Ponsero tricks field, wins men's short program
Davis, White eke out victory in the compulsory dance
|Yannick Ponsero won his first senior title at French Nationals. (Getty Images)|
The Frenchman dished out a bagful of treats for the judges, including a beautiful quadruple toe-double toe loop jump combination, to finish first in the men's short program with 78.05 points. That tally smashed his previous personal best, which he recorded at Skate Canada in 2006, by nine points.
Close behind in second is Canada's youngest national champion, Patrick Chan, 17, who earned 77.47 points for his short program.
Two U.S. men - Ryan Bradley and Evan Lysacek -- took third and fourth, respectively, but they have some ground to make up to overtake the top two finishers. Bradley is five points back of Chan, and Lysacek six.
Russian Sergei Voronov, one of the top contenders coming in to the second of six events in the ISU Grand Prix series, is fifth with 70.45 points to his credit.
Looking to change his "classic man" image, Ponsero skated to a specially composed piece of music -- a hip-hop version of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5. It is called "Ice 5." The word "ice" was emblazoned across the chest of his costume, while the numeral 5 was visible on his leg.
"I'm very happy with my short program," said Ponsero, who ranked third at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany in September. "I did a good job, but it's not finished yet."
Because of his classical training, Ponsero said it was very hard for him to learn the hip-hop dance moves featured in his footwork sequences, but they proved a huge hit with the fans.
Chan was also pleased with his tango-styled program, which was marred only by a touch-down with his hand on the landing of his triple Axel.
"Today was very intense for me. I was very nervous, I've got to admit, because it's the first competition of the season," said Chan, who ranked ninth in his senior world championship debut last March.
"I was happy I was able to overcome the mental difficulty," added Chan, who noted this season marked the first time he had both a new short and long program to prepare.
The Canadian trains in Toronto and Orlando, Fla., with coach Don Laws, Scott Hamilton's former mentor.
Bradley's program, set to a medley of Elvis Presley tunes, proved to be one of the most entertaining of the evening. He opened with a high-flying quad toe-triple toe combo and had to put his hand down to steady himself on the landing of the second jump. A solid triple Axel and Lutz followed.
"The crowd was great. It's always fun to come to Canada. It's a unique crowd," said Bradley, who ranked fifth nationally last season.
Bradley, who was fifth of 11 men out of the gate, was very pleased with his quadruple jump and the fact he would enjoy a better start position among the top group for his long program.
Bradley said he has been landing a quad for six years, but this season, for the first time, he can execute it consistently.
"I feel so confident every time I step into the three-turn into it," he said.
Lysacek, who took the bronze medal at Skate America last week, said doing two competitions in two weeks has not been a problem.
"I feel like the elements I did were actually stronger here," said the two-time U.S. national champion, comparing this week's short to the one a week earlier which scored top marks in Everett, Wash.
"I just had one little bobble in the score because, I'm gonna guess, I didn't get credit for a [jump] combination at all because of the steps in between," the two-time world bronze medalist correctly assessed.
The landing of triple Lutz was off-kilter, forcing him to step off the landing and around before launching the triple toe loop. That cost him.
Lysacek said he is changing his technique on the quadruple toe loop to make it more consistent and will not attempt it in Saturday's final.
U.S. dancers first and third after Paso Doble
Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the U.S. topped the ice dance field of eight couples for their very believable interpretation of the Paso Doble, although they felt they could have showed more speed, power and attack in their performance.
Davis and White, both 21 and sixth in the world last season, scored 34.29 points to edge French duo Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat, for the top spot on the first-round leaderboard.
The French team, which trains in Moscow under the guidance of former world champion Alexander Zhulin, scored 33.90 for second place. Americans Kim Navarro and Brent Bommentre were third with 31.67.
"It was alright, pretty solid, but not the best we've ever done the Paso," White said, allowing that they were pleased with the outcome nonetheless.
Asked how the Dancing with the Stars renditions of the Paso Doble stack up with the on-ice version, White noted that pop songs are often used as the musical backdrop for the TV Pasos.
"They do a pretty good job. Many of them [the Stars] are actors, so they do try to go into the acting aspects," he assessed.
White added that he and Davis are actually trying to do more acting in their own performances in order to capture the essence of the various rhythms.
Canadians Vanessa Crone, 18, and Paul Poirier, who turns 17 next week, are fourth with 31.11. They finished their 2008 competitive season with a silver medal at the world junior championships after winning two golds on the Junior Grand Prix circuit. They finished fourth nationally in Canada.
The original dance comes early on Saturday with the eight couples returning to the ice at 10:45 a.m. ET. They will skate their free dances Sunday afternoon.