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Kozuka leads men at Grand Prix Final

Japanese skater sets pace in short program

Takahiko Kozuka took advantage of other skaters' mishaps with a brilliant performance.
Takahiko Kozuka took advantage of other skaters' mishaps with a brilliant performance. (Getty Images)

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By J. Barry Mittan, special to icenetwork.com
(12/12/2008) - The newcomers skated well and the veterans fared poorly during the men's short program at the SBS ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final in Goyang City, Korea, on Friday. Two first-time qualifiers earned season-high scores, while two veteran skaters performed well back of their season bests.

Takahiko Kozuka of Japan won the short program with 83.90 points with a jazzy program to Dave Brubeck's "Take Five." He completed a triple Lutz-triple toe combination, triple flip and triple Axel. Although his skating skills were excellent, the program was a bit too regimented, as Kozuka first did all his jumps, then his footwork and finally his spins.

"Before I started my legs were shaking, and I felt really nervous," he said, "But I felt much better with each successful jump."

U.S. skater Jeremy Abbott finished second with a season-best 78.26 points in his first Grand Prix Final using Albinoni's "Adagio." He completed a triple flip-triple toe combination, triple Axel and triple Lutz.

"The whole point of being here was just to build upon each performance," Abbott stated. "Each practice has gotten better since I've been here, and this gives me confidence to perform the way I did."

France's Brian Joubert, who won the 2006-07 Grand Prix Final, was in third place after the short program with 74.55 points, well off his season best of 86.10. Skating to Safri Duo's "Rise," Joubert landed his opening quad toe loop in the combination, but doubled the planned triple toe loop. After completing a triple Axel, Joubert landed back on his skate and fell on his triple Lutz.

"I didn't feel very comfortable on my jumps, the quad toe and the triple Lutz," he said, "so I made a big mistake on the triple Lutz, and I lost a lot of points. Today I did mistakes. Tomorrow is another day."

Three-time U.S. champion Johnny Weir, who has suffered from his share of misfortune at past Grand Prix Finals, was in the fourth position with 72.50 points, eight points below his season best. He skated to "Sur Les Ailes du Temps" for his short program. Weir landed his triple Lutz-triple toe combination but then stepped out of the landing of his triple Axel and put two hands down, for which the technical panel gave him a one-point deduction. He also landed a triple flip, but that jump was marked for a wrong-edge take-off.

"I was just off," Weir said. "I think I was just trying too hard to be perfect."

The Czech Republic's Tomas Verner, the reigning European champion, placed fifth with 69.34 points. His unique music selections included Django Reinhardt's "Melodie en Crepuscule" and "Gypsy Swing." Verner fell on his opening quad toe loop, planned to be in combination with a triple toe loop, but he later added a triple toe loop to his triple Lutz to gain the points for the required combination jump element. He landed a triple Axel but fell on his circular step sequence.

Canada's Patrick Chan, a double Grand Prix winner this season, had a terrible night. Using Vanessa Mae's rendition of "Tango de los Exilados," he fell on both his triple Axel and triple Lutz and barely held the landing of the triple toe loop in his triple flip-triple toe combination.

Chan scored only 68.00 points to finish last in the segment.