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Verner impresses while Joubert disappoints

Oda second; Rippon a surprising third

Tomas Verner's charasmatic <i>Zorba the Greek</i> short program earned 81.00 points.
Tomas Verner's charasmatic Zorba the Greek short program earned 81.00 points. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(10/16/2009) - Tomas Verner escaped his usual early-season doldrums to take a 1.80-point lead after the men's short program.

The charismatic Czech's Zorba the Greek earned 81.00 points. Japanese champion Nobunari Oda sits second with 79.20 and two-time world junior champion Adam Rippon is a surprising third with 75.82.

"This was quite an important start to the season for me; usually, my first competitions are absolute disasters," Verner said.

"I usually never begin the season with a Grand Prix event, I do another international first. But this is the Olympic year and since it is so long, I changed my strategy."

Verner opened with a quad toe-triple toe combination worth 14.8 points, followed by a triple Axel and triple Lutz. He gained the highest program component score of the day and the second-highest technical tally.

"I was pleased with my jumps," he said. "I didn't like that I got a Level 1 on my combination spin and Level 1 on my sit spin, so I will have to review what happened and work on it for my free skate.

"Also, I hope my choreographer Lori Nichol didn't watch today, because I can do a lot better with the steps and the emotion. It's my first big competition after a long break and I was a little nervous."

Oda, too, had a clean outing, to Franz Liszt's "Totentanz."

Although his combination, a triple Lutz, triple toe, had a lower base value than Verner's, he had a slightly higher technical score, since his spins and steps gained higher levels.

"I think I did very good," Oda said. "I worked on my expression, not just my jumps, but my five component scores were still a little low. I thought they would all be over seven points [three were under seven]. But I still did a good program."

Rippon sparkled to Neil Diamond's Jonathan Livingston Seagull, choreographed by David Wilson.

The two-time world junior champion opened with a triple flip, triple toe combination, followed by a triple Axel. He lifted both arms over his head to achieve a new variation on the 'Tano triple Lutz, the trademark move of 1988 Olympic champion Brian Boitano.

"I think it was good, especially for my first time out testing the program in front of international judges," Rippon said.

"It's too bad my closing combination spin got a Level 1, but I was so happy I rushed the first camel a little bit, and if you [don't do enough rotations] on the first position the spin drops to Level 1."

Rippon's coach, Brian Orser, said his skater proved he belonged in the big leagues.

"Last season, maybe he was a little bit like a deer in headlights," the two-time Olympic silver medalist said. "But from the first practice here he's fit in here. He's training well and he's ready."

Orser, who is widely recognized as the first skater to make the triple Axel de rigueur for top men back in the 1980s, said he spent much of the summer "tweaking" Rippon's Axel to make the three-and-a half revolution jump more consistent.

"The technique really wasn't spot on," said Orser. "Now, he's a lot more confident with it."

Home country favorite Brian Joubert had a disappointing outing, flubbing the landing of the second jump in his quad toe, triple toe combination, turning out of his triple Axel and stumbling on his triple Lutz.

The 2007 world champion sits sixth with 72.15 points, some 8.85 off the lead.

Ryan Bradley, who placed fourth at the 2009 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, earned 65.21 points for eighth place.

Skating to a techno version of the Russian folk dance "Dark Eyes," Bradley opened with a quad toe-double toe combination, followed by a solid triple Axel and a fine Level 4 camel spin.

He faltered on the landing of an easier jump for him, the triple Lutz, and his straight-line steps, although entertaining, rated only Level 1.

"I came here confident," Bradley said. "I've had a lot of good reps [run-throughs] of this short since [the Nebelhorn Trophy in] Oberstdorf last month. My programs were well received there and now I want to prove I can compete with the best in the world."