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Oda continues comeback with NHK gold medal

Weir, Ponsero hold their places in second and third

Men's medalists Johnny Weir (silver), Nobunari Oda (gold) and Yannick Ponsero (bronze) stand together at the men's awards ceremony on Sunday.
Men's medalists Johnny Weir (silver), Nobunari Oda (gold) and Yannick Ponsero (bronze) stand together at the men's awards ceremony on Sunday. (Getty Images)

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By Tatiana Flade, special to icenetwork.com
(11/30/2008) - Japan's Nobunari Oda skated off with the gold medal at the NHK Trophy. It was a sweet return to the Grand Prix for Oda, who missed all of the 2007-08 season. Johnny Weir claimed the silver medal and qualified for the Grand Prix Final, to be held in two weeks in Korea.

Oda wasn't as flawless as he was on Friday in the short program, but the 21-year-old was still strong. He stepped out of his opening quad toe and the first triple Axel but recovered to nail seven clean triples in the free skate. He fell on a double loop that he tacked on to the triple flip-triple toe combination, but it didn't really matter anymore.

"I am delighted to have won. There was one thing I wanted to challenge myself with, and that was to do a clean quad. I didn't do it today, but I hope to be able to do it in my next competition," Oda said. "During my performance, there were some errors, and I knew that I could have done better than that. I didn't expect such a high score and didn't think that I would be able to win. Therefore, I was very surprised," he explained about his feelings in the Kiss and Cry area. Actually, he won by a wide margin, with 236.18 points to Weir's 224.42.

The ailing Weir, who has been suffering from a cold all week in Tokyo, pulled himself together and put on a decent performance to defend second place. The reigning world bronze medalist landed a triple Axel-double toe, triple Axel and four more triples, but he visibly tired at the end of his "Notre Dame de Paris" program. He doubled the second Lutz and popped the flip. With all of that, Weir still achieved a new season's-best with 146.27 points for the free skate.

"I had a lot of trouble towards the end of the performance. I was coughing in my program the whole way, from the beginning to the end. By the last jumping passes, I was already exhausted and ready to go home, to have soup and to go to sleep. That's what happened in the program, and I'm very proud though that I could fight from the beginning until the end, not feeling like myself on the ice," Weir said.

When asked how his world bronze medal affected him this season, Weir said, "Of course, when I go to an event, and I'm the top-ranked man in the event and third place in the world in the previous season, it gives me strength and confidence. But I've always been a firm believer that once you achieve a result, and once it's posted on the score sheet, it's finished. It's over. Third in the world last year, ninth in the world last year -- it doesn't mean anything this year. You have to improve yourself and do better every year, regardless of what you've done and who you are."

Weir announced that he will stay with coach Galina Zmievskaya in Tokyo and Chiba in Japan to prepare for the Grand Prix Final, in order to avoid long plane rides back and forth between Asia and North America.

Yannick Ponsero of France hit the best quad of the day and also nailed a triple Axel and three more clean triple jumps to finish third and win the first Grand Prix medal of his career -- a bronze.

"I am very happy, because this is my first medal on the Grand Prix. I want to continue like this, and I want to become better and better," Ponsero said. "I did a lot of intensive preparation to achieve this result. I hired a mental coach and a physical preparation coach and worked with my team. This result shows that the work has paid off."

Canadian Kevin Reynolds was the only skater to perform two quadruple jumps, a toe loop and a Salchow, but three triples were cheated and downgraded. The 18-year-old came in fourth. Stephen Carriere singled two Axels and slipped to sixth, overtaken by Takahito Mura of Japan. Carriere lost all his chances to qualify for the GP Final too. He would have needed to finish at least third with a higher score than Tomas Verner in order to make it.