By Lynn Rutherford
All photos Copyright 2006 by George S. Rossano
Diminutive Nobunari Oda stood tall last night at Hartfordís Civic Center, notching some 81.80 points Ė the second-highest total ever Ė to take a commanding eight-point lead after Skate Americaís menís short program competition.
Performing the light-hearted "Fly Me to the Moon," Oda handled David Wilsonís sophisticated choreography with a deft touch. Opening with a strong triple Axel, followed by a lovely triple Lutz-triple toe combination, the Japanese silver medalist maintained good energy throughout musical step sequences and compact, well-centered spins. His only noticeable flaw came when he pitched slightly forward on the landing of his triple flip.
"I love my music and I feel very comfortable with this program. I never thought I would do my personal best here so early in the season," said the 19 year-old Osaka native, who placed fourth at the 2006 Worlds. He splits his training time between Japan and Barrie, Ontario.
Prior to taking the ice, there was minor rumpus when clouds of smoke, said to emanate from one or more of the Russian skaters, flooded the menís locker room.
"It smelled like cigarette smoke, I canít tell you what it was, and I donít know where it came from. I just walked in and I said, ĎI need a new locker room,í" said Evan Lysacek.
Organizers acted quickly; another room was made available, the locker area aired out and the offenders admonished.
When the smoke cleared, the rest of the menís performances were a mixed bag. Alban Preaubert, the 21 year-old French bronze medalist who placed a surprising eighth at the 2006 Worlds, emerged on top.
Skating to "Buzzy Bee" (ĎFlight of the Bumblebee") with choreography by Nikolai Morozov, Preaubert opened with three solid jumping passes Ė a triple Axel; triple flip-triple toe combination; and triple Lutz Ė and skated the rest of his program with humor and aplomb. He earned 73.80 points (41.40 TES + 32.40 PCS), a new personal best, and enters the free skate in second place.
"It was a very good program for me. I wanted to do something different, something that would bring out my skills," said Preaubert.
"This is the first time I have been in medal (contention) at a big event. I was last in the short program here last year, so it is a big improvement for me."
Performing to the familiar Peter Gabriel music from the soundtrack of "The Last Temptation of Christ," two-time World bronze medalist Lysacek had a disappointing outing, almost sitting down on the landing of his triple Axel and turning out of the landing of his triple Lutz-triple toe loop. The 21 year-old American showed twisting, full-body movements in both of his step sequences, but seemed uncomfortable with the program, which was choreographed this summer with Kurt Browning.
Lysacek earned 70.35 points (35.90 TES + 34.45 PCS) and will enter the free program more than 10 points behind Oda.
"Itís a very modern program. The idea was to take movements from yoga and other angular positions to create challenging side-to-side and high-low movements. Itís a difficult challenge for someone like me who is 6"1í," said Lysacek.
"Iíve really only been training the program full-out for two-and-a-half weeks. It will get more comfortable as the season goes on."
"Evan has been skating that program much better in practice. I think missing the triple Axel was a bit of a shock to him. He got stiff legs on the straight-line steps, which happens with new programs.
"It wasnít the debut he was hoping for but heís been skating the program well and it will get more comfortable," said Browning.
American Ryan Bradley had a clean if slow performance to "Happy Birthday Polka," opening with a big triple Axel followed by a solid triple flip- triple toe loop combination and triple Lutz. As always, Bradley's extroverted personality shown through, but the humor in the program was forced. The 22 year-old American earned 64.44 points (34.64 TES + 29.80 PCS) to take fourth place.
Skating to Albinoniís heavy-handed "Adagio," Belgian Kevin van der Perren hit strong jumps and decent spins, but needed more speed and attack on his step sequences. His 63.43 points put him in fifth place.
Belarusian Sergei Davydov, who placed 12th at the 2006 Worlds, put a hand down on his opening triple Axel, then hit a fine triple Lutz, triple toe loop combination and a rather shaky triple flip. Both his music choice, Evgenia Monolidesí "Hymn to the moon" and choreography could be charitably described as dull, although he hit attractive positions in his spins. He was sixth with 60.91 points.
Canadian Christopher Mabee, who placed fourth at the 2006 Canadian Nationals, opened with a solid triple Axel but flubbed his triple-triple combination in his "Blues Deluxe" program.
"I have to hit the triple, triple. It not only helps my technical score, it helps my skating skills score. Iíve been struggling with the triple Lutz in practice," said Mabee, who is in seventh place with 58.35 points.
The only man to try a quad jump, Scott Smith, landed in eighth place with 58.25 points when he fell on his quad Salchow attempt and failed to land a combination. Russiaís Sergei Voronov hit fine jumps, but his program, set to Rachmaninovís "Piano Concerto No. 2," looked old-fashioned and his spins and footwork unremarkable. He earned 56.40 points and is in ninth place.
Skating to the over-used "Blues for Clock," Karel Zelenka of Italy reduced his opening triple Axel to a double, then two-footed the second landing on his triple flip, triple toe loop combination. He did execute a fine triple Lutz. He sits tenth with 53.31 points.
Nicholas Young of Canada performed an avant-garde program to "Man with a Harmonica," but left his jumps at home. He placed 11th with 49.72 points.
Japanís Yasuhara Nanri was 12th with 49.20 points.
On Thursday evening at the Hartford Civic Center, two-time World bronze medalist Evan Lysacek skated like he had something to prove.
At both the Turin Olympics and Calgary Worlds, Lysacek suffered through sub-par short programs before turning up the volume in his free skates. Here, the 21 year-old Chicago native, who trains in El Segunda, CA under veteran coach Frank Carroll, continued the string with a disappointing debut of his Kurt Browning-choreographed "Last Temptation of Christ." But once again, his long program to the familiar strains of Bizetís "Carmen" was a different story.
Milking each gesture until the crowd of 3,200 clapped along in time with the beat, Lysacek nailed his opening triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination and never looked back. His near flawless routine won with 150.74 points, and he received a partial standing ovation en route to a second consecutive Skate America silver medal.
"I feel good. Iím happy with my conditioning at this point in the season. And obviously, it was a much different story tonight (than the short program) because Iíve been doing the program for longer than two-and-a-half weeks. Itís comfortable for me, I enjoy it and every time I hear the music, I get in the zone," said Lysacek, who added that he is planning on choreographing a new free skate in time for 2007 U.S. Nationals.
While not as inspiring as his short program, Nobunari Odaís calm, mature outing to Tchaikovskyís "Symphony No. 4," choreographed by David Wilson, was more than enough to win the title. The Japanese skaterís fast, well-centered spins, tidy steps and neat jumps Ė five done in the second half of the program, earning bonus points Ė racked up points effectively. His only major errors were a two-footed landing on his second triple Axel and a slight slip on his straight-line footwork.
Oda earned a personal best 149.59 points (75.70 TES + 73.80 PCS), putting him second in the free skate and first overall with 231.39 points.
"I am so surprised and happy. I had a good free program today, although I was a bit tired on the spins and steps. I stumbled on the step sequence but otherwise it went well," said the 19 year-old, who will next compete at the NHK Trophy on November 30th.
Former World junior bronze medalist Alban Preaubert earned the bronze medal here with a refreshingly light-hearted program set to a medley of movie soundtracks including "The Mask" and "Swing Kids." While technically not as pristine as some other skatersí, his jumps and spins were delivered in character and time with the choreography, created by Nikolai Morozov this June. His only major mistake was a belly flop on his last jump, an intended triple Salchow.
The Frenchman earned a personal best 138.87 points (70.27 TES + 69.60 PCS) for third place in the free skate. His overall total was 212.67.
"Itís an interesting program. Itís very difficult; I move all of the time. I have to train it a lot, but when everything is ready and I have the quad (toe loop) I think it will be very (competitive)," said Preaubert, who dedicated his medal to former coach Elena Issatchenko, who passed away last month.
Russiaís Sergei Voronov, the 19 year-old World junior silver medalist who is coached by 1994 Olympic champion Alexei Urmanov in St. Petersburg, had a solid performance to music from the soundtrack of "Pearl Harbor." He placed fourth in the free skate with 116.63 points, and climbed to seventh place overall from ninth place in the short program.
Kevin van der Perrenís "Reflections of Earth" free skate was cleanly skated, but without a triple Axel or the Belgianís trademark triple-triple-triple combination Ė he hit a triple flip-triple toe-double loop instead Ė it lacked the technical firepower to lift him to the podium. The 24 year-old skater must also increase the difficulty levels of his spins and step sequences to medal at the 2007 Europeans in Warsaw. He placed fifth in the free and fifth overall with 178.52 points.
"I felt a bit tired and low in my energy. Iíve never done so many doubles in my life," said the quirky Van der Perren, who completed two double Axels, two double loops and a double Salchow in his anemic program.
On a happier note, the skater confirmed his engagement to former British champion Jenna McCorkell. The coupleís wedding is scheduled for May 17, 2008.
Scott Smithís free skate to music from the soundtrack from "Romeo & Juliet" opened with a solid triple Axel-double toe combination and featured several other strong triples, but the choreography demands more energy and attack, particularly in the straight-line step sequence. The American placed sixth in the free with 114.83 points and sixth overall with 173.08 points.
Performing to "Don Quixote," Sergei Davydenkoís free skate began with fine triple Axel-triple toe loop and triple Lutz-double toe combinations, but trailed off at the midway point and ended poorly with a sloppy single Axel and poorly executed spins and footwork. He placed seventh in the free skate and fifth overall with 175.72 points.
The charismatic but messy Ryan Bradley had a disappointing free skate to a Latin medley, placing ninth with 107.85 points (48.65 TES + 60.20 PCS) and falling to eighth place overall after placing fourth n the short program.
2006 Skate America Men's Medalists
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