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Joubert dominates on Day 1 at Skate Canada

Lepisto lands the biggest surprise on Friday

Brian Joubert dominated the men's field at Skate America on Friday in Quebec City.
Brian Joubert dominated the men's field at Skate America on Friday in Quebec City. (Getty Images)

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By Laurie Nealin / special to icenetwork.com
(11/03/2007) - QUEBEC CITY -- Four quadruple jump combinations were planned by the 12 men who competed their short programs on Friday, but only world champion Brian Joubert's materialized without incident.

As a result, Joubert, who won every championship in sight last year, has a virtually insurmountable lead heading into Sunday's final at HomeSense Skate Canada International.

The Frenchman scored a whopping 78.05 points. The nearest anyone else could come was teammate Yannick Ponsero, who posted 67.09 points. Canada's Jeff Buttle is third with 66.85 after a shaky start to his season.

But given that only 1.5 points separate the men ranked second through sixth, it's anyone's guess who will ultimately own the silver and bronze medals.

After landing his quad, Joubert played it safe, adding just a double toe loop on the back end of his combo. He went on to produce a nice triple Lutz and Axel and had the crowd clapping along to his rollicking routine set to a piece called "All for You." Joubert earned the only standing ovation of the night from the almost 3,300 boisterous fans.

"I was very satisfied with my performance. I had a lot of pleasure to skate tonight. I felt a connection with the audience and that is very important to me," Joubert said.

Ponsero almost had his quad, too, but he just couldn't hold the landing, flipped off the edge and took a few steps before he got up again for the double toe. He went clean the rest of the way.

Buttle, whose quad is not yet ready for prime time, opened with a triple flip-triple toe loop but just hung on to his triple Axel landing. He fell on his triple Lutz, giving up valuable points on his way down.

Buttle, sixth in the world the last two times out after snagging Olympic bronze at the 2006 Turin Games, missed the Grand Prix series last season as he rehabbed a stress fracture in his back. He said Friday that despite struggling through his program, he much preferred being here than watching the event on TV.

Belgium's Kevin van der Perren, who finished fifth in Friday's short program, wins the award for the most radical costume. His black bodysuit was covered with snaking veins and arteries outlined in red and blue sequins, all flowing into and out of the brilliant red heart on his chest. He skated to "Xotica" by Rene Dupere.

The three American skaters in the event struggled in the short program. Scott Smith (56.09) is in eighth place, Jeremy Abbott (44.75) is in 11th, and Geoffry Varner (42.45) is in 12th.

Ladies

Finnish skater Laura Lepisto, 19, shocked the field and herself on Friday, skating to the top of the leaderboard in the women's short program opener.

Fresh out of the junior ranks and having placed just seventh at the world juniors last season, Lepisto scored an impressive 59.18, outscoring U.S. national silver medalist Emily Hughes (58.72) and world silver medalist Mao Asada of Japan (58.08) by a slim margin.

Both Lepisto and Hughes skated without significant errors, showing solid landings on all their jump elements. Lepisto opened with an impressive triple toe-triple toe combo, while Hughes chose a triple Lutz-double toe. Asada attempted the most difficult combination -- a triple flip-triple loop -- but didn't have full rotation on the loop and her feet got tangled on the landing.

"I really didn't expect anything like that. I really can't describe what I'm feeling. It's amazing," said Lepsito, who ranked third at the Nebelhorn Trophy, a senior international event held in Germany earlier this fall.

Lepisto, ranked second in her country, added, "Tomorrow (for the long program), maybe there will be a little pressure because I'm skating last. I'll just try to concentrate on my skating and do my best."

Hughes, 18, looked much sharper than last week at Skate America, where she ranked fourth overall. Here, she scored a whopping 11 points higher for her short program.

"My one goal was to improve on last week. To do a clean short program is always exciting. It's going to motivate me for tomorrow, especially since the scores are so close," said Hughes, referring to the mere 1.10 points that separate the top three women.

Asada, 17, winner of last season's Grand Prix Final, worked with the legendary Tatiana Tarasova this summer to further refine her performance skills and set the short program she showed Friday. Despite the miscue on the triple-triple attempt, she floated from one required element to the next on the strains of Fantasia for Violin and Orchestra. Feather-soft landings on her triple Lutz and double Axel were remarkable.

Asada described Russian coach Tarasova as being "strong", yet "kind." Tarasova even gave her a nickname, a Russian interpretation of her first name.

"She called me Maochka," grinned Asada, who trains with Rafael Arutunian in Lake Arrowhead, Calif.

Canadian champion, Joannie Rochette, who won this event a year ago, is fifth after struggling on a couple of her jump landings, while Asada's teammate Yukari Nakano is fourth.

The other American competing in the ladies competition is Ashley Wagner, last year's bronze medalist at the junior worlds. She is in eighth place with 50.86 points.

Pairs

German world bronze medalists and reigning European champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy wore the most striking outfits among the six-pair field and delivered the most sparkling performance.

With Savchenko clad in shimmery, turquoise harem pants and top, Solkowy in a white jumpsuit and both costumes adorned with gold-sequined circles, they wowed the crowd before even starting their Middle Eastern-themed short program. With a masterful throw triple flip and a flying triple twist lift to open, they had the audience and judges in the palms of their hands from start to finish.

Their personal best score of 69.44 points gave them a comfortable lead over Canada's Jessica Dube and Bryce Davison, who earned 63.12 points.

Fresh off their surprise win at Skate America, the world's fifth-ranked pair improved on last week's short program score by more than two points. Dube and Davison skated their routine, set to "Galicia Flamenco", with more confidence than a week ago. They drew rousing cheers for their lasso lift, which flies from one end of the ice to the other, and their soaring throw triple loop.

The Japanese-Russian pairing of Yuko Kawaguchi and Alexander Smirnov, who represent Russia, grabbed third place (60.00) with another fine performance. The couple, who finished ninth at the 2007 worlds, is coached by the famous pairs coach Tamara Moskvina. Kawaguchi previously represented Japan with an earlier Russian partner and competed twice at the U.S. Championships with American Devin Patrick.

Americans Tiffany Vise and Derek Trent (51.26) are in sixth place.

Dance

In the compulsory dance, Canada's Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir scored 36.25 points for their "Yankee Polka", giving them the lead over Italy's Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotee (32.23) and America's Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov (32.03).

Interestingly, neither the Canadians nor the Italians expressed a love for this particular compulsory dance.

"We didn't really like the Polka. It took us a while to get into it. You have to figure out a way to show (the judges) you like the polka," Moir said.

The women and pairs skate their finale on Saturday, while the ice dancers perform their original dances. The men's and dance finals go Sunday.