times when I am nervous. There’s definitely a moment in my mind where there is a tense moment, where I’m getting prepared, and really looking forward to this program. I love this program, I love the process, but I let myself get amped up a little too high and that’s not OK. You have to be able to manage the tempo of the music and the adrenaline. I didn’t do that so well. I went out there to compete a clean program. That didn’t happen out there today.”

Aaron attacks his skating from a hockey perspective, with enormous energy and without thinking of consequences. His first love was hockey and but he left that world after he fractured two vertebrae while training. There was also an incident in which he attacked an opposing player with too much enthusiasm. Before I broke my back, I was really looking forward to playing hockey at the University of Michigan. That was my biggest goal. I didn't think of the Olympics, but now that I have this great opportunity to make the team for Sochi, I'm thankful every day. I want to do everything I can to make that happen. Now that I'm here (in Detroit), there's no backing down. I'm not afraid of anyone. No fear, that's my approach every single time I'm on the ice. I want to be the top man in our sport. I want to be that guy everyone wants to see skate. The first practice was definitely a rough one but I'm glad it happened. It was a wake-up call and it's not going to come easy. It's going to be a tough battle. I'm glad this was the first time I actually struggled with the quad toe, so this is a great opportunity to work the kinks out and really work on my timing because it's not going to come easy. It's going to be a rough road. But I’m looking forward to the opportunity to do the Free and seeing where I land up with the best of the men."

Zakrajsek said the two don't like to talk about Aaron's odds of making the Olympic team. “I really don't think Max just wants to make the team. I think Max wants to be competitive at the podium level at the Olympic Games and the world championships. Having finished seventh in the world championship in March (his only appearance in this event), he is taking it now to the next level. ‘How do I get to the podium?’  Hopefully, that mindset will help him get on the Olympic team.”

Aaron admitted he’s a fan of the local hockey team. "I'm a huge Red Wings fan and I remember coming here when I must have been 5 or 6 years old and going to games because my family is from here, and I remember thinking, 'If I can ever play on this ice ...' At that time, of course, I was thinking from a hockey point of view. But, now, to get the opportunity to figure skate on this ice and compete on this ice with a lot of the great ones who are here, it's an honor ... and just great to be in the arena."

7. 74.97 (41.29+34.81 -1) Alexander Majorov, 22, is the current two-time Sweden champion, who was born in St. Petersburg but whose family migrated to Sweden when he was two. He has competed in three world championships with a best place of 18th earlier this year. He performed to Khorobushko by Bond. Dressed in an elaborately attired maroon outfit with a stripe down one leg, he, too, fell on his quad toe attempt and had to add a triple toe loop to his second jump the triple Lutz which he did successfully. Despite the fall, it was an enjoyable showing. He seemed to feel his music.

8. 69.81 (37.24+34.57 -2) Artur Gachinski, from St. Petersburg, presented a Flamenco. He is trained by Alexei Mishin. After two years of being runner-up for the Russian title, and making the Russian world team, placing third and 18th, he had a bad skate and as only fourth nationally in December. Wearing a black outfit with a red waist band and a deep V in the front, the blond 20-year-old from Moscow, opened with a planned quad toe but fell. He did get credit for the rotation. His second jump was a triple Lutz. Because the first jump was meant to be a combination, he added a triple toe to the Lutz but fell a second time.  At the end of the program, he looked disgusted with himself. He did accomplish a triple Axel.

Steve Winkler was the Technical Controller, Shin Amano the Technical Specialist and Gilberto Viadana. The referee was Sally Rehorick. Among the nine judges, each from a different nation, was the US’s William Smith.

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