Ice Network

Machida wins handily to become repeat champion

Brown claims silver medal; Nguyen jumps to bronze; Abbott falls to fifth
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Japan's Tatsuki Machida (middle) claimed gold at Skate America for a second year in a row, doing so in dominating fashion. -Getty Images

Tatsuki Machida easily defended his Skate America title in Hoffman Estates on Saturday, delivering a regal, emotional free skate that helped him outpace the field by an astounding 35 points.

Japan's world silver medalist combined high technical content with heartfelt expression in his program to Beethoven's "Symphony No. 9," choreographed by Phillip Mills. He opened with two quad toes, the second done in combination with a double toe. He also hit a triple Axel-triple toe combination, and his spins and steps all achieved Level 4.

"I was quite pleased, even though this was the very first time I competed," Machida said. "I want to develop my program throughout the season and polish up my programs."

His doesn't have too far to go. Although he didn't try his second triple Axel, settling for a double, his only true error was putting a hand down on a triple flip, and he earned 175.70 points. Adding to his winning short program score, he won his fourth career Grand Prix title with 269.09 points overall.

As the final note rang out and he completed his closing combination spin, a drained Machida threw back his head and nearly collapsed to the ice.

"This new program is very challenging for me, and I have to give my 120 percent, otherwise the performance will not make it," he said. "While I am practicing, I can skate clean. But to perform in front of spectators is much harder. It was not easy today, but after hearing how the spectators responded to my performance, everything was rewarded."

Machida's coach, Yoshinori Onishi, who trains the skater in Osaka, thinks the 24-year-old Machida is only just now coming into his own.

"Going through the experience of competing at the Sochi Olympics, and then winning silver at worlds, helped him develop, and he is eager to show his own style," Onishi said.

Onishi added that there is plenty of room for improvement.

"He ran out of stamina in the second half, and there are many places he can get better," the coach said.

Hometown boy Jason Brown won over the Sears Centre crowd with an intricate, musical free skate to Maxime Rodriguez's "Tristan and Iseult" that earned 154.42 points.

The U.S. silver medalist hit his opening triple Axel and a solid triple Lutz-triple Salchow sequence before faltering a bit in the program's second half, falling on his second triple Axel and stepping out of a triple flip-triple toe combination.

"The minute I got out there, I felt the crowd's support," said Brown, who trains in Monument, Colorado, but grew up in the Chicago area.

"I heard voices I could single out, that I knew, and it was so exciting being in my hometown. This is an amazing crowd. People really came out to support this event. I'm just so proud to be from Chicago -- so proud it all turned out the way it did."

Canadian prodigy Nam Nguyen, just 16, skated the second-best free skate of the night, climbing from seventh after the short to third overall.

The world junior champion hit his opening quad Salchow, followed by a triple Axel-triple toe combination and a second triple Axel. The second half of his La Strada free featured five triple jumps, and he earned a personal best 158.53 points.

"For a 16-year-old like me at his first senior Grand Prix, winning a medal is pretty cool," said Nguyen, who trains in Toronto under Brian Orser.

 The performance was surprising, considering some of Nguyen's practices here were less than stellar.

"The last two days of practices here were not going so well," he said. "I was kind of worried that it might affect my performances, but I was really relaxed and I'm really happy with how it ended."

Olympic bronze medalist Denis Ten, who has yet to win a Grand Prix medal, placed fourth after falling on his opening quad toe and missing several other jumps in his promising free skate to music from Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble.

Four-time U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott, second after the short, dropped out of medal contention after doubling his opening quad toe and popping several other intended triples to singles or doubles. He ended up fifth overall with 219.33 points.

Abbott, who worked this offseason with coaches Yuka Sato and Jason Dungjen to strip down his technique and rebuild the biomechanics of his skating, was disappointed with his performance but vowed to continue his new training methods.

"We've been talking about all the changes that we've been making, I think at this point it was 20 years of bad habits kind of overtook three months of good habits," he said. "So it was a lot of fighting, both mentally and physically, because I could feel myself kind of shrinking up to what was comfortable before.

"I was really trying to push through that, trying to keep everything the way we've been training it. So it was bit of tug-of-war."

Douglas Razzano, sixth in the U.S. last season, climbed from tenth after the short to eighth overall after placing fifth in the free skate.

"It was obviously not perfect, but that's a lot closer to what I do at home than yesterday [in the short program]," the Arizona-based skater said. "It was not easy, things weren't perfect, but you know what? I made them work. I didn't give in, I fought through it."