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Flawed Uno holds slim lead over Rippon after short

U.S. champ eschews quad in favor of clean skate; Brown sits in third
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Shoma Uno of Japan had to fight the landings on a few of his jumps, and he fell on the second part of his quad toe-triple toe combination, but the quality of his skating shined through. The reigning Skate America silver medalist took the lead after earning a score of 89.15 for his "Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra" short. -Getty Images

An imperfect Shoma Uno landed a high-scoring quadruple flip in his short program Saturday to take a small lead over a fast and fierce, but quad-less (and sleeve-less), Adam Rippon at 2016 Skate America.

Uno, seventh in the world last season, became the first man to ever land a quad flip in international competition in April, at the Team Challenge Cup. His effort on the jump here earned the skater 11.79 points, more than enough to overcome a fall on the second jump in his quad toe-triple toe combination and a small bobble on the landing of his triple axel, which he did out of a difficult spread eagle entrance.

The Japanese silver medalist also showed beautiful steps and spins, with his lovely closing combination spin perfectly capping a smoothly skated program to an Astor Piazzolla tango medley. His 87.32 points gave him a 1.83-point lead over Rippon heading into Sunday's free skate.

"I believe my body moved very well today," Uno said through an interpreter. "However, the second jump of my combination didn't go well, and I also need to reflect upon and improve the quality of my triple axel. So I have some challenges, but I got some homework done as well."

The 18-year-old from Nagoya was clearly relieved to land his quad flip, a jump that was a bit hit-and-miss in practices this week.

"I did it pretty much as well as I've done it in the best of my practices," he said. "Overall, it was a pretty good performance. I wasn't too nervous about it."

The shoulder-baring Rippon skated full-force to Ida Corr and DJ Fedde le Grand's "Let Me Think About It," attacking his jumps, tearing into his steps and milking every element for its last drop of impact. His trademark "Rippon" triple lutz, done with both hands over his head, and Level 3 steps drew cheers from the Sears Center crowd, and he earned 87.32 points.

The U.S. champion, who turns 27 on Nov. 11, made no apologies for not trying his quad toe, a jump he plans to include in Saturday's free skate.

"I am going to do what I can do to the best of my ability and perform the hell out of it," Rippon said. "I want to entertain, I want people to be on their feet, because sometimes they don't know what they are watching. I want people to get involved and be like, I love this, I love this performer."

Jason Brown, who, like Rippon, has yet to land a fully clean quad in competition, inched closer to his goal by gaining credit for rotating his opening quad toe before falling on it in his short to "The Scent of Love."

"I didn't want to hold back (on the quad), and I feel like that's what I did," said Brown, who won the U.S. title in 2015. "It wasn't as over axis as I'm used to, but I gave it my all."

Other trouble came from a far less expected source, a change-foot camel spin that was deemed invalid and likely cost him about four points.

"I went to grab for my blade and when I went to pull it up, my hand wasn't fully on my blade," Brown said. "So I pulled my blade up and it popped out of my arm. It was a camel-change-camel spin. I couldn't fix the spin in that moment; only camel (positions) count. I tried to make the best of the rest of the program."

As always, the amiable Brown answered endless questions about his quad with good cheer, insisting that the lengthy process -- now entering its third season -- isn't getting him down.

"It's one of those inevitable questions you are going to get," he said. "The worst thing for me to do would be to get discouraged. I really take it as motivation. I want a quad in my program. I can't wait to come to the mixed zone and talk about completing it in competition. It's going to be a big victory."

Canadian Nam Nguyen's short was a stunning uptick from his disappointing performance at the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships, where he failed to qualify for the free skate after placing fifth at the event in 2015. Like Brown, he came to grief on a spin, gaining no points for a change-foot sit spin. But skating to Sammy Davis Jr.'s "Love Me or Leave Me," he landed a fine quad salchow-triple toe and a triple axel to place fourth with 79.62 points.

Timothy Dolensky's decision to take a planned quad salchow out of his short to Mumford and Sons' "Awake My Soul," choreographed by Ryan Jahnke, paid off with a near-clean program, highlighted by a solid triple axel and the finest spins of the event. He lost ground when the second jump in his triple flip-triple toe combination was judged under-rotated, but he still sits sixth with 77.59 points.

"I was really pleased that I was able to attack everything and there wasn't any shying back," Dolensky said.

"I was just happy to achieve a personal best, by a lot," he added. "My last international personal best was in the sixties. Now it's in the 70s, almost the 80s."