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Chan far from flawless, still good as gold

Takahashi edges Fernandez for silver; Abbott regains quad

Patrick Chan has won six straight golds, dating back to last year's Grand Prix Final.
Patrick Chan has won six straight golds, dating back to last year's Grand Prix Final. (AFP)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(12/10/2011) - The world's best men put on an almost dizzying array of strong, if flawed, performances Saturday at the 2011 Grand Prix Final. And as usual, Patrick Chan came out on top.

Canada's world champion withstood a fall on a triple Lutz and other missteps in his free skate to defend the Grand Prix Final title he won last season.

"My training really helped me today," he said. "I had difficulty at the start of the program, and that is where training kicks in. You have to stay concentrated on your plan."

Daisuke Takahashi had his finest free skate in recent memory to climb to second after placing fifth in the short. The Japanese skater just edged out Javier Fernandez, who hit two different quads in his free skate and won bronze.

Jeremy Abbott, second after the short, slipped to fifth overall but landed his first quadruple toe loop since the 2010 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. "The quads were really good this week, especially yesterday, so it is kind of funny how they didn't work today," he said. "I did some quick thinking on my feet. I don't usually do a triple flip-triple toe, but I put one in, and it worked well."

While there is no denying Chan's sublime edges as well as difficult steps and transition moves, the skater's programs often include falls, as do those of his rivals. But the Canadian defended the ever-increasing demands of the international judging system (IJS) and said clean routines are not necessarily a permanent part of the past.

"If you look at the Grand Prix season, it's pretty strenuous. It's back to back to back, with only a two-week break between competitions. It's highly demanding, and we're all exhausted by this point.

"It is getting tougher. Coming in, it's amazing to see everyone in practice do quad toe. So it's a combination [of demanding moves and exhaustion]. I would not point a finger at the judging system. It all brings better quality skating. Even if we made mistakes tonight, we entertained the audience."

Takahashi struggled with his opening quad toe but mesmerized with the rest of his "Blues for Klook" routine, hitting two brilliant triple Axels, the second in combination with a triple toe. He challenged Chan on both the technical elements and program components marks, earning 172.63 for his free skate, just 1.04 points off the Canadian's standard.

"After the short program, I was in fifth place, and I didn't have too far down to go and didn't have too much to lose," said Takahashi, who won the 2010 Olympic bronze medal and world title. "I was able to relax today and do my best."

The skater bemoaned his lack of a consistent quad, saying he wants to do the jump cleanly at the Japanese championships later this month.

"Many other skaters landed the quad jump, but I wasn't able to succeed on mine; I really need to upgrade my technique," he said. "[Yuzuru] Hanyu did a wonderful quad today, and if I want to win Japanese nationals, I have to have it."

Fernandez, a surprising finalist, proved his two Grand Prix silver medals were no flukes with another solid rendition of his free to Italian opera selections. After hitting an opening quad toe and quad Salchow -- worth a combined 24.51 points -- he turned out of a triple Axel, and then hit a triple Axel-triple toe and several other triples. Light and whimsical steps reminiscent of his coach, two-time Olympic silver medalist Brian Orser, endeared him to the crowd, and like Chan and Takahashi he gained a standing ovation. The Spaniard earned 166.29 points for his free skate and gave Spain its first Grand Prix Final medal.

"It was a pretty good free program; I did amazing quads today," Fernandez said. "I did some mistakes like yesterday, but like my coach says, I have to go step by step. We're going to work on the mistakes from this competition to improve for Europeans and worlds."

Hanyu skated a lyrical yet dynamic program that opened with a quad toe and was clean save for a fall on a triple Salchow near the end. He edged Fernandez by 0.20 to take third in the free.

Although the Abbott had the finest outing yet of his free skate, including the opening quad toe, falls on his second triple Axel and an under-rotated triple Lutz dropped him to fifth overall with 238.82 points.

"It was the season's best by far," Abbott said. "Tying my skates, I could hear how the other boys did. I knew I had to throw it down to really keep my position or keep a medal.

"I started off the program really strong. I got a little off focus before the second Axel and then going into the second Lutz, which is a new addition, my legs got tired and I gave it too much. I haven't quite had the practice with it.

"I felt like I gave a strong performance. I had two mistakes, but I felt for the most part that I was focused through the majority of the program."