Takahashi leads Abbott after "perfect" short

Rippon and Mahbanoozadeh sit fourth, fifth going in to free

Daisuke Takahashi leads the men after the short program in Taipei.
Daisuke Takahashi leads the men after the short program in Taipei. (Getty Images)


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By Alexandra Stevenson and Lynn Rutherford, special to
(02/18/2011) - Daisuke Takahashi and Jeremy Abbott lost their national titles, but if Friday's short program event in Taipei is any guide, they are back on track.

Takahashi eclipsed the field with a scintillating short program to Rumba and pulsating Mambo rhythms. His 83.49 points puts him 6.76 ahead of Abbott, who had a solid outing of his Tango program.

Abbott's U.S. teammate Adam Rippon is fourth despite a fall on his triple Axel. Armin Mahbanoozadeh is fifth after his triple Axel was judged under rotated by the technical panel.

Through an interpreter, Takahashi, 24, who last March became the first Japanese man to earn the world title, said, "This was my season's best score for this routine. It is the first time I've been able to present it perfectly. It gives me confidence that I can live up to my responsibilities and retain the title [in Tokyo next month]."

Takahashi opened his routine with a sultry rumba to "Historia de un Amor" and progressed with increasing tempo to very entertaining mambos. He hit all of his elements, including a triple flip-triple toe combination and triple Axel, with ease.

"I felt comfortable and confident throughout the performance . . . at Japanese nationals I didn't feel so confident for the short program. I wasn't 100% into it and I was only fourth," he said.

In that competition, he was only third overall, losing his national title to Takahiko Kozuka, 21, who lies sixth here after faulting two of his jump elements.

Like Takahashi, Abbott had a disappointing national championship, but rebounded here with a strong performance.

Dressed in a sophisticated, schizophrenic outfit with one half of a black jacket and the other side a white shirt and silver waistcoat, he executed all seven elements in his Tango routine without a major flaw.

Still, he was surprisingly negative about his performance.

"Today was very shaky," he said. "Usually in this program, I have a lot of fire and it's explosive. Today, from the get-go, I had no feet on the ice. I landed my jumps but sometimes it's about more than that. It was just shaky. Not my best, not my worst, it just was! I'm relieved I stayed vertical."

He was, perhaps, a little hard on himself.

In the two most important moves, the combination of jumps and the triple Axel, Abbott was only marginally behind Takahashi. Takahashi received 0.20 more for his combination and 0.28 more on the Axel.

However, the 2009 and 2010 U.S. champion, who placed a disappointing fourth at the 2011 U.S. Figure Skating Championships last month, could have gained more points on the three spins, and the landing on his triple Lutz was a little shaky.

"It was very disappointing for me not to be on the U.S. world team," Abbott said. "When I got back home, I was very upset and I didn't have the motivation to come here.

"But after a couple of days I stopped feeling sorry for myself. I kind of looked at it as a start to next season. Although I won't be going to the world championships, I think this is kind of a new step toward next year. I just want to skate well here and move on to next season and have a good start."

Yuzuru Hanyu, Japan's 16-year-old world junior champion, who was fourth in the Japanese championship, gained the second highest technical score and lies only a fraction (0.30) behind Abbott with 76.43 points.

"I'm very surprised to be in third place," he said. "I was just trying to do my best and I was happy to achieve that today."

Rippon, fifth at the U.S. Championships, fell on his triple Axel in his flowing program to Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet overture but still gained 72.71 points and is well placed going in to the free skate.

About his fall on the first element, the 21-year-old said, "I had a little trouble on the triple Axel. I stepped out and then just fell after the step out. It was kind of a spooky fall, but I put it behind me.

"After the triple Axel, I felt I skated really strong and I was really happy with the rest of the program. The triple Axel, obviously, is a big mistake but my score isn't terrible and I know I can pull up for the free skate."

The 19-year-old Mahbanoozadeh -- whose long last name means "born of a woman as beautiful as the moon" -- was a little upset with being given a slight under-rotation call for his triple Axel. He earned 66.40 points for fifth place.

"I'm surprised on the triple Axel, I've never gotten it under-rotated before so I'll have to go back and look," he said. "I skated well and sometimes you get the marks, sometimes you don't.

"I felt excited. I was comfortable on the ice today. I've had ups and downs this week in practice but I was glad I could pull out a vertical program without any major mistakes. Maybe I'm a little too into the music (which he mixes himself); I had a little stumble on the footwork. But I enjoy what I do and try to project that out to the audience."