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Artistry beats technical wizardry in men's short

Buttle, Weir show up the "quad-squad"

Three-time Canadian champion Jeffrey Buttle leads at worlds.
Three-time Canadian champion Jeffrey Buttle leads at worlds. (Getty Images)

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By Alexandra Stevenson, special to icenetwork.com
(03/21/2008) - Artistry beat technical wizardry in the men's short program at the 2008 ISU World Figure Skating Championships.

Claiming the top two spots Friday were a couple of former national champions, Jeff Buttle of Canada, who performed to Astor Piazzola's famed "Adios Nonino," and Johnny Weir of the U.S., who interpreted Russian music, "Yunona and Avos" by Alexei Rybnikov.

Their dazzling, fluid perfection was mesmerizing. Both performances conveyed the very best of the essence of skating -- flow over the ice.

Weir sits just 1.31 points behind Buttle. A refinement in the judging incorporated this season may have cost the 23-year-old Weir the lead. The three-time U.S. champion (2004-6), who was beaten by Evan Lysacek at the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, was "dinged" by this new development.

His triple flip was given an "e" for wrong-edge takeoff. That means the judges can award no more than -1 Grade of Execution (GOE). All but one judge gave him this score, with the dissenting official punching in a -2.

Since this jump appeared beautifully executed to this spectator's eyes, Weir surely would have received +1, without the "e" and been in the number one spot.

"I feel fantastic," said Weir. As he left the ice, he hugged his coach Galina Zmievskaya, and the two jumped up and down with joy.

Zmievskaya, who trained Olympic champions Oksana Baiul and her son-in-law, Viktor Petrenko, in Odessa, Ukraine, currently trains Weir in Wayne, N.J.

"I'm so happy with my performance today," Weir said enthusiastically. "I hope I can continue to feel this comfortable on the ice in the long program. U.S. Nationals was so difficult emotionally and physically for me that I decided it would be better to stay home, not compete in the ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships, rest and really prepare well for worlds. So far, I think it was the right decision and that it has paid off."

Buttle, a 25-year-old, who trains in both Lake Arrowhead, Calif., and Barrie, Ontario, won the Canadian title three times (2005-7), but was eclipsed this year by a 17-year-old upstart, Patrick Chan, who is seventh here at worlds.

In last year's world championships, Buttle was second after this section but dropped to sixth.

He said, "I feel like I am in the same position as last year, except that I am way more prepared, and I am way more consistent, so I am gonna go out there tomorrow more positive."

The favorite, Daisuke Takahashi, is still in contention.

He is third after landing his triple Axel on one foot, immediately followed by two hands and the toe of his second foot. But the crowd loved his extremely energetic hip hop version of Tchaikovsky's music to the ballet, Swan Lake.

"I don't know what happened," said the three-time Japanese champion who turned 21 last Saturday. "I missed the Axel. For some reason, I was very nervous."

In fourth is the new European champion, Tomas Verner, 21, of the Czech Republic, who skated a clean program.

He said, "It was more difficult than what I expected. I have a responsibility for European figure skating. The technical score was a bit low though. I need to figure what levels I got. I am a bit sad that this was the last time I skated this program. I really liked it."

He performed to a Bluesy number, "Melodie en Crépuscule" and "Gypsy Swing," both by Django Reinhardt.

Two major players, 2006 Olympic silver medalist Stéphane Lambiel of Switzerland and defending champion Brian Joubert of France, made significant errors and are fifth and sixth, respectively.

Lambiel appeared nonplussed by his two mistakes. He fell out of his triple Axel, landing on his knees, and the second jump of his quad toe-triple toe combo was downgraded.

"I am quite satisfied with what I did today," said the two-time world champion (2005-6). "I don't know what happened on the Axel. We didn't skate a lot in the main arena, and I'm not used to the ice. At home the ice is completely different. I didn't get to warm-up the triple properly, because I had a problem with the take off."

Joubert got two deductions of a point each, one for a fall and one for having vocal music.

He fell on his triple Lutz. He said, "The timing was off. I did some mistake in the steps before the Lutz, and the timing was off. I don't quite understand what the music deduction was. I had the same music the whole season, and I never got a deduction."

Extra pressure is being applied to the U.S. team of three men. Only if the placings of the top-two American finishers add up to no more than 13 will the U.S. be eligible to enter three men in next year's worlds which are in Los Angeles, Calif.

Stephen Carriere is 11th and Jeremy Abbott, who singled his triple Axel, 14th. Both are making their debuts at this level.

Carriere, the 2007 world junior champion, who won bronze in this year's U.S. championships, put his hand down on his triple Axel, and his triple flip to triple toe was given a negative GOE (-0.86).

Skating to "Stairway to Heaven" by Led Zeppelin, he earned 68.20 points, 2.59 marks more than Abbott. Abbott was 3.31 points behind the 20-year-old Carriere on the elements score, but 0.72 ahead of Carriere for the component marks.

Carriere, who is trained by Peter Johansson and Mark Mitchell, said, "I felt like I was fighting the whole way through. It's not really nerve-wracking for me, because I haven't been out there. I'm not really a veteran, so there's really no nerves for me here. It's just fun."

Abbott was optimistic that he could climb in Saturday's free skate. "This season, in a couple of internationals, I have done better in the free skate than the short program. I know from practice I am capable of doing better, so I hope to climb in standings tomorrow."

At the Four Continents Championships in February, Abbott finished fifth after being 11th in the short program.

Abbott was a last minute substitute for U.S. champion Lysacek, who was injured. "The official word didn't come in until Wednesday. We'd gotten a little bit of a heads up that he'd been having blade problems and small injuries.

"I was the first alternate so I kept training after I returned from the Four Continents Championships. I feel sorry for Evan and wish him well, but it's great for me to get this opportunity."

The 22-year-old, who trains with Tom Zakrajsek in Colorado Springs, Colo., skated to "Treat" by Carlos Santana, His routine was choreographed by Kurt Browning.

Abbott began with a soaring quad toe into a double toe which earned 10.30 points. He said, "I was happy I did the quad in the short program. I was not happy that I did not do a quad-triple."

But the meter swung immediately to the other end of the scale when he singled his triple Axel and banked a mere 0.03.

"I was NOT pleased with that. I kind of lost my edging a little bit before I stepped into it, and it threw my timing off."

However, Abbott rebounded, and after completing a successful triple Lutz, which he termed "very solid," he added a joyful balletic hop straight up into the air, which delighted the audience in the Gothenburg Scandinavium and earned 6.86.

His first two spins were Level 3, but the flying sit gained the maximum 4.

But the 2005 U.S. junior champion, who has been fourth, the "pewter" medalist, at senior level for the past two years, earned only Level 2 for his final element, the straight line step sequence.

Alban Preaubert of France withdrew after practice Friday morning. The medical bulletin listed a muscle injury in his back.

The competition, which ran a marathon seven-and-a-half hours, fielded 45 skaters from 36 countries; only the top 24 progress to Saturday's free skate.

Many fans have questioned the power given to the Technical Panel, who decide if jumps are under-rotated and whether the wrong edge is used. They also "call" the Levels, from 1 to the maximum of 4.

The Technical Specialist is former U.S. champion Scott Davis, and his assistant is Germany's 1980 Olympic champion, Anett Poetzsch-Rauschenbach. They are supervised by the Technical Controller, the very experienced Sally Rehorick, who was the Canadian Chef de Mission during the Salt Lake Winter Olympics in 2002. She was a major player in the midst of the scandal which dominated those Games.