The World silver medalist Daisuke Takahashi not only smashed his own personal best score of 247.93 points (NHK 2006), but also trounced the two-year-old record of 258.33 points set by Russian Evgeny Plushenko at the 2006 Olympic Games. Until now, Plushenko’s record stood as the highest score in men’s figure skating since the advent of the “New Judging System”- which was put in place after the judging scandal at the 2002 Olympic Games.
You couldn’t take your eyes off him in his passionate free skate to “Romeo and Juliet” – which earned him a total of 175.84 points. That when combined with his short program score of 88.57 points it gave him a grand total score of 264.41 points – exceeding Plushenko’s record by 6.08 points.
“The judges acknowledged my skills,” Takahashi stated on setting the new standard. “I got a great score, and it gives me confidence.”
The Grand Prix silver medalist, 21, from Okayama, Japan, was near-perfect when he landed two quads and seven triple jumps – two of which were in combination.
His opening quad toe was solid as was the quad toe/double toe combination. His triple Axels were stellar one of which had a double toe/double loop attached. He was steady-as-a-rock on his triple flip/triple toe, and triple Salchow.
His only error came, when he touched down and turned out of a solo triple loop, but quickly recovered and a well-done triple Lutz.
“I missed the triple loop, but I landed two quads. I did two quads for the first time in ISU competition,” the Japanese told the press.
He was like the Eveready Energizer Bunny as he never stopped going – twisting, turning and dancing on the ice. The three-time Japanese Champion has taken a hiatus from this event the last two seasons – after winning the bronze in 2005.
Takahashi, who could not put a step wrong on his level three steps, delivered four solid spins which displayed nice positions.
The packed house was on its feet as the program came to a close. One fan holding a banner displaying a life-size picture of Daisuke.
“I am so happy that I got my best result (score),” Takahashi said with excitement. When I skated this time, everything was soft and smooth – the jumps, the spins, the steps, and I felt comfortable. I was careful and focused on each detail. This year, I set myself the goal to win in each competition.”
You could cut the tension with a knife as Canadian Jeffrey Buttle, 25, of Smooth Rock Falls, Ontario, took to the ice for his emotionally-loaded program to the “Ararat” soundtrack by Michael Danna.
The Olympic bronze medalist, who returned to last season’s program, opened with a good triple Axel but then managed only a double toe after (rather than the planned triple). He attacked his triple flip and added an unplanned triple toe on the back end for good measure.
“At first it was really difficult,” Jeffrey said about switching back to his old programs. I really loved the new programs, but they were just not competing well. These programs just put me in a comfort zone. I am really able to connect to them. The intensity of the other programs may be a departure, and it is not something I am going to avoid altogether, because I want to try every different type of program. But obviously these are working much better.”
The three-time Canadian Champion then ran into some trouble when he doubled the second triple Axel, put his hand down on triple Lutz/double toe/double loop, hopped out on the landing on a triple loop and fell on his final triple Lutz.
His footwork was outstanding. It was as if his body was the bow and the music his violin as the two worked synonymously together to express the story of the music.
“The first step sequence is the battle and that’s why it’s so intense and in the second I’m victorious and that’s why it’s so light-hearted and free,” the Canadian explained.
His choreography was exquisite and his level-three footwork looked effortless.
“Just working with David (Wilson – choreographer) he has a knack for putting together a program like that.” Jeffrey explained. “I feel he knows down the road what it will look like. When you first get a program it doesn’t look fantastic, because its still knew and it’s still developing. I just trust he knows what he is doing and I just love to skate to his programs.”
It rained on his parade – stuffed animals that is, as the ice was covered when the Canadian skated off the ice at the end of his program.
The 2005 World silver medalist edged his way past Lysacek into second place with a season best score of 150.17 points for his free program and an event total of 234.02 points.
Lysacek left his best skate behind him when the American fell to third place after falling on his opening quad combination and put a hand down on his second triple Axel.
“My quad has actually been really consistent, so to go down on it in the program is kind of strange,” Evan said mystified. “But something that I’ll obviously go home and analyze and see what went wrong and where I need to make more improvements before Worlds.”
He managed only one combination a nice triple flip, but the triple toe on the back end looked slightly cheated. He delivered six triple jumps in all in his dramatic program skated to “Tosca” by Giacomo Puccini.
“It was pretty bad. I think I’ve been training really well, but this was much below what I’ve been doing in training,” Lysacek told the press. So, I was pretty disappointed in that, but at least I know it can’t get very much worse than that going into Worlds.”
He highlighted his program with two level three step sequences (but the second seemed to lack his usual emotion) and three level four spins that were low, fast and well-centered.
“As athletes we’re all used to having to adapt to whatever the circumstances on the night,” Evan explained when asked how skating first in the final flight affected his program. “It’s the first time in a while that I’ve been skating first in the long. The preparation was just a little bit different. I was trying to get ready earlier to have the time to calm down before the program.”
“It was a good experience to put under my belt this season. I think going into Worlds, I’m just going to put this completely out of my head and move forward, because I’ve been training hard at home and training a lot better than that. I’ll stay on the same path that I’m on and go to Sweden with a lot of confidence.”
Stephen Carriere looked sleek and sassy in his solid free program to “Hollywood Nocturne” by the Brian Setzer Orchestra.
The eighteen-year-old continued his stellar season placing fifth in the free skate but fourth overall.
The 2007 World Junior Champion placed fourth at Skate America and third at NHK in his first year on the senior circuit. He spent time in Minneapolis in January where he won his first senior medal at the U. S. Championships – capturing the bronze medal.
Carriere opened his program but popped the first triple Axel. He recovered quickly with the triple toe/double toe/double toe combination that followed. One-by-one he ticked off each jump – a triple Lutz, a triple flip, a triple Axel/double toe, triple Lutz/double toe, triple loop and then a triple Salchow.
“It’s bittersweet,” said Stephen. “I haven’t popped in a program in forever, so doing that single Axel at the beginning of the program was kind of weird. But, I re-centered myself and I was thinking in my head “you’ve gotta get more points now.” After that single Axel I thought “you know what, I’ve gotta start racking up those points again.”
Demonstrating strong basic skating and solid technique the American received positive GOE’s on every element. The only person to do so in this event.
Carriere gathered a seasons best score of 144.22 points for his free skate and a grand total event score of 218.30 points – a new personal best by 13.32 points.
” It was an amazing skate. It was a really good experience,” Carriere shared. “Coming off of Nationals for a week and a half – I’ve never had that before. Now I’m just getting ready for Worlds. I’m planning on lots of practice. It’s going to be ‘pedal to the metal’, full-out for Worlds because I want to be the best of the best, so I’m definitely pushing harder than I’ve ever pushed before because I know it will be the last competition (of the season).”
It was a fist pump at the end, for comeback kid Jeremy Abbott, who gave a remarkable performance landing a gorgeous quad toe in competition for the first time. Finishing a disappointing ninth in the short program the 2007 Four Continents bronze medalist clawed his way back with a free skate worth 145.33 points. Asia is good for the American who blew past his previous personal best score by 16.04 (NHK 2007, at Sendai, Japan.)
“This is my second Four Continents. Last year was at home, so coming to Asia is quite a bit different,” Abbott explained. “This is my third trip to Asia this year, and I love it. (Abbott competed in NHK Trophy where he finished 4th and USA vs. Japan Countermatch). The arena is full, so that’s really nice.”
Abbott, who trains in Colorado Springs, Colorado not only gives it all on the ice but also gives back to the sport. At Nationals in 2005, the then nineteen-year-old told his family, “I will win Nationals when pigs fly.” Much to his surprise the teen won his first major title and became the 2005 U.S. Junior Men’s Champion. In May of that year Jeremy started a foundation to assist other young men at the rink he began his skating career – The Aspen Figure Skating Club in Aspen, Colorado. They currently sell “Pigs can fly” pins to help raise money.”
Well, if “Pigs Can Fly” so can Jeremy as the now twenty-two-year-old flew across the ice with abandon on his power-packed free skate to a variety of selections.
His circular steps were explosive as the audience clapped along with each and every beat.
Jeremy landed on two feet in his first triple Axel eliminating the triple toe that followed. However, when he landed the second triple Axel he continued and added a triple toe – but stepped out on the landing. He singled the Lutz but continued with a triple toe stumbling on the exit of his second combination.
The American was steady on his triple flip, triple loop and triple Salchow/double toe.
His spins were stellar as he spun like a top.
“The fans here are incredible,” Jeremy told the press. “They’re just so appreciative of everything you do. It’s really gratifying that good, bad or indifferent, no matter how I skate, to know that that support is there and they really appreciate what I did is just so cool.”
Abbott finished fourth in the free skate but fifth overall with an event total of 206.40 points – a new personal best.
“Incredible;” Jeremy stated as he shook his head in amazement. “It’s probably the last time I’m going to do that program and to end it the way it did, I’m just very pleased. I felt that I really stayed in the program the whole time. I mean, I had mistakes, but I really felt that it couldn’t have gone any better. I did exactly what I came here to do and I’m proud of what I did.”
Chengiang Li of China, placed fifth in the short program but ninth in the free and sixth place overall. His free skate to “Seven Swords” was uninspiring. It looked like the twenty-eight-year-old struggled throughout.
His opening quad toe was low, but then he managed a triple Axel/triple toe/double toe. He then fell on a downgraded triple Lutz. The Chinese Champion also had problems on the triple loop, triple toe, and his final change foot combination spin.
His score of 125.73 for his free skate and 197.98 points fell short of his abilities and the Chinese slipped to sixth place.
Vaughn Chipeur, of Canada, slipped from sixth to seventh place overall, after he took off from the wrong edge on a triple flip and popped the back end of the combination into a single. Once again he popped a planned triple into a single Axel/single toe then followed with a single Salchow.
Despite the mistakes he received a season best score of 125.74 points for his free skate and 197.96 points overall.
Shawn Sawyer of Canada rose to ninth place overall after entering the free skate in tenth place and gathered a free program score of 126.39 points. His total competition score was 187.18 points.