By Alexandra Stevenson
All Photos Copyright 2005 by George S. Rossano
|"Surprised", is how Daisuke
Takahashi described his feelings after discovering he was in the lead
after the short program. When quizzed by a battery of journalists, the
seemingly embarrassed 19 year old admitted, "Todayís performance
was not bad, but not good. Iím surprised and happy."
He accomplished his triple flip to triple toe loop combination of jumps gaining a more than satisfactory +1 Grade of Execution (GOE). But he fell on his second move, the triple Axel. That meant he received the lowest possible GOE, -3, and a deduction of 1.0 for the fall. However, he still gained 4.50 points because he completed three full revolutions. All of his other moves got slight positive GOEís including his triple Lutz. All three of his spins received Level 3 but both footwork sequences were only Level 2.
Kevin van der Perren, who lies second, gained a marginal 0.34 more for his element score but Takahashi, who performed to the soundtrack from Moulin Rouge, was rewarded with the top component scores. Takahashi is from Kurashiki, a historical town in Okayama Prefecture which is in the west of Japan. He is trained in the city of Okayama by Utako Nagamitsu.
Asked how he came to take up skating, Takahashi explained through an interpreter, "I was always crying and my parents became very worried about me. They decided I should take up sports to toughen me up. I wanted to skate so I started when I was eight."
He won the world junior championship in 2002. However, after winning the bronze in the Four Continents Championships earlier this year, he had a setback dropping four places in Moscow to 15th from his standing the previous year in his debut at worlds at senior level.
"Since then, I finished school. I have worked much harder (with his hopes fueled by the hopes of making the Olympic team) and I also have a new choreographer." And who would that be? Why Nikolai Morosov, of course.
Takahashi performed immediately following one of the favorites, Brian Joubert, who also wasnít perfect and lies fourth. Evan Lysacek is third.
Van der Perren has kept his fun 2 minute 50 second routine to Computergame by Safri Duo. The 23 year old from Belgium wore a snazzy black and silver shiny outfit with Exit written in large silver letters on his back and a red bent arrow over his right shoulder. He also sports a diamond and a silver stud in this left ear plus two silver studs in his right eyebrow. On him, it looks effective.
Van der Perren first caught the attention of fans with a stunning combination of three triple jumps, which scores highly in the new system. Though he did not then have a quad, he beat others who did. A reverse situation occurred in Atlantic City where he began with a quad toe to triple toe. "Iím very happy to have landed my first quad ever in competition in the short program. Tomorrow, I hope itís going to work again. I didnít put the quad in before because I did not want to do that until my triple Axel was solid. I didnít want to mess up two elements."
Although he also landed his triple Axel on Thursday, he lost his edge stumbling soon afterwards. The judges harshly gave him a -1.40 GOE, but his misstep was not classed as a fall and so he did not get a deduction. He said he would have to concentrate better in the future. "I must tell myself, ĎItís not over after the first jump." He was so excited that the combination had gone well. "I only got the quad in August."
Van der Perrenís triple Lutz gained a slight positive GOE. BUT his only Level 3 was for his first spin, a flying sit. Though he received a Level 2 for his final move, a change foot combination spin, both his step sequences were only Level 1 as was his change foot sit spin. It was these low levels which kept him out of first place, which he lost by only 0.31. He is trained by Vera Vandecaveye in the Belgian cities of Leuven and Deurne. His choreographer is former American ice dancer, Diana Goolsbey.
Van der Perren has been Belgian champion since 2000 and has competed in the European and world championships for the past six years. "I didnít really start skating till I was quite old. Skating is such an expensive sport. My parents said, ĎGo play soccer with your brother because professional players make good money.í But I didnít want to do that. A group of people now give me support and I train with only a few others on the ice. I get ice for four hours a day. When I was younger, I liked having others around to push me but now Iím fine. I donít need others to spur me on."
When he was 19, Van der Perren won the silver at the 2002 at the junior world championships, becoming the first Belgian to medal in an ISU championship for 54 years. He was 12th in the Salt Lake Games and is looking forward to Turin in February. "I wasnít nervous at those Olympics because I had to do so much to get there. The Belgian Olympic Association said I had to medal at a Grand Prix event and also come in the top 12 in Europe. I had to meet so many goals to get to Salt Lake so that when I did, I just relaxed and enjoyed myself.
He said he did about 50 quads a day "because your body has to get used to them." He later amended that statement. "I donít count the number but I do lots." Isnít that hard on his body? Van der Perren shrugged off the fear of injury. "Iím already injured. On my right side, I have a knee problem and on the left I have a heel problem and I also have back problems.
By placing eighth in the last worlds, Van der Perren qualified his country to send two men to the upcoming Olympics. Unfortunately, his tiny country does not have a suitable second entry much to the joy of the man who finished seventh in Vienna last week. There were initially only six spots left on the Olympic team which were decided on the results of the Karl Schaefer Memorial competition. When the head of the Belgian Association gave back their unneeded second spot, Zoltan Toth of Hungary, got his chance for the Olympics.
Lysacekł who skated first of the 12 men from nine countries, performed to Vamos a Bailar by the Gypsy Kings in a red blousy V-necked top trimmed in silver and black pants. He put a lot of effort into the program but looked relieved at the end at having completed his eight elements. "Was I relieved? I suppose so. My warm-up wasnít very good. I definitely wanted to stay on my feet and I did that but no, I donít think the showing was enough to win the short." His score was only 1.35 behind first place.
"Today is the first time Iíve performed that short so Iím still learning. I think for this time out I felt pretty comfortable with it. My plan is not to be perfect at the beginning of the season, so hopefully things will keep improving and it will get better and better. Iím not anywhere near my peak. I want my peak form at nationals. My main focus now is staying healthy.
"Iím reading the book, What to Say When You Talk to Yourself, and itís about positive affirmation. One of the stories in the book is about this person who had never bowled before. He wrote on his hand, ĎI bowl strikes.í And just said it over and over and over again and he bowled a perfect game. So I wrote on my hand, ĎI skate clean programsí and just kept saying it today and I think it helped me stand up on the triple Axel."
That sort of positive affirmation is more generally accepted on a visual level. Most coaches have their pupils mentally picture themselves going through a perfect program either while playing the music, or imagining the accompaniment.
However, the hand note obviously worked for Lysacek, who won the silver medal in the world junior championships a disappointing three times. In Atlantic City, his opening move, the triple Axel, was landed with the weight a little too forward and only held with a great deal of determination and muscle power, which resulted in a -1 GOE. His other elements, including the triple Lutz to triple toe loop and triple flip from footwork, were all accomplished well. Two of his three spins were Level 3 and the other a Level 2.
The 20 year old world championship bronze medalist, who is trained by Frank Carroll and Ken Congemi in El Segundo, CA, had a shaky outing two weeks ago at the Campbells Invitational event. He finished sixth in a field of six there after two footing his opening jump, the quad toe, and falling twice in St. Paul in the free skating only event. Paul.
"I feel a lot more pressure, even from myself, to succeed this year and surpass the results that I had from last year. Iíve been working hard but actually Iíve been getting a little bit nervous the last two competitions. I rose quickly to the elite group of skaters. Itís tough to stay up there and everyone kind of wants to knock you down. I didnít deal with that last year because I had nothing to loose then."
Asked to evaluate his pupil, Carroll said, "Itís very hard for me to look at one of my own skaters. The triple Axel was not landed as well as he could but he had good energy. Iíd like to see him do a quad in the short. Heís a little better than last year. Heís improving with time. He needs to learn to chill out and go for it. Heís got to get on the ice looking like a tiger. Figure skating is a big head game. He has to think, ĎI am the killer.í He can do that when he feels totally confident.
"Now competition is more math than it is skating. Lots of aspects have been made better but you lose a little of the musicality. You are required to do all your turns in the first 30 percent of your foot work, but maybe the music doesnít call for that. The girls are all doing the same spiral sequence in the short and the long because theyíve learned what gets the most points. That is less interesting for the public. And there are still some very strange values. For instance, an inside Axel is not given any value but a half loop is considered a jump. And itís impossible to fully make sure the system is fair. Human beings are still pushing the pluses and minuses. Thereís always going to be some error if humans are doing it."
Joubert, who was runner-up for the world title in 2004, was a substantial 6.22 points behind the leader. The Frenchman put his hand down on the quad toe loop and so was only able to get airborne for a double toe, and his triple Axel was low. Both moves got a -2.0 GOE. Then, in his Level 1 straight line step sequence, he fell.
Tim Goebel, skating to Sing, Sing, Sing in a blue sparkly top with black suspenders, untied tie, and black pants had a problem singling his triple Axel in the warm-up but managed this feat in the routine which began badly when he fell on his quad Salchow attempt which was downgraded to a triple. He lies sixth behind the second French entry, Yannick Ponsero who was last to skate.
Dennis Phan, a 20 year old, from Riverside, CA, who is trained by Tammy Gambill, lies seventh only one place but a large 4.80 points behind former US champion, Tim Goebel, who is sixth.
A look of utter joy filled his face as he pumped his fists into the air at the end. "This was my first Grand Prix win. This is a big competition and winning gave me confidence for this season. I would like to keep this standard up."
But he did not rank the performance as best ever. "The best was Junior Worlds. This was maybe, second or third." He was more surprised at his win here "because Iím a senior, now. I just wanted to skate well here. I didnít care about the results." He finished an amazing 24.83 points ahead of Lysacek.
He has used classical music in the past and likes this music, which Lysacek has also skated to. "But I wanted to try something different this season. At the very beginning I hesitated to skate to classical again. But then I started to love this music."
Lysacek, who skated immediately following the second warm-up, finished with the silver although he was third in both short and long. He skated to Grease so very much better than when he debuted the piece in St. Paul. The story of this very successful musical is somewhat old-fashioned by todayís standards. A group of teenagers with altogether far too much energy find love over a summer.
"The music was a huge decision," Lysacek said. He plays the main character, Danny Zuko a little too politely. But no doubt heíll get into shaking his hips a bit more as his interpretation of the swaggering heartthrob develops as the season progresses.
He loves the vibrancy and energy in the music but heís not enamored with slobbering his hair with grease and hair spray. "I canít wait to wash my hair. I must have set the fight against global warming back years with all the hair spray I had to use. But itís a fun program. Since last yearís Singing in the Rain, Iíve got boxes of mail from people telling me they love seeing something which uses music they can recognize and which makes them feel good. They say they love the smiling. I know itís a sport and itís technical but I think a more upbeat approach can bring more people back to watching skating."
When his team was deciding which music to do, they ran into someone in a music studio who had played bass guitar in the orchestra pit of the stage production of Grease for six years. They took that to be a sign.
His outfit is a complete change from St. Paul. "The leather was heavy and the denim hot." This time though heís all in black itís more of a summer look with a short sleeved shirt with a couple of silver lines indicating zips.
This time he wrote on his hand, ĎAttack!í He began with a good triple Lutz to triple toe loop and although he got a slight minus (-0.40 GOE) for his triple Axel to double toe he stayed on his feet on both that and the second triple Axel which also received a small negative of -0.80 taken off from the base value.
There were two items in which he reduced the difficulty. His three jump combination became double (instead of triple) flip to double toe to double loop and he singled his second Lutz.
"Those two mistakes I made tonight were mental errors. I lost my concentration for a second, but overall I think I stayed with the program and stayed in character. I tried to perform the best for the audience, to control the expression, and I think they are appreciative. Definitely the quad is going to go in. I did some good ones this weekend in practice, but this is the beginning of the season and I have steps in the ladder to reach and thatís going to be the next one."
Joubert skated last. The three time French champion was second in the long but third overall, 3.43 points behind Lysacek, because of his fourth place in the short which he performed to the soundtrack from the soundtrack of the James Bond movie, Die Another Day. For the long, he used the Irish music, Lord of the Dance. That was despite his being the only competitor to get a Level 4 in the short, which was for his change foot combination spin. He did not receive a Level 4, however, in the long.
"Last season the music was a mistake. It was too slow. I wanted faster music. I used this music before for an exhibition," said the 21 year old from Poitiers, which is a little way to the west of Paris. "Iím a little disappointed because I did not do a clean program. My practices at home and were here very good."
The former European champion, who has a new coach this season, Russian, Andrei Berezintsev, fell on his first move, a quad toe which was meant to be a combination. The following triple Axel and triple Lutz were good. "After I missed the combination, I was thinking how I could add a jump." The men are only allowed eight jumping passes. Joubert decided to add a double toe to his first triple flip, but that messed up his concentration and he doubled instead of tripled the following jump, his second Axel. That was also supposed to be a combination but he wasnít able to bring it off. He put a hand down on the triple loop which result in -2 GOE but quickly followed with good triple Salchow and flip jumps which were given an extra 10% for being later in the routine.
There was a great deal of pressure on Joubert for this last season. He had placed second to Evgeny Plushenko for the world title in 2004 but earlier this year, after the titleholder pulled out of worlds, Joubert was not able to take advantage of that opportunity. Instead, he dropped to sixth overall, the same place heíd gained in his second appearance in that event in 2003.
Were any of the medalists going out gambling in this city full of casinos? "Oh, no," said Lysacek. "Iím too young." Takahashi isnít giving in to temptation either. "Iím afraid Iíd get addicted." But Joubert is game. "Maybe with some other skaters, I will go and have some fun."
Van der Perren dropped from second to fourth overall, a significant 5.11 points behind Joubert. Skating to Pirates of the Carribean, Van der Perren got off to a bad start, singling his planned quad toe, a jump he had done for the first time in the short the previous day. He recovered to bring off a triple Axel to triple toe and followed with the three jump combination for which he is famous, triple flip-triple toe-triple loop which has a base value of 14.5, and he received a slight positive GOE which added 0.3 to that score.
He singled his planned second triple Axel. "I was tired. That always seems to happen to me in the free. Itís the beginning of the season so itís not so bad. Iíll just have to wait out the season and see if it can get better. I would have liked to attempt a second quad but I couldnít figure out a place to do it."
Joubertís teammate, Yannick Ponsero, the silver medal winner from the last world junior championships who turned 19 on October 17, held onto fifth place although he was only sixth in the long performing to a French version of the Irish music, The Lakes of Conemara.
In fifth place in the long but pulling up only two places to finish ninth overall was the 20 year old Christopher Mabee from Tillsonburg, Ontario, who is trained by Doug Leigh.
In the short he had fallen three times not only getting -3 GOEs but incurring a penalty of -3.0 for the three deductions. Leigh said at that time, "That was well below his average skate. It was out of character but it is his first senior international. Heís in with the big guys."
The personable Mabee, who was fifth in the last Canadian senior championships, admitted, "Missing triple flips is not normal for me. Obviously it was not the skate I wanted. Maybe I was over analyzing too much. It was an off night. Iím going into the long with nothing to lose. Iíve got to prove myself even more tomorrow."
And he did. He took the ice skating fifth of the lower six competitors in regular brown trousers, a black shirt rolled up to the elbows and suspenders. His Big Band routine has great potential with several crowd pleasing miming moments. He doubled his first move meant to be a triple loop and singled his triple Axel, but he stayed on his feet and later tripled a toe loop combined with a triple Lutz. He finished with a smile and gained a great response from the crowd. He and Goebel were the only skaters to get a Level 4 in the long. Mabee received this accolade for his first spin, a sit.
Despite Goebelís Level 4 flying sit spin, he was only eighth in the long. However, he held on to sixth place overall. "Honestly, Iíve really never popped that many jumps," he admitted. He began his Night on a Bald Mountain free with his Ďwarm-up jumpí, a triple flip but then fell on his quad Salchow which was deemed a triple. Then he singled an Axel which was planned as a combination and followed it with a double Axel. He did a triple Salchow but singled a loop. After his Level 3 flying combination spin he singled a Lutz. His change foot sit spin was Level 3 and just before he ended with a Level 2 change foot combination spin, he presented a good triple flip to toe loop. Both his footwork sequences were lower than expected. The circle was a Level 2 and the straight line a Level 1.
"I just donít know what happened," said the former US champion, with an expression which resembled a deer caught in a hunterís headlights.
Phan finished seventh in both sections and overall, 2.78 points behind Goebel. Skating his long to the soundtrack to National Treasure, he fell on his opening triple Axel and also later on his double Axel. He brought off a good triple Lutz to triple toe but doubled his planned triple flip and singled a second attempt.
2005 Skate America Men's Medalists
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