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Takahashi not perfect, but good enough for win

Up-and-comer Hanyu takes silver; Abbott ends season with bronze

The men's podium at 2011 Four Continents. From left: Yuzuru Hanyu, Daisuke Takahashi and Jeremy Abbott.
The men's podium at 2011 Four Continents. From left: Yuzuru Hanyu, Daisuke Takahashi and Jeremy Abbott. (Getty Images)

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By Alexandra Stevenson and Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(02/19/2011) - Daisuke Takahashi won his second Four Continents title by nearly 16 points, but his victory could not have been predicted from the flawed start to his free skate.

Japan's first-ever men's world champion fell on a quad toe loop, which was also downgraded, meaning he salvaged just a paltry two points for this difficult jump.

The 24-year-old rebounded with an excellent triple Axel to double toe loop combination, followed by a strong triple loop. His first spin gained the maximum Level 4, and although his other spins were graded a lowly Level 2, his circular steps went perfectly with Piazzolla's "Invierno Porteno" Tango. He won the free skate and the event with 244 points.

"I realize the performance today was not good enough for the world championships in Tokyo," Takahashi said. "But I could skate with the cheers of the fans and it was a good push for me.

"My long program is a Tango, but it is not a "Tango Tango." I'm still 24 years old and I tried to express myself as a person with a lot of experience. Again, I just try to express the music as I feel it and I'm not thinking about it too much, either."

World junior champion Yuzuru Hanyu rose from third after the short to claim silver, overtaking Jeremy Abbott by a margin of 2.30 points.

The 16-year-old soared through a quad toe loop, the only clean quad of the event, and later earned a huge 15.76 points for his triple Axel to triple toe loop combination.

"Since I came to this competition, my jumps weren't so good, so I worried a lot about the jumps," Hanyu said. "I was focusing on the jumps only during the performance and I did better than I expected."

Like Takahashi, Abbott -- the two-time U.S. champion who placed fourth at the 2011 U.S. Figure Skating Championships -- also got off to a rough start, falling on the quad toe at the top of his free to the Life is Beautiful soundtrack. His second jump, a triple flip, was fine but then, on his triple Axel, his body jackknifed forward and he had to fight not to put a supporting hand on the ice.

Two of Abbott's spins were graded Level 2, an issue that also hurt him at the U.S. Championships, but his second triple Axel scored big and he ended the event with 225.71.

"This was the last competition of the season for me, and I wanted to put out my best and do strongest programs of the season," Abbott, 25, said. "I felt I did that.

"To be back on the podium in an ISU Championships, the last time was 2007 Four Continents, was a nice end to long, difficult season. Now, I'm excited to move on to the next one."

Asked what he could do to improve his results next season, Abbott replied, "Have good boots. That was the biggest struggle early on, getting my equipment right. I need to start that earlier next season. In competition, I felt I was consistent with far less mistakes than previous seasons. I want to continue on an upward trend."

The other two Americans, Adam Rippon and Armin Mahbanoozadeh, also lost ground in the free.

Rippon, the defending Four Continents champion, executed a double instead of triple Axel as his first jump. He had some unique moves -- including a "Rippon" triple Lutz with both arms flung up over his head -- and his step sequence late in his free to Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto no. 2 was a masterpiece of choreography. However, on his second attempt at a triple Axel, his feet got caught together and he almost fell.

Rippon dropped from fourth after the short to fifth overall, overtaken by Japan's Takahiko Kozuka, who had the highest technical element score of the event.

"I'm a good competitor and I train hard," Rippon said. "I felt really off today, and coming in fifth while being off isn't terrible. I know I can do much better and what I showed today isn't the kind of skater I am.

"I felt off and tried my best to fight it and continue no matter what. I wasn't over my feet and I've felt like that for the last couple of competitions. I guess its back to the drawing board."

Mahbanoozadeh also had a few unsteady moments, including problems on both of his triple Axels. His ninth place in the free pulled him down two places to seventh overall.

"I didn't feel like I could get into the program like I have before," he said. "I felt like instead of being really focused on every element, I felt a little distant. I wasn't able to do my best or what I've been training, that's disappointing."