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Hiwatashi celebrates birthday with win in short

Vrdoljak puts it all together on big stage, sits second; Melnyk overcomes injury to finish third

Tomoki Hiwatashi is looking to win his third U.S. title in as many seasons.
Tomoki Hiwatashi is looking to win his third U.S. title in as many seasons. (Jay Adeff)

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By Josh Ellis, special to icenetwork.com
(01/20/2013) - Happy birthday, Tomoki Hiwatashi.

On his 13th birthday, Hiwatashi performed "Orange Blossom Special" to the tune of 52.05 points, but it was a fall that ended up helping, not hurting, the DuPage FSC skater to the top of the leaderboard in the novice men's short program at the 2013 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Last year's intermediate champion, Hiwatashi fell on a jump during his warm-up, but he used that as fuel for his performance.

"I fell on my triple toe during warm-up," Hiwatashi said. "But that made me more focused and stiffen up a bit. I was really excited to land that jump."

Hiwatashi landed his triple toe, as well as a triple Salchow-double toe and a double Axel during a skate where all six of his elements received a grade of execution of at least 0.64.

While he had the best technical elements score by nearly two points, Hiwatashi still sees room for improvement.

"Going into the free skate, I feel like I could do more arm movements and overall perform better," he said.

In second place after the short program with 49.53 points is Nicholas Vrdoljak, who said he "felt like a million bucks" as he exited the ice at the CenturyLink Center. A novice competitor at the 2012 U.S. Championships in San Jose, Calif., where he finished seventh, Vrdoljak was happy to see everything come together on such a big stage.

"I've never really skated a short program that well so far this year, so I am pretty happy with my effort," Vrdoljak said. "It was such a great feeling, especially out here in front of all these people."

Vrdoljak opened with a triple Lutz and later added a Level 4 combination spin and a triple flip-double toe to amass 26.35 points for his elements.

In third place with 49.27 points is Oleksiy Melnyk, who overcame a recent injury to be competitive on the ice.

"I felt good out there. A little shaky on the jumps, but overall confident in my expressions," Melnyk said. "I had an injury two months ago, so that wiped me out for a month, and I had to get my jumps back, but I feel better now."

Melnyk, who skated to "Bel AMI," had the second-best components score while landing a triple-Lutz-double toe, triple flip and double Axel during his skate. He finished 11th last year as a novice at the U.S. championships.

The Pacific Coast Sectional champion, Daniel Samohin finished the short program in fourth place with 47.67 points. He said he had a lot of fun on the ice; however, he knows there is room for improvement.

"It wasn't my best performance," Samohin said. "I'm just really happy to be here, and I'm going to fight to the end."