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Takahashi emerges with win after quad-filled free

Five-time Japanese champ holds on for gold; Fernandez hits three quads in free

Japan's Daisuke Takahashi finally captured gold at a Grand Prix final.
Japan's Daisuke Takahashi finally captured gold at a Grand Prix final. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(12/08/2012) - The world's top male skaters put on a virtuoso technical display at Sochi's Iceberg on Saturday, landing quads, triple Axels and tricky combinations galore while delivering complex and entertaining choreography.

When all the ice chips had settled at the Grand Prix Final, Japan's Daisuke Takahashi, who led after the short program, won his first Grand Prix Final gold after three silvers. His younger countryman, Yuzuru Hanyu, took second, improving over his fourth-place finish last season, while defending champion Patrick Chan settled for bronze.

Skating a tightly packed and, at times, frantic program to the aria from Pagliacci, Takahashi fell on his opening quad toe but scored with his second attempt, a quad-triple (the triple was under-rotated). He also landed two triple Axels, although he put a hand down on his triple Axel-double toe combination. His spins, including a layback, were superb, and his steps were sharp. And although he placed just third in the free, he earned 177.11, his season's best, to beat Hanyu by 5.11 points.

"I am very happy after this result, but my skating was not good," the modest Takahashi said at a press conference. "Accuracy in my quads improved after my injury (knee surgery in 2008), but I lack confidence.

"I am the champion of the Grand Prix, but there is a lot to be done. I know what my challenges are and my issues and I hope the lessons learned here make me improve further."

Hanyu took a more elegant and lyrical approach, but also showed power and speed in his free to Notre-Dame de Paris. The 18-year-old opened with a quad toe and then doubled a quad Salchow attempt, but landed everything else, including back-to-back triple Axel combinations in the second half of his program. He earned 177.12 to take second in the free.

"I messed up my [quad] Salchow and it became a double, and as a result, I wasn't placed higher," Hanyu said. "It was reassuring to have many other Japanese skaters here. We were able to talk in Japanese, and that contributed to the good performance for all of us."

Chan, Canada's two-time world champion, fell on the opening quad toe in his free to music from La Bohème, but recovered to land his second attempt and also landed a triple Axel.

Although Chan gained the highest program components score of the night, just edging Takahashi, he lost technical points when his final jumping pass, a double Axel-double toe, was ruled invalid (too many combinations). He ended the event with 258.66 points.

"Looking at the program, there were a lot of good things: the triple Axel, the triple loop," Chan said. "Then I did kind of do an extra combo. I know not to do it again. It's a learning experience. I pulled a Nobunari (referring to Nobunari Oda, who has often been penalized for too many combinations)."

In past competitions, Chan has outstripped opponents on both the technical, and more often, the program components score, but now he admitted the field has caught up with him.

"A lot more skaters are doing quads, two quads in the program; the years I won worlds in Moscow (2011) and worlds in Nice (2012), a lot less skaters were doing two quads," he said. "The boundaries have been pushed, especially this year. Pressure has risen, and we have very good quality skaters.

"A lot of critics were upset that I was getting rewarded for elements that weren't executed well, so, hopefully, [the lower scores] will please some people."

The night belonged to Spain's Javier Fernández, who landed three quadruple jumps -- an opening toe and two Salchows, the first done in combination with a triple toe -- in his winning free skate to a medley of Charlie Chaplin tunes.

Fernandez's program wasn't "just" about jumps; the Spaniard executed some of the better spins of his career, and his steps evoked Chaplin's impish charm. But, with a strong triple Axel plus a solid triple flip-triple Salchow sequence added to the quads, he ended with a 95.93 technical score, best of the event.

He earned 178.43 for the free skate and finished the event with 258.62, missing bronze by just 0.04 points.

"That's 10 points ahead of your season's best [free]," Fernández's coach, Brian Orser, said in the kiss and cry. "And you still have room to improve."

(Orser was likely thinking of an intended triple loop Fernandez reduced to a double.)

Two other Japanese skaters -- 2011 world silver medalist Takahiko Kozuka, who landed a quad toe, and 2012 Skate America champion Tatsuki Machida -- placed fifth and sixth, respectively.