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Takahashi wins free skate, takes NHK gold

Verner, Carriere round out the men's podium

From left to right, Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic, Daisuke Takahashi of Japan and Stephen Carriere of the U.S. show off their medals.
From left to right, Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic, Daisuke Takahashi of Japan and Stephen Carriere of the U.S. show off their medals. (Getty Images)

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By Jack Gallagher, special to icenetwork.com
(12/02/2007) - SENDAI -- Using eight triple jumps and superior footwork, Daisuke Takahashi won his second straight NHK Trophy title and clinched a trip to the Grand Prix Final on Sunday afternoon.

Skating before a capacity crowd at Sendai City Gymnasium, Takahashi fell on his opening quadruple toe loop but bounced back with an impressive series of triple jumps, including an outstanding triple Axel to begin a triple combination jump that had the crowd roaring.

Takahashi, whose free skate bettered the mark he got when he won Skate America, had a winning score of 234.22 in the last of this season's six Grand Prix events.

Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic, who won the short program on Saturday, finished second at 229.45.

American Stephen Carriere, the world junior champion who finished fourth at Skate America, won his first senior medal, a bronze, with a total score of 204.98.

Skating to "Romeo and Juliet," Takahashi earned the trip to the GP Final in Turin, Italy, later this month with his all-around consistency and strong component scores. He was especially proficient in his spins and step sequences.

"My performance was not perfect today," said Takahashi. "However, my goal of winning the NHK Trophy again was achieved.

"I had planned to do two quadruple jumps, but changed that to one. I know what I need to work on after today."

Verner, who performed to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, landed his opening quadruple toe loop and completed the ensuing triple flip-triple toe combo."

"I left a lot of points out there on the ice today," Verner noted. "But I still feel great about what I did accomplish."

Verner, who skated last, admitted it was a tall order to follow Takahashi after he had posted high scores in front of the partisan crowd.

"I didn't expect it would be so hard to follow him, but it was," said Verner.

Carriere planned a triple Axel-double toe loop opening jump, but he only completed the first part. With the exception of a two-foot landing on a triple Axel, though, he skated strongly the rest of the way to post a season's best score in his free skate.

"This whole week has been an adventure," Carriere said. "I am proud of myself for earning my first Grand Prix medal.

"I'm looking forward to taking this experience and working with it at nationals and hopefully worlds."

American Jeremy Abbott, who fell on his opening quadruple toe loop and a triple flip, was unable to complete a planned triple combination jump later in the program. Still, he placed fourth in the free skate, which was a huge step forward after a disappointing 12th-place short program. His performance on Sunday moved him up to fourth place overall.

"It's still not quite right," Abbott said of the quad. "I've got to work harder on it. I am able to do it consistently at home.

"It was a bad technical error on the flip. I was too slow on the checkout of the Lutz in the combo to get up for another triple. It was disappointing today. I'm not near the caliber I train at."

Canada's Shawn Sawyer skated well and displayed amazing flexibility to "Moments in Love." He was ninth with a tally of 180.35.

"I'm on the right track for competing at nationals," Sawyer said. "I had a two-foot landing on my triple Axel and didn't stay focused in the air on my triple loop."

Sawyer said his level of flexibility is the product of hard work.

"I always work on it. It is definitely one of my assets, and I want to keep it. I do ballet and stretching. The other guys tell me they don't work on flexibility."

Canada's Vaughn Chipeur missed his first two combination jumps and singled a triple loop on the way to finishing 11th. He was off balance on the landings of both his triple and double Axel.

"It was not my best effort," Chipeur said. "It has been a good week, though. Nationals are my main focus.

"I have always struggled with combos. I am always working on them. The jumps have always come naturally to me."

Joining Takahashi in the GP Final will be Americans Johnny Weir and Evan Lysacek, Canada's Patrick Chan, Switzerland's Stephane Lambiel and Belgium's Kevin Van Der Perren.

In the case of injury or illness, Carriere is the men's first alternate for Turin.

The women's GP Final will be comprised of Japan's Mao Asada and Yukari Nakano, South Korea's Yu-Na Kim, Americans Kimmie Meissner and Caroline Zhang, and Italy's Carolina Kostner, who won the women's title here on Saturday night.

Switzerland's Sarah Meier, second behind Kostner here, is the women's first alternate.

Next year's NHK Trophy will be held in Tokyo.