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Brezina plays it safe, steps out to big lead

Kozuka falls on quad; Dornbush just .64 points out of medal spot

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(10/22/2011) - As other favorites faltered, Czech Michal Brezina blazed his way to an 8.38-point lead with an inspired, if technically conservative, short program set to "Kodo Drums."

"I was supposed to do a quad toe combo, but my coach [Petr Starec] decided we should go for a clean program here," Brezina said. "I think, also, he saw what everyone else did.

"I'm very happy. This is the first time I have ever won a short program at a Grand Prix."

Brezina, fourth at the 2011 World Figure Skating Championships, enters tomorrow's free skate at 2011 Skate America a comfortable margin ahead of world silver medalist Takahiko Kozuka, who's in second after falling on his opening quad toe. Another Japanese skater, Daisuke Murakami, is just .02 points behind his countryman.

The U.S. trio of Richard Dornbush, Armin Mahbanoozadeh and Douglas Razzano placed fifth, seventh and ninth, respectively.

European champion Florent Amodio had a disappointing outing, popping an intended triple Lutz combination into just a double Lutz. He is eighth, more than 17 points off the lead.

Brezina, who trains in Obertsdorf, Germany, but traveled to Detroit twice this summer to create his programs with Pasquale Camerlengo, opened with a high-flying triple Axel followed by a crisp triple flip-triple toe loop combination and a triple Lutz.

The highlight of his fast-paced program was an exciting yet controlled step sequence. His spins, too, were solid, and he earned 79.08 points.

"I really like the program," Brezina, 21, said. "There is something about the music that is fun to skate to. Even when you are tired, you want to move your legs and arms."

The Czech hit two different quads -- the toe loop and Salchow -- at worlds and plans to include both in his free skate Saturday.

"I hope it will work out; we will see," he said. "What can I lose?"

Kozuka, the Japanese champion, has looked vulnerable in practices here, popping the majority of his jumps.

That discomfort was still evident not only when he fell on an underrotated quad toe but also when he put a hand down on a triple Axel and underrotated the second jump in his triple flip-triple toe combination.

"I missed the quad toe, so today I was a little nervous," Kozuka said. "I want to have more confidence tomorrow.

"This is my first competition this season, and I haven't competed in a long time. I felt a little [tilted] to the left side on my quad, and I pulled back to the right side, but I couldn't do it."

It was a far better evening for Murakami, a relatively unheralded 20-year-old who placed seventh at the Japanese championships last season.

Murakami opened his short with a solid quad Salchow-double toe loop worth 12.09 points. It turned out to be the only four-revolution jump of the night. His other jumps -- a triple Axel and triple flip -- were clean, adding to his 70.67-point tally.

"When I began the season, I wasn't planning on putting a quad in my short program, but my coach, Frank Carroll, and I decided to put it in the short here," said Murakami, who has looked strong in practices.

Dornbush, who placed second to Ryan Bradley at the 2011 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, is just .64 points out of medal contention heading into tomorrow's free skate.

The 20-year-old, who hails from nearby Riverside, earned 70.03 points with a promising debut of his new short, choreographed by Justin Dillon, to a violin version of Beethoven's fifth symphony.

"I'm a little disappointed my triple Axel got a downgrade," he said. (In fact, the jump was marked as being underrotated.) "I think that's only the third time I've ever had a jump downgraded. I definitely skimmed it; it wasn't one of my best.

The skater's longtime coach, Tammy Gambill, was pleased with her pupil's stylized interpretation of the program, created less than four weeks ago.

"I'm very happy we made the switch to the Beethoven," she said. "He enjoys the program, and it came across really well."

Mahbanoozadeh had a solid outing to Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir," marred only by an underrotated triple Axel. He earned 64.54 points for a program that included a triple flip-triple toe combination and a triple Lutz.

"I felt pretty good skating out there," he said. "I know I put a hand down on the triple Axel, even though the ones in the warmup were really good.

"I was disappointed with my marks. The 'underrotate' on the Axel I'm not happy about. I did what I could, and tomorrow will be better."

Razzano, a late alternate for Olympic champion Evan Lysacek, lost ground in his short when he popped an intended quad toe into a double.

"I did decide to put the quad in this morning because they were so good in practice," he said. "I let it get away.

"I was actually very calm. I was more nervous waiting in my hotel room than I was this evening when I got here. I'm glad I got through it after the big pop.