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Takahashi rocks out clean short at Grand Prix Final

Chan sits 3.02 points behind in second; Hanyu finishes in third

Five-time Japanese champ Daisuke Takahashi was second at both of his Grand Prix events.
Five-time Japanese champ Daisuke Takahashi was second at both of his Grand Prix events. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(12/07/2012) - While others stumbled and fell, Daisuke Takahashi rocked out a clean short program at Sochi's Iceberg on Friday, opening up a 3.02-point lead over Patrick Chan, who fumbled his combination.

Yuzuru Hanyu fell on the second jump of his triple Lutz-triple toe combination and is another 2.10 points behind.

Takahashi, who won Japan's first-ever world men's title in 2010 and placed second behind Chan last season, has had -- by his standards -- a mediocre fall, placing second at both of his Grand Prix events (Cup of China and NHK Trophy). But his explosive short to an old-time rock 'n' roll medley hit all the high notes at the Grand Prix Final, as he opened with a solid quadruple toe loop that smoothly transitioned into a high-flying sit spin.

He followed with a strong triple Lutz-triple toe combination and then nailed a triple Axel that moved right into a fast-turning step sequence. His three spins all gained Level 4, and he earned 92.29 points, a new season high.

"It was the first time this season that I was able to do my quad in the short program," Takahashi said. "I am very happy about that. For the past few days, I haven't had the best conditions, but I think my overall practice has produced the outcome and I'm feeling that I've grown to do this."

(Takahashi, and several other skaters on the Japanese team, have mentioned "soft ice" in their interviews with the Japanese press in Sochi.)

Chan opened his short to Rachmaninoff's "Elegie in E-Flat minor" with a solid quad toe, and then summoned a spectacular triple Axel that earned some +3s from the judging panel.

After those two hurdles, it seemed like clear sailing for Canada's two-time world champion, but he doubled the triple Lutz in an intended triple Lutz-triple toe combination and then stumbled out of the triple toe. Judges rewarded his superior glide and edges with the highest program components score (44.53) of the event, and he earned a season's best 89.27 to stay within striking distance of Takahashi in Saturday's free skate.

"It was a great quad toe, and it should have been quad toe-triple toe, which is how I train it," Chan said. "Sometimes, you do not have the best of speed coming into the first jump. I had to kind of think on my feet.

"The last triple jump (the toe) did not have enough speed going into it and was a bit too far down the ice, but I stayed on my feet and I am happy with my performance.

"I think this is where I want to be," he continued. "Three points is not a lot in men's skating, unlike ice dancing. It is really easy to make up and for once I do not have to skate last in the group, which is great."

Hanyu, third in the world last season, has set astounding scores in his short programs this season, but was unable to do the same here in Sochi.

The Japanese teenager, just 17, seemed off-axis in all of his jumps, including a low-landing quad toe and triple Axel, and then fell on the back end of a triple Lutz-triple toe combination. He earned 87.17, far off his world-record high short of 95.32 points at the 2012 NHK Trophy.

"Up until now, I had no misses at all (in the short in the Grand Prix Series)," Hanyu said. "I was quite confident going in there, but I learned today that you don't always have perfect skating.

"I was able to nail my Axel, and my steps were Level 4, so I think it was a good experience for me. I learned a lot. I had relatively less speed today, but that is because I'm a little bit tired. I will change my mindset tomorrow."

Skating to the theme from Exodus, another Japanese skater, 2011 world silver medalist Takahiko Kozuka, fell on his triple Axel and placed fourth with 86.39 points.

Spain's Javier Fernández, who, like Hanyu, trains in Toronto under Brian Orser, had an uncharacteristic fall on his quad toe to finish fifth with 80.19 points.

Yet another Japanese skater, 2012 Skate America champion Tatsuki Machida, fell on his triple Axel and is sixth with 70.58 points.