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Brezina hangs on for Skate America title

Van der Perren takes silver; Dornbush lands quad

With a strong short program performance, Michal Brezina earned his first Grand Prix gold medal.
With a strong short program performance, Michal Brezina earned his first Grand Prix gold medal. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(10/22/2011) - It used to be said in figure skating that you can't win an event with a good short program, but you sure can lose it with a bad one.

Michal Brezina put that old bromide to rest in Ontario, Calif., riding an 8.38-point short program lead to victory at Skate America despite a tentative free skate to The Untouchables soundtrack that misfired repeatedly.

"What can I say, I didn't do what I wanted to do," the personable 21-year-old Czech said. "I am happy with the place; I am definitely not happy with how I skated."

Kevin van der Perren, a 29-year-old Belgian who regularly threatens to retire, hit a quad toe and won the free skate to capture an unlikely silver medal. Japan's Takahiko Kozuka fell twice but still took bronze.

It was a mixed bag for the U.S. men. Richard Dornbush hit his opening quad toe -- one of only two fully rotated quads of the event -- but made several uncharacteristic mistakes and settled for fourth overall.

Birthday boy (23 years old) Douglas Razzano was the highest U.S. finisher in the free, taking fifth place with a clean skate. He placed seventh overall. Armin Mahbanoozadeh finished 10th after a disappointing outing to the Kill Bill soundtrack.

Brezina -- who took fourth at the 2011 World Figure Skating Championships primarily due to hitting both his quad toe and quad Salchow in his free skate -- tried neither jump in Ontario, replacing his quad toe with a triple flip-triple toe combination and settling for a triple Salchow.

He hit two triple Axels but popped a triple loop, fell on a triple Lutz and tripped on some footwork, among other mistakes. Still, his 136.92 points gave him a 216-point total, and he held on to defeat van der Perren by 3.52 points.

Brezina blamed his uninspiring free on his coaches, Petr Starec and Karel Fajfr.

"They were watching the competition, they saw what everyone did, they wanted to play the game like in a casino -- if you can go for the save, go for the save," he said. "I was actually kind of mad because I was ready to [do the quads]."

In other words, the Czech went for the check, a winning prize of $18,000. He vowed that his next event, Trophee Eric Bompard, would be different.

"I was not happy with the end of the program, because I changed the beginning and could not do [proper] preparation for the jumps I missed. The next time I want to prove I will for the quad, even if they say no."

A two-time European bronze medalist who placed 17th at the 2011 worlds, van der Perren opened his Man in the Iron Mash free with a soaring quad toe worth 12.16 points. Although he stepped out of his next jump, a triple Axel, that was his final major mistake en route to winning the free with 142.39 points.

The silver was the Belgian veteran's first Grand Prix medal since winning silver at 2007 Skate Canada.

"Every competition, the most important thing is to do the quad and the triple Axel," van der Perren said. "The quad was there, even though I had a step out on the Axel.

"This season, the only thing I am focused on is Europeans. Even if I was fifth or sixth here, I still would have been happy."

About his oft-discussed retirement, van der Perren -- who earlier said he would definitely retire after the 2012 European Figure Skating Championships in Sheffield, England, in January -- seemed to hedge.

"I had actually a long think about it after worlds, if I should skate this season or not," he said. "First of all, I am not hurting anyone; there is another guy in Belgium, but we have two spots at Europeans, so I am not holding anyone back.

"I still love this sport but this is definitely near the end. I am going to be 30 years old, which is late to be competing. I'm taking it step by step. If I'm in good shape and ready to go, fine. If not I will not risk it."

Kozuka, the world silver medalist, disappointed in his jumps in the free skate, falling on an under-rotated quad toe as well as a triple Lutz.

His liquid edges and superb skating skills, however, gave him the highest program components score of the event (74.86), and he ended with 212.09 points, just .39 behind van der Perren.

"Of course I made mistakes on the jumps and I regret that, but I was very happy I got a Level 4 on my [circular] steps," Kozuka said. "The choreography and interpretation scores were also quite high."

Performing to a medley of Clint Eastwood spaghetti western movie themes topped off by "The William Tell Overture," Dornbush opened with a quad toe, his first ever in international competition.

The U.S. silver medalist followed with a solid triple Lutz but faltered on both of his triple Axel attempts.

Cheered on by many family members and friends, the 20 year old -- who trains in nearby Riverside -- got the crowd going with exciting steps before falling on his final jump, a triple loop.

"The quad was definitely the best part of the program," Dornbush said. "I made a lot of other little mistakes I regret but for the first competition of the season, it was good to get my feet under me and get that quad out there.

"The hardest part about doing the quad in the long is being able to do the entire thing. Just that one element, the amount of difficulty it raises when you put it in, can be really challenging."

Tammy Gambill, who has coached Dornbush since he began skating some 13 years ago, agreed.

"He was so focused on the quad he made a couple of little other errors he normally doesn't do," she said. "That's a matter of getting the quad in and doing the rest of the program, keeping the concentration level up.

"I think today he tried to make the triple Axel bigger than normal, because he got the [under rotation] in the short yesterday."

Razzano, 10th at the 2011 U.S. Championships, had a solid performance to a Tango medley that included two clean triple Axels.

"I was so pleased with it, and to do it on my birthday just made it 10 times better, especially after a disappointing short yesterday," he said.

Mahbanoozadeh, winner of the bronze medal at Skate America last season, had a program he'd like to forget, falling on a quad toe attempt as well as a triple Axel.

"I felt like I started out okay and then I started to lose feeling in my feet," he said.

"I definitely want to stand up on the quad. I felt that I wasn't too far off today. I also want to keep in the moment during the program."