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Team USA fares well after day one at Four C's

Lysacek second after men's short program

Daisuke Takahashi performs his 'hip-hop' short program.
Daisuke Takahashi performs his 'hip-hop' short program. (Michelle Harvath)

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By Tatiana Flade, special to icenetwork.com
(02/13/2008) - The Four Continents Championships kicked off Wednesday in Goyang, the Republic of Korea with skaters from three different countries taking the lead on the first day.

The Men

Japan's Daisuke Takahashi won an exciting men's short program to a mesmerizing performance of his "Swan Lake Goes Hip-Hop" routine. Everything was right on for Takahashi. The judges awarded him many +2 and +3 GOEs [Grades of Execution] for Takahashi's elements.

Takahashi scored a huge 88.57 points. The score was a new personal best for him, and the second-highest score ever in a men's short program routine. "It's all about the audience," a happy Takahashi told the press after his performance. "They make me go faster, they are excited and I'm feeding off their energy. The highlight of the program is the footwork for me, because I feel like a true dancer when I'm doing it. The short program was good for me. For the free skating, I hope to do two quads."

He bested reigning U.S. champion Evan Lysacek and Jeffrey Buttle -- who sit second and third.

Lysacek and Buttle were strong, however, and both earned new personal bests this season. Lysacek, dressed all in black and looking very focused, opened his powerful Zorro program with a quad-triple toeloop combination, followed by a triple Axel and a triple Lutz.

Lysacek posted 84.06 points and stays in contention for the title

"I've made a lot of improvements since Nationals," Lysacek said. "I went home and trained in a more relaxed environment. I felt a lot better tonight and I think I was kind of able to go on muscle memory and not try to make it happen quite so much. At Nationals I knew there was a lot riding on it and there was a lot of stress on me, so to be able to come here and just have a more chill environment is just kind of a pleasure for me."

Buttle is close behind in third at 83.85 points. He nailed a triple flip-triple toe, but had to fight for the triple Lutz.

"I went out there, the jumps felt great, the Lutz was a little shaky. I have no idea what happened. It went up a little bit weird, and it came down funny. It was as if I've never done a triple Lutz before," Buttle commented. "I thought I skated better at Canadians, but the Axel here was much nicer. I upped the difficulty on one spin that probably helped the score."

U.S. bronze medalist Stephen Carriere continued his successful senior debut by placing fourth.

"It was kind of weird -- it was like I didn't feel I was in my body -- it was like I was just kind of out there doing it," commented Carriere. "It was just kind of weird today. I feel good - but I think the time change may be part of it. I took a nap earlier today and it was one of those naps that when you get up you don't really feel any better. I have two more days to prepare, so it's ok."

China's Chengjiang Li was the only other skater beside Lysacek to land a quad, and is in fifth place.

Jeremy Abbott finished ninth after falling on his quad toe and on the triple Lutz.

"I am extremely disappointed," said Abbott. "I've been training really well before Nationals, and after Nationals, leading up to this event."

The Pairs

In the pairs, China's Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang and Qing Pang and Jian Tong went one-two. Both couples turned in strong performances. Zhang and Zhang landed side-by-side triple Salchows, a big triple twist, and throw triple loop to score 70.45 points.

Pang and Tong nailed the side-by-side triple toe easily, but their throw triple loop wasn't as smooth.

"Overall we are quite pleased with today's performance, but we were a little bit tired. We did a lot of competitions this season and so we felt tired in the second half of the program," Dan Zhang commented.

"Tomorrow's free skating will be a challenge for us. As Dan said we're a little tired from our previous competitions plus I also changed my boots just two weeks ago and I'm not yet so comfortable skating with them," Hao Zhang explained.

The Chinese teams lead by ten points over two-time U.S. Champions Rena Inoue and John Baldwin. Inoue and Baldwin didn't compete this fall, and only decided to come back for U.S. Championships. They turned in a solid performance to "Beethoven's Last Night" that contained a side-by-side double Axel, a throw triple loop and a double twist.

"Everything was the same in this program than we did at the Nationals," Baldwin said. "We scored about ten points higher at Nationals. When we got off it was kind of a shock to see those levels. But it is a new program for us and we're going back and look at that video and see what mistakes we made. Obviously you can't leave that many points on the table."

"We definitely thought we did exact the same elements than at Nationals, but sometime even though you thought you did exactly the same, but it was even less than a quarter turn short and that could be it," Inoue added. "We're actually lucky it happened at this competition and not at Worlds."

U.S. bronze medalists Brooke Castile and Ben Okolski came in fourth, just one point behind Inoue and Baldwin at 56.44. They landed a triple twist, and a throw triple Salchow, but she singled the side-by-side Axel.

"I'm not too happy. One of my big goals for this competition was to do a good short," Castile said. "I just didn't do it, and you can't do that in the short program. We just have to do our job and do everything. I can't pop anything!"

The third U.S. entry in the event, Tiffany Vise and Derek Trent had an off day. He fell on the triple toe, and stumbled on the death spiral.

"It was not a good skate," said Trent. "It was messy, it was rushed. The rink was bigger and we were trying to fill it out and got behind the music. I don't think nerves had anything to do with it. I missed the toe, but my toe hasn't been good. I went for it and I missed it. The death spiral is a good element for us, so that was just a stupid mistake. It happens. We're just going for a good long tomorrow, that's all we can do."

Ice Dancing

Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir took a narrow lead in the Yankee Polka compulsory dance ahead of U.S. silver medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White. The couples are separated by less than one point at 38.22 and 37.36 respectively. After their performance, Virtue and Moir had a lengthy discussion in the kiss and cry area with their coach Marina Zueva.

"Marina is always continuing to teach us and we're always learning," said Moir. "We're such a young team, so we're trying to get as much experience as possible in the next couple of years. We're taking each moment to learn as much as possible. I think the Yankee Polka went well today. We're very happy with it. We weren't talking about what to fix in the Yankee. We're just learning how to compete with pressure and against of some of the best teams of the world, and we're trying to break that barrier into the top three. That's what mostly our talk was about."

Davis and White were pleased with their first performance in this competition, but they felt it could have been even better.

"I don't think it was actually our seasons best," explained Davis. "I think we could do a better Polka, but it felt pretty good. We want to get as much experience as we can in the season going into Worlds. Four Continents is a great place to get out there one last time before you compete at Worlds."

Kimberly Navarro and Brent Bommentre came in third, and are in a top-three position for the first time at a major international event. They earned 34.36 points, which put them almost four points ahead of teammates Jennifer Wester and Daniil Barantsev.

"This being the last Polka of the year, we wanted to do the best Polka ever," said Navarro. "It was a lot better than it was two weeks ago (at Nationals). It was the first dance we competed at Nationals together a couple of seasons ago, so it's fun to do it again as we have some history with it."

She also revealed that they worked with Ron Ludington on the dance, who happens to be one of the inventors of the Yankee Polka.

"He has all sorts of special advice and secret tricks," Navarro laughed.