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Rippon seizes lead after junior men's short

Oi stands more than three points of the pace

Adam Rippon grabbed the lead in the men's short program.
Adam Rippon grabbed the lead in the men's short program. (Paul Harvath)

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By Becca Staed, special to icenetwork.com
(01/23/2008) - When it comes to winning, Adam Rippon (SC of New York) doesn't waste time. After claiming gold at the 2007 Junior Grand Prix Final in December, Rippon used Wednesday night's short program at the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships to show he's not wasting any time before he clambers up the podium again.

Last year, Rippon finished sixth at nationals. Seeking a change, he began training with Nikolai Morozov in March 2007, which he credits for his recent success.

"[Nikolai] really helped me put the pieces of the puzzle together," Rippon said. "I could do the jumps; I could do the spins. But I could never put it all together in a program consistently. There would be one competition where I would do everything, and then in the next, it would just be off. Nikolai has shown me how to put it all together every time."

No kidding.

Rippon's short program performance earned him a personal-best score of 71.33. Without missing a beat, he nailed his triple flip-triple toe, double Axel and triple loop. He gained level-fours on his next two spins and circular step sequence.

For his last two elements, a straight line sequence and flying sit spin, he gained only a level-three and two, respectively, and decent Grades of Execution. But his performance was enough to take more than a three-point lead.

"I felt really good," said Rippon. "I was a little bit nervous, but I skated well."

In Friday's free skate, Rippon will not attempt a triple Axel, like many of his competitors. He just hopes for another solid skate.

"No triple Axel at this competition," he said. "My goal is just to skate two clean programs, just like I do in practice. Show a lot of emotion, show a lot of energy, but show all the elements."

Curran Oi (SC of Boston) is in second, earning 68.15 points in his Phantom of the Opera short program, in which he wears black and white gloves that resemble a mask when his hands are clasped before his face.

"I love Phantom of the Opera," said Oi. "I really like this short program. I might even want to keep it for next year."

Oi, who hopes to improve upon last year's fourth-place finish, got a boost from his personal cheering section -- skating friends from Boston that included this year's junior ladies bronze medalist, Brittney Rizo, who offered Oi some performance advice.

"Before I went out, [Brittney] told me to be mysterious," he said.

His presentation might have been mysterious, but he also delivered a first-class performance that put him in the running for a medal as long as Friday's free skate goes well.

"I was really happy to skate well today," said Oi. "It was important. I haven't had a good short this year, and that was."

His double Axel, triple flip-triple toe and triple loop were rock solid. He earned all level-threes and fours on his spins and step sequences.

Oi's free skate is loaded with triples, and if it's anything like his short skate, he'll have no problem pocketing another championship medal.

Brandon Mroz settled for third place after putting his hand down at the end of his first jump, a triple Lutz-triple toe.

"I think I let my left side go a little more than I actually intended," Mroz said. "It sort of threw me off on the landing. I thought I had it, and then all of a sudden I was on my heel and catching my edge. The show goes on though."

It sure does. The rest of Mroz's short program to "Night on Bald Mountain" was perfectly adequate. He landed his triple loop and double Axel with ease and earned level-threes and fours on his spins and step sequences.

Though a little over two points behind Oi, he's got more than a five-point lead on the rest of the field, which gives him a head start going into Friday's free skate to "King of the Forest."

"I think I'm prepared for my free skate," said Mroz. "I'm sure on the long I will be more into it. It seems to be my strong suit."

Alexander Gonzalez put up a good fight in his glittering bolero, skating a clean and compelling piece to "Malaguena." But he lost some points at the beginning on his triple loop and on his flying sit spin, his last element, giving him a 60.01-point short program that was enough for fourth place.

The junior men will perform their free skate Friday afternoon for the national title.