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Career-best score puts Chan on top at Four C's

Canadian champ is in front; three Americans round out top five

Patrick Chan, the world's top-ranked men's skater, is a favorite to make the podium at the 2010 Olympics.
Patrick Chan, the world's top-ranked men's skater, is a favorite to make the podium at the 2010 Olympics. (Getty Images)

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By Laurie Nealin, special to icenetwork.com
(02/06/2009) - No Canadian man has ever won Olympic figure skating gold. Patrick Chan would like nothing better than to rewrite that bothersome statistic a year from now in Vancouver.

Judging by the amazing short program the Toronto teenager delivered Thursday night on what will be Olympic ice in 2010, he has the goods to do what great skaters like Brian Orser, Kurt Browning and Elvis Stojko were unable to accomplish.

The two-time Canadian champion, barely 18, put a whopping 88.90 points on the board for his Tango-styled program at the 2009 ISU Four Continents Championships. It was the highest total by any man in international competition this year, and the only man to ever score higher is Russian Evgeni Plushenko, who earned 90.66 points en route to Olympic gold in 2006.

Fans at the Pacific Coliseum were rising to their feet before Chan's final spin had wound down. He opened with a soaring triple Axel, flew through his triple flip-triple toe combo and nailed a triple Lutz. He then began to play to the crowd as he deftly navigated through two intricate series of footwork.

"Honestly, I didn't feel the greatest going in, waiting my turn. I didn't feel as confident as I did at nationals. This is different because you've got the Japanese, Chinese and the Americans, so I didn't feel great until after landing that first Axel -- even circling when I was waiting for my music, I started feeling better," said Chan, who was ninth in his senior worlds debut in 2008 but clinched gold twice on the Grand Prix circuit last fall.

"I took full advantage to really play to the crowd, really enjoy and give myself chills. When I've got chills at the end of the program, that's when I know it was a good program," added Chan, who is coached by Don Laws in Orlando, Fla.

Asked about having the potential to out-score Plushenko, Chan said he believes he would need a quad to do that, and he does not plan on adding that jump into the short program in the near future, if ever. Strategically, he feels it could be too big a risk.

Evan Lysacek, 23, a two-time U.S. champion who took the Four Continents title in 2005 and 2007, scored 81.65 points for his solid, second-place short program, set to Bolero. He got full credit for his three jump elements, including the securely landed triple Axel, with which he opened.

"For all the athletes here, there is an added sense of excitement knowing that the Olympics are going to be here and, as of February 12, just one year away," said the two-time world bronze medalist.

Lysacek admitted, however, that it was difficult for him to rally for this competition after the disappointment of losing his title at the 2009 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships a little more than a week ago.

"I had to do some soul searching. I wasn't sure I was going to be ready to come to this event. Emotionally, for me, it was kind of a down moment in my career. ... I thought maybe I needed some time to work through it, but I think the most important thing I could have done is take that first step -- maybe it's not a huge step, but standing up and dusting myself off and getting back out there. It was actually my coach who said, 'This is something you have to do.'

"But that's in the past, and I'm really honored to be a part of this event. It's been beautiful so far," Lysacek added.

Takahiko Kozuka, 19, of Japan, who burst onto the scene this season with two Grand Prix wins and a silver at the Final, is third with 76.61 points. His program, set to the Dave Brubeck jazz standard "Take Five," was, appropriately, silky smooth, except for the off-balance landing on his triple Axel.

Kozuka, the 2006 world junior champion, was eighth in his senior worlds debut in 2008.

Jeremy Abbott, 23, who was recently crowned Grand Prix Final and U.S. national champion, had a rougher ride than usual after falling on his triple Lutz and stumbling in one step sequence, but he managed to grab fourth place at 75.67, mostly thanks to healthy component scores (35.95, third-highest of the night).

Abbott, just 11th at the world championships last year, has made a major breakthrough this season, just like Chan and Kozuka.

Another skater who has recently walked onto the world-class stage is the third American in the field, Brandon Mroz. The 18-year-old is making his ISU Championship debut after earning a surprise silver medal last month at the U.S. Championships, and he performed well on Thursday night, finishing in fifth place with 75.05 points.

Japan's Nobunari Oda, 21, who won this event in 2006, just a year after claiming the world junior title, is in sixth with a score of 75.04, just one hundredth of a point behind Mroz.

Oda has not competed against a power-packed international field in almost two years, but he has won every event he has entered so far this year, including the NHK Trophy and Japanese nationals. Given the tight points spread from third to sixth, a medal is still well within his reach.

It has been quite the comeback for the skater who sat on the sidelines all of last season. He was suspended through December by his federation after being charged with driving a motor scooter while impaired. Oda, himself, then chose not to compete for the remainder of the season.

Of the 26 men who competed Thursday, the top 24 advanced to Saturday's final, set to begin at 1:45 p.m. ET.