Kozuka leapfrogs Americans for gold medal

Weir comes in second; Lysacek drops to third

Takahiko Kozuka had a lot to raise his arms about on Saturday night at Skate America.
Takahiko Kozuka had a lot to raise his arms about on Saturday night at Skate America. (Michelle Harvath)


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By Linda Przygodski and Lynn Rutherford, special to
(10/26/2008) - Well, no one saw this coming.

After Americans Evan Lysacek and Johnny Weir both had jumps downgraded, Japan's Takahiko Kozuka wound up on top of the podium at Skate America on Saturday night in Everett, Wash.

Kozuka was a veritable nobody on the senior circuit just two days ago. The 19-year-old is the 2006 world junior champion, but his highest finish on the Senior Grand Prix Series was a third at the 2006 NHK Trophy. He stood 23rd in the ISU World Rankings just a few weeks ago.

His program to Romeo and Juliet was not without its errors. He fell on his opening quad toe loop, which was downgraded to a triple, and put a hand down on his second triple Axel. He scored 146.08 points for his free, 226.18 overall -- both personal bests.

"For me, I fell on the quad, and I am not completely satisfied, but I am glad I didn't give up and was able to skate until the end," Kozuka said. "The last world championships was the first time I was able to show a good performance at the senior level. Here again, I think I did all right. I am happier about that than about getting the title. It meant more that I showed a good performance."

Weir skated more consistently in the free than he did in the short, but the beginning of his Notre Dame de Paris program seemed to lack some luster. After stepping out of his opening quad toe loop, which was downgraded like Kozuka's, he skated a fairly clean program. The only other mistake came towards the end when he two-footed the landing of his triple flip.

"I think my performance was good for the first time out this season," Weir said. "Of course, so many things need work. So many things need refining and polishing, but I was happy I was able to focus and jump all my jumps without popping them or falling down.

"I hope by the end of the season I can show more emotion, but here I was trying to get from element to element without falling down."

In a touch of irony, Weir also deleted a planned double toe loop from one of his combinations, an omission that may have cost him the title. He made the same mistake at the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, allowing Lysacek to defeat him in a tiebreaker.

"That's twice now I've lost out on a title of some kind," Weir said. "I hope it doesn't become a real habit; two times is enough."

Weir, skating in his first Skate America, usually does not skate in competition this early in the season, which may account for some of the wobbles. His program has a lyrical feel and is sure to improve as the season unfolds.

Lysacek, who won the short program, got the biggest shock of all.

After both his opening quad toe loop and second triple Axel were downgraded, his "Rhapsody in Blue" program had nothing but the blues. In addition to his jumps, the technical panel rated both of his footwork sequences a Level 2, saying that the reigning U.S. champ didn't move his upper body enough, although he did flail his arms. A free skate score of 141.91 pulled him down to third overall.

"I can't say anything about the program as far as the technical [marks] are concerned because I haven't had time to look over the scores," Lysacek said. "I'm happy with the performance."

The two-time U.S. champion is convinced his trip to Moscow this summer has benefited his skating.

"I think just overall I've become a stronger skater, even in all the transitions and skating skills. My program components scores should reflect that, and I hope that they did ... hopefully that's what came across tonight, a different style of skating."

Two skaters from Canada, Kevin Reynolds and Shawn Sawyer, rounded out the top five.

Team USA's Adam Rippon turned in a better free program than his short, but it still was riddled with inconsistencies. The world junior champion gutted out a landing on the first of two planned triple Axels, but tumbled on the second. That jump was also downgraded to a double. A two-footed landing on a triple toe loop and a fall out of a double Axel also pulled down his scores. Although he was seventh in the free, he placed eighth overall with a total score of 174.82.

"After I landed the first triple Axel, I felt 20 pounds lighter," explained Rippon. "On the second one, the judges sneezed or something like that, but I am very proud of the first one. I told myself, 'Adam, it doesn't matter if you fall on every single jump, you still have footwork and spins.' I must have lost 10 points on my levels yesterday. So, no matter what happened tonight, I was going to push through."