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Joubert, Suguri shine at Cup of Russia

Old favorites back on top in Moscow

Brian Joubert looked back in top form at the Cup of Russia.
Brian Joubert looked back in top form at the Cup of Russia. (Getty Images)

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By Tatiana Flade, special to icenetwork.com
(11/21/2008) - Top contenders Brian Joubert, Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang and Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin dominated at the Cup of Russia on Friday in Moscow, while other favorites disappointed.

Men
Joubert was, more or less, the last man standing in the men's event. The field was probably the toughest in the Grand Prix Series this year, with Joubert, European champion Tomas Verner, Cup of China champion Jeremy Abbott and others, but only the Frenchman sparkled on the ice today.

Joubert, the 2007 world champion, nailed the quad-triple toe combination that eluded him so shamefully at Trophée Bompard last week and reeled off a triple Axel, triple Lutz and good spins. The reigning world silver medalist was visibly enjoying himself in his lively routine to "Rise" by Safri Duo. During his footwork, he played with the audience and even blew a kiss to famous Russian coach Tatiana Tarasova, who was sitting on a commentator's platform next to the ice. Joubert scored 86.10 points, which is a new personal best for him.

"I was a bit tense. It was difficult to forget the problems I've had in October and the bad performance from Trophée Bompard," Joubert said, referring to boot problems and his disappointing fourth-place finish in Paris.

"I felt a little tense on each element. My main goal was to skate a clean short program with the quad-triple combination. Tomorrow, I won't let go, and I'll do everything to keep this place," he added.

Verner fell on the quad, but at least he rotated it and didn't pop it into a double as he had at the Cup of China. The European champion landed his other elements but is trailing Joubert by 12.90 points.

"I'm not really happy with my performance today. I improved from the Cup of China; I jumped one more element. I attempted it [the quadruple toe loop], but it's good to know that my short program is something worth even with mistakes. Seventy-three points with one mistake and not too clean landings is still something," Verner commented.

American Adam Rippon in third place was a pleasant surprise. After his subpar performances from Skate America, the world junior champion did a lot better and achieved a new short program personal best of 71.62 points. He put down his second foot on the triple Axel but made no major mistake.

"To be in the top three -- I'm very happy! When they came to get me for the press conference I thought that I did something wrong, because I didn't believe I was in the top three. So it's very exciting!" Rippon said. "At Skate America, I skated, and it was just a mess. I don't know what happened. I went home; I kind of just started over. I changed my short program back to last season's short program. It just felt more comfortable with all of the steps. I really trained it, and I tried to do run-throughs of the free and the short every day. I felt really comfortable going into the competition. I hope I can continue it into the free program tomorrow."

Alban Préaubert from France and Belgium's Kevin van der Perren gave solid performances to finish fourth and fifth, respectively. Abbott, on the other hand, singled his Lutz and fell in his flying sit spin. He is standing in sixth place and would need to pull up if he wants to qualify for the Grand Prix Final.

Ladies
Fumie Suguri continued her comeback with a win in the short program. The Japanese veteran completed all her jumps, but the layback spin was just a Level 2.

"After Skate Canada, I've worked on the transitions to have a higher score for the five components. It was hard to be completely satisfied with the marks that I got, but I'm happy to have skated well in Moscow," Suguri said. "I was living here for almost one year last year, and there are so many people here who support me."

Carolina Kostner of Italy came second, although she fell on her triple Lutz and put down her hand on the triple flip-triple toe combination. It still was a significant improvement over her disastrous short program from Skate Canada.

"After my short program at Skate Canada, I was a little bit sad and not satisfied at all with my performance. I had a strange fall, I think, because of lack of concentration. I thought a lot about what made that happen. I think the important thing for a skater is to feel good on the ice and to have fun. Today I had a lot of fun. I had some mistakes in the jumps -- that can happen -- but I felt much better. That makes me happy and gives me confidence," the European champion commented.

Rachael Flatt of the U.S. reacted smartly when she stepped out of her triple flip that was planned in combination with a triple loop. She tacked a double to on to her triple Lutz to save a few points from this combination.

"I really had to think on my feet. Obviously, normally I train my triple flip-triple loop combination. So I was a little disappointed that I missed my combination, but I think I did a good job recovering from that, and so I put my combination on my Lutz and I think it came out pretty well," the 16-year-old said. She had to overcome a few difficulties in the beginning as her luggage with her skates arrived one day later in Russia.

"I tried just to keep my focus. It was a little hard in the beginning; I was a little frightened they weren't going to find my luggage, but they did. So I got the chance to practice, and it went pretty well. I got my feet under me, which was great," Flatt explained.

The other Americans did not fare as well. Alissa Czisny is ranked fifth. She fell on a triple Lutz attempt that was downgraded. Kimmie Meissner produced a triple Lutz-double toe loop combination but under-rotated a triple loop and got mostly Level 1's for her other elements.

Pairs
The pairs event was rather disappointing. Only two out of the eight couples stayed upright on Friday. Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang hold a clear lead, although she fell without any apparent reason. She also had stepped out of the side-by-side triple Salchow.

"We made some errors today; I just fell on nothing," Dan Zhang commented. "We are mostly not satisfied with our performance. We are unhappy about our mistakes," she continued. "We went to work with ice dancing coaches [Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva] this summer in order to improve our style."

Yuko Kawaguchi and Alexander Smirnov sit in second place after she missed the side-by-side triple toe loop an two-footed the throw triple loop.

"Maybe we were trying too hard. Hopefully we'll do better tomorrow," Smirnov said.

Tatiana Volosozhar and Stanislav Morozov fell twice -- he on the toe loop, she on the throw loop.

Ice Dancing
Favorites Domnina and Shabalin of Russia grabbed the lead in the Viennese Waltz compulsory dance ahead of their teammates Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski and U.S. dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White. All three couples got a new seasons-best score and gave strong performances of the Waltz.

Domnina and Shabalin improved their technical score from Cup of China -- they now had 20 points while they got 19.28 in Beijing. However, the component score was a bit lower at 18.77 compared to the 19.06 from China.

Shabalin had an explanation for that: "We've worked on a few things since the Cup of China, and it paid off, when we look at our technical score. However, we still have problems with our costumes and need to skate in costumes that are a few years old. So emotionally we could have skated better."

Khokhlova and Novitski were pleased with each aspect of their performance that had good flow.

"We felt we skated better and with more confidence than at the Cup of China," Khokhlova said.

"It's not easy to think of something special for the compulsory dance. Probably you are at a ball in a beautiful castle, apparently in Austria since this is the Viennese Waltz. I think everybody is imaging to be at a ball," Novitski added.

Davis and White are just 0.42 points behind the world bronze medalists in third place, with 35.77 points of their own.

"I think we skated fairly well, and we're looking to attack a little bit more and in the free dance. I think the feeling of the Viennese [Waltz] comes a little more naturally to us [as opposed to the Paso Doble that they performed at Skate Canada]; we've always felt the Waltz," Davis said.

"We've been working a lot on the Waltz since Skate Canada. We've been spending more time on compulsories this year. It's fun to be in Russia; we've never been here before," she went on.