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Oda Takes Big Lead After Remarkable Short Programby Mickey Brown
Photo by Paul Harvath
(10/26/06) - Evan Lysacek has his work cut out for him if he intends to leave Skate America with his first ISU Grand Prix gold medal. That's because Japan's Nobunari Oda pulled off an historic skate Thursday night at the Hartford Civic Center.
Oda racked up 81.80 points for his flawless short program, distancing himself from the rest of the competition, which includes France's Alban Preaubert in second (career-best 73.80) and Lysacek in third (70.35). Oda's score is the second highest under the international judging system (IJS), behind only the 90.66 posted by Evgeny Plushenko at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games. He surpassed his previous best by more than three-and-a-half points.
The 2006 Four Continents champion landed four triples, two in combination, and maintained excellent speed throughout his “Fly Me to the Moon” program. Oda's only mistake was a slight slip on an edge on the landing of his triple flip, but other than that he was perfect.
“I was just enjoying my skating today,” Oda said. "I was here not just to win but for myself.”
Preaubert skated to “Buzzy Bee” by Robert Wells, and he looked every bit the part, as he was decked out in a yellow-and-black-striped shirt under a black leather jacket. His jumps were just as good as Oda's, but his spins weren't quite as tight and his footwork not as precise.
“Today was a very good program for me. Nikoli Morozov and I joke about this program because it's very funny,” Preaubert said. “I wanted to start with something original and current, so we found my own style, and with my coach Annick Dumont, it's very pleasant to train this program.”
In contrast to the skaters who sit 1-2 heading into Friday's free skate, Lysacek had trouble with his jumps. He put his hand down on the ice, nearly falling, on his triple Axel, and came out of the landing on the latter half of his triple Lutz-triple toe combination. He did land a clean triple flip, and his spins and footwork were fast and smooth.
“There's a lot of difficulty in the components, so I'm glad to see that aspect of it is getting worked out,” Lysacek said. “I had some minor errors, but I tried to put my heart and soul into the rest of the performance and I think it showed in the scores.”
Lysacek's program is to "The Feeling Begins" from “The Last Temptation of Christ” soundtrack, and it was put together by none other than former World champion Kurt Browning. At first, the two tried using an arrangement that would maximize the scoring in the IJS, but they eventually hit a wall. So, they did the only thing they could think of: do what the music told them.
“It's a program that I think is going to be a little outside of my box as far as comfort, trying new stuff with body movement,” Lysacek said. “I gave it 100 percent like I always do every time. Sometimes I'm great and sometimes I have to fight a little bit, and I fought today to stay on my feet."
Lysacek has a recent history of faltering in the short program but rallying in the free skate, as last year he won the free skate at U.S. Championships, moved from 10th to fourth following his memorable free skate at the Olympics, and from eighth in the 2006 Worlds short program to the bronze medal, so it would be unwise to count him out yet.
Because of its superiority over all the rest, Oda's program would have to be considered the surprise of the night, but Ryan Bradley could also stake a claim to that title. Bradley, the reigning two-time U.S. Collegiate champion, landed all his jumps cleanly in his “Polka” program but was downgraded on his spins. His score of 64.44 was good for fourth.
“The arena was great. People were really warm and accepting,” Bradley said. “I kind of have a program that's a little bit out there, so it's kind of risky there. It's kind of one of those things that they didn't get into the performance right away, but I kind of stuck with it and it turned out great. The audience just pushed me through to the end. I just had a blast.”
This is just Bradley's second Grand Prix event. At his first, 2002 Skate Canada, he placed a respectable sixth.
The third American in the field, Scott Smith, had a rougher go of it. Skating to “Night Train” (the song playing when George McFly first enters the Enchantment Under the Sea dance in “Back to the Future”), Smith was the only man to attempt a quad, a jump on which he fell. He also put his hand down on his ensuing triple loop but started the program with a clean triple Axel.
Smith was questioned about putting the quad into the program.
“In the past it has worked for me. Obviously, right now, I'm thinking, ‘Why did I do it?'” he joked.