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No quad, no problem for champion Buttle

Defending champ Joubert takes silver; Weir wins bronze

Canada's Jeffrey Buttle had tears in his eyes during the men's awards ceremony.
Canada's Jeffrey Buttle had tears in his eyes during the men's awards ceremony. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(03/22/2008) - Who needs a quad?

Not Jeffrey Buttle, who rode his peerless blend of artistry and athletic grace to gold at the 2008 ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden, giving Canada its first world men's title since Elvis Stojko won in 1997.

"Canadians have been waiting a while, waiting with baited breath, perhaps," Buttle said.

The 25-year-old skater, who lost his national crown in January to 17-year-old upstart Patrick Chan, stayed on his feet with style, while others around him splattered and sputtered.

Defending champion Brian Joubert was one of the others that skated beautifully in the free skate on Saturday, but it was not enough. He fought back from sixth place in the short to place second in the free and second overall. Johnny Weir won bronze, preventing the U.S. team from coming home empty-handed from the world championships for the first time since 1994.

"Honestly, I didn't see any of the other skaters," Buttle said. "I heard the crowd's reaction to Joubert's skate, so I knew he did well.

"When I got off, I asked my coach [Lee Barkell] if it was enough. He said 'Yes,' so I said, 'Great, a medal.' He said 'No, the gold medal.' It just seemed too surreal."

Performing to the soundtrack of Ararat, a film about Armenian genocide, Buttle wove an entrancing display of superb edges and finely wrought, intricate footwork.

Although he did not attempt a quad, his opening triple Axel-double toe-double loop combination earned 10.59 points and was followed by a sterling triple flip-triple toe that scored 10.79. He also executed a second triple Axel, something Joubert did not accomplish.

Buttle's free skate earned 163.07 points, including a technical score of 84.29, the highest of the event. His overall tally was 245.17 for a decisive, 13.95-point victory.

The Canadian arrived in Sweden relaxed and fit, and he showed good practices. Still, few believed his precise spins and superior transitions could overcome the jumping firepower of the pre-event favorites.

Earlier this week, Joubert said, "There are three skaters who can win the world title -- Stéphane Lambiel, Daisuke Takahashi and me." Sitting to Buttle's right at the final press conference, the Frenchman had to eat his words.

"I would not have bet on Jeffrey when I arrived here at this competition," the 23-year-old admitted. "I guess I will learn from it in the future."

Joubert gutted out a powerful performance that thrilled the 9,595-strong crowd, but he came up short technically. He opened with a solid quad toe but elected not to try a quad Salchow, settling for a triple. In place of his second quad toe, he did a triple flip-triple toe combination.

He earned a score of 153.47, nearly ten points lower than Buttle. Incredibly, he scored more than half a point higher in program components than the cerebral Canadian. His second-place total was 231.22 points.

"When I saw how the others did [making mistakes], I decided to not take a lot of risks and did not do a quad Salchow," he said. "I just wanted to skate clean."

The athletic Joubert is not happy with a scoring system that he feels undervalues the quad.

"Right after the result, I was very disappointed, and I am still disappointed, because Jeffrey did the perfect competition and no mistakes, and he didn't try [a] quad jump," Joubert said.

"The new judging system is like that; it is better to do simple and clean than to try difficult [elements]. Stéphane tried two quads, and Daisuke also. That is why I was disappointed for figure skating. We need more points for quad jump for the future."

Asked to respond, Buttle said, "I've worked hard on everything that is involved in figure skating, not just jumps. We work whole sessions on spins and stroking and all the in betweens ... everything that goes into those four-and-a-half minutes. I definitely feel I've earned the title."

Although his free skate to Yoav Goren's "Love is War" rated fifth best, Weir outscored pre-event favorite Takahashi by 1.73 points to take home the bronze, his first world medal.

"I am so excited with the outcome of today's performance," he said. "I knew it wasn't the strongest performance ever given, but I'm glad it was enough to stay on the podium.

"I have a huge amount of pride, and I'm glad I can bring back the only medal for the U.S. team."

The three-time U.S. champion (2004-2006) opened with a quad toe attempt, but he under-rotated and two-footed the jump, resulting in a score of just 1.57 points.

The rest of his program, including seven triples, was clean but a bit tentative -- he had to fight for the landings on his triple loop and second triple Lutz. As in the short program, he was penalized for a wrong edge take-off on a triple flip.

"I definitely held back," the 23-year-old Weir said. "I wanted to make sure everything was perfect. If you remember how Michelle Kwan skated at the Olympics, it was kind of like that.

"Of course, I wish I had executed my jumps stronger, but I'm very proud I stood up and kept fighting until the end."

The rest of the favorites had disappointing free skates. Takahashi, who garnered an all-time record of 264.41 points in winning the 2008 Four Continents Championships in February, was unable to come through in Sweden, falling on his second quad and triple Axel.

In addition, the Japanese champion executed an extra combination [triple Lutz-double toe] that did not count. Had he limited himself to a single triple Lutz, he would have won bronze. Instead, he finished just behind Weir in fourth place.

Two-time world champion Lambiel faltered in his famous flamenco free, a program he performed in his bronze-medal finish last season. He placed fifth.

The Swiss star flubbed his opening triple Axel and was unable to complete a clean quad toe. He also turned out of a triple loop.

"I think the problem was I was not used to this ice," Lambiel said. "The ice is crashy; it is hard to do my loop and Axel. The edge jumps were hard for me."

European champion Tomas Verner, fourth after the short, finished 20th in the free with a disastrous performance that landed him in 15th place overall.

"I do not know what happened today," he said. "I cannot find the words, at least not any good words."

The other two American entrants, Stephen Carriere and Jeremy Abbott, placed 10th and 11th, respectively.

When Carriere's finish is added to Weir's, it just qualifies the U.S. for three men's spots at the 2009 World Championships, to be held in Los Angeles.

Performing to "Hollywood Nocturne," Carriere, the 2007 world junior champion, opened with two solid combinations, including a triple Axel-double toe, but later made a costly miscue: after falling on his second triple Lutz, he tacked on a double toe to his triple Salchow, making it his third combination. Therefore, under the judging system's rules, it did not count.

"I haven't fallen on a Lutz in I don't know how long," Carriere said.

The 18-year-old from Boston suffered a hard fall in practice early this week, injuring his back.

"This week proved I could push through anything," he said. "It felt like someone hit my back with a crowbar every time I landed my triples.

"To come here and place in the top 10, it was a good experience and also a humbling one. I had had a good season, and I guess I felt a little bit of pressure to help get those three spots."

Abbott, pressed into action here by the last-minute withdrawal of U.S. champion Evan Lysacek, hit a gorgeous opening quad toe in his program to a selection of waltzes. Although he faltered on his triple Axel attempts and fell on a triple Salchow, the skater from Aspen, Colo., landed a triple Lutz-triple toe-double toe combination worth 12.29 points.

"I'm not pleased; I know I can do so much better," the 22-year-old Abbott said. "The triple Axel is one of my favorite jumps; I just wasn't over my center to take off [properly] with my edge."

All season long, Abbott and his coach, Tom Zakrajsek, have stuck with their strategy of putting the quad in both the short and long programs. With successful quads in both routines here, the thinking seems to be paying off.

"I would have to have a quad in both of by programs, and possibly two in my long, to win or medal at the Olympics," Abbott said.

"I'm glad I put it out there and got some miles on it. I learned so much by doing that this season."