Ice Network

Brown's 'Juke' the class of short at Nebelhorn

U.S. silver medalist takes lead in men's; Johnson sits in sixth
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Jason Brown did not disappoint in his return to international competition at the Nebelhorn Trophy, taking the lead in men's with a 83.59-point short program. -Jay Adeff

No quad? That's no problem for Jason Brown, who opened up a 5.32-point lead over the field after a brilliant short program in Oberstdorf on Thursday.

In his snappy new short to Little Walter's "Juke," choreographed by Rohene Ward, the U.S. silver medalist hit a clean triple Axel and triple flip-triple toe combination, as well as three Level 4 spins and a Level 3 step sequence perfectly in time with the music. His program components score, 40.09, was by far the highest of the event, and he earned 83.59 points overall.

"Today, I focused on my spins and steps and levels, and certainly on my jumps and the choreography as well," said Brown, who trains in Monument, Colorado, under Kori Ade. "Everything worked, so I am very happy. I love Oberstdorf, I competed here before and everything is so familiar to me. I decided not to use vocals this season, but I think it is a good idea to allow it."

Czech Michal Brezina, who trains in Oberstdorf, opened his short with an excellent triple Axel, followed by a quad Salchow with a large step-out on the landing. His triple flip-triple toe combination was solid, and he earned 78.27 points for second place.

Brezina was slated to compete last week at Lombardia Trophy in Milan, but suffered food poisoning at the event and was forced to withdraw.

"Last week was hard for me because I was sick and could not compete in Italy, but now I feel much better and it went pretty well today," he said. "There are little things which still can be better, but overall it was not bad today."

Like Brown, the Czech was asked how he felt about using vocal music.

"I decided to use vocals not for my short, but for my free program," he said. "It is a great idea, and you could see here that the public went crazy whenever somebody used vocals."

Elladj Baldé, fourth in Canada the last three seasons, sits third with 71.73 points. He stepped out of his under-rotated quad toe loop at the beginning of his program, but recovered and performed a clean triple Axel and a good triple Lutz-double toe combination.

His special strength, though, is the interpretation of programs, in his case to James Brown's "It's a Man's Man's World" and "I Got You (I Feel Good)." One of the sport's foremost showmen, Baldé is invited to perform in many events, including Denis Ten's shows in Kazakhstan this summer.

"This summer, I started hard training much earlier and competed at Skate Detroit, and I am happy that I am here," Baldé said. "My main focus here was on the program, and not so much on the jumps. I am certainly very happy that we are allowed to use vocals because I have always done this in shows."

Sergei Voronov of Russia is fourth with 71.29 points. He opened with a shaky quad toe-triple toe combination, but popped an intended triple Axel into a single.

Another Russian, veteran Konstantin Menshov, is fifth with 70.60 points. The 30-year-old, who has often competed in the shadow of renowned countryman Evgeni Plushenko, performed a cleaner quad toe-triple toe combination than Voronov, and later showed a double Axel.

Colorado Springs-based Alexander Johnson, who missed last season due to an ankle injury and subsequent recovery issues, sits sixth with 69.20 points, including the event's third-highest program component score. His triple Axel was solid, but his triple Lutz and triple flip-double toe combination -- jumps that test his surgically repaired ankle -- were not completely clean.

"It was definitely a step in the right direction," said Johnson, who is coached by Tom Dickson. "I had been a year off and it took away a bit of my confidence. Today resembled what I am capable of doing."

"I think my triple Axel has improved," he continued. "The Lutz and flip are still not 100 percent effortless for me, because of my right ankle injury. The interpretation is more of my stronger side, and it showed today."

Olympic bronze medalist Denis Ten, who was the biggest star at this year's Nebelhorn Trophy, withdrew a few hours before the competition due to a stomach flu, which began before he left his training site in California.

"I really wanted to compete and did the practice session, but I realized it is not possible due to weakness," Ten said. "I am very sorry for the people who came to watch me."

Split judging panels: Nebelhorn Trophy has often been a test event for new judging methods, and this season is no exception. In the ice dance and men's events, 12 voting judges, instead of the regular seven or nine, will be seated. Five of those 12 will score only the technical elements, and four of those five will judge one of the five program components. The remaining seven judges will score three of the five program components. Each of the five program components will be judged by five members of the panel. Got it?

To help judges understand the rules, a one-day seminar was held prior to the competition. There will be an extended discussion round for the judges after the event. One advantage of this test is that judges can concentrate more on some aspects of the competition. A disadvantage is that 12 judges make the competition more expensive.

"I think it is a cool idea," Brown said of the split-panel judging. "I don't know exactly how it works, but I like the idea."