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Oda tops leaderboard after men's short

Takahashi second; Rippon third

Nobunari Oda leads after the men's short program in Portland.
Nobunari Oda leads after the men's short program in Portland. (Michelle Harvath)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(11/13/2010) - Nobunari Oda performed a near-perfect program to edge countryman Daisuke Takahashi by 1.16 points in Friday night's short program.

Adam Rippon is third, 5.34 points off of the lead.

On a night when many skaters performed less than their best, the longtime Japanese rivals capped the event with a shot of espresso. Skating next to last, world champion Takahashi sizzled to a Latin medley, playing to the crowd and tearing up the ice with a thrilling step sequence. He lost ground on his jumps -- under rotating and tripping out of the landing of a triple Axel, and then turning out of a triple Lutz -- but was so dynamic, the audience likely didn't notice.

"Today I really enjoyed skating for American fans, but I miss two jumps, not too good, and one spin was just Level 1," Takahashi, who earned 78.12 points, said.

The Japanese champion had hoped to gain Level 4 on his unusual flying layback spin, but failed to hit the position quickly enough.

"I worked on the spin very hard coming in to this competition, and I was very disappointed I didn't show it in this program," he said. "There is no rule [against] doing a flying layback, and I'm not so naturally flexible, so that's why I decided to do it."

Oda skated a more cerebral, but no less dynamic program, to the percussive "Storm" by Yoshida Brothers. He equaled Takahashi in speed, and his jumps -- a triple Axel; triple flip, triple toe combination; and triple Lutz -- were far cleaner. He earned 79.28 points, just under his total at Skate Canada two weeks ago, where he won the silver medal, although he preferred his performance here.

"I was nervous going in to the program, but I didn't make any major mistakes on the jumps," he said. "However, I do regret making a minor mistake, going too slow into a spin. However, overall I skated better than at Skate Canada."

It's been a season of change for Oda. The 23-year-old, who had a disastrous 28th-place finish at the 2010 World Figure Skating Championships, married this spring; left Nikolai Morozov to return to a former coach, Lee Barkell, in Canada; and welcomed a son, Shintaro, on October 1.

"I really enjoy working with Lee Barkell in Canada, he is always nice to me on the ice," Oda said. "I think he is a great coach.

"I got married last April, and I got baby in October, and my wife supports me a lot in Japan by cooking and some [other] things. My baby motivates me to be a great skater."

Rippon punctuated his short, choreographed by David Wilson to Tchaikovski's "Romeo and Juliet," with his spectacular "Rippon" Lutz, rotated with both arms overhead. Although he stepped out of his triple Axel, and under rotated the second jump of a triple flip, triple toe loop combination, he gained Level 4s for all three of his spins and earned 73.94 points.

"I think if I said I was happy, I'd be lying a little bit," the two-time U.S. world junior champion said. "I'm happy with my leveled elements. With my jumps, I didn't feel my feet under me. I've been solid in practice. I think it was a little bit of nerves, a little bit of [too much] adrenaline."

Armin Mahbanoozadeh, eighth at in the U.S. last season, placed fourth with 67.61. Although he put a hand down on his triple Axel, the rest of his program was solid.

"I had a bad fall on the Axel in the warm-up, the first one I've had in a few days," he said. "I think I just got nervous." 2007 world junior champion Stephen Carriere fell on an under rotated triple Axel and placed 11th.