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Kozuka tops all-Japanese men's podium in Kent

Hanyu settles for second after setting world record in short; Machida takes third

Japan's Takahiko Kozuka rode a quality free skate to Skate America gold in Kent, Wash.
Japan's Takahiko Kozuka rode a quality free skate to Skate America gold in Kent, Wash. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(10/20/2012) - The prince's coronation will be delayed.

After a spectacular short program that set a new world standard, Yuzuru Hanyu came back down to earth in his free skate, falling three times and yielding the Skate America crown to his countryman, Takahiko Kozuka. Tatsuki Machida completed a Japanese sweep.

"I don't think I was feeling pressure at all, but I am not sure if [I] was too nervous to feel the pressure or if I was too relaxed to feel the pressure," Hanyu said. "A mistake is a mistake; it's been done, and I need to look back at what went wrong."

The 17-year-old's Notre-Dame de Paris program, choreographed by David Wilson, unraveled at the start, with the skater falling on his opening quad toe and quad Salchow attempts. He also flubbed an intended triple Lutz and went down on a triple loop, but more than the jumps, he appeared lost and distracted throughout much of the choreography and spins. Although he placed third in the free, the huge lead he amassed after the short earned him the silver medal with 243.74 points.

"I was not able to focus well during the six-minute warm-up," Hanyu said. "I was looking at other skaters and I was distracted and not able to focus at all. I even made mistakes in the beginning on the steps, and I realized that after having such a good short, it is very important to skate a good free program."

Hanyu's coach, Brian Orser, shoulders part of the blame.

"I think the most crucial error was after practice today, he didn't go back to the hotel; he stayed here at the rink, and that was a last-minute decision on his part," Orser said. "I probably should have dragged him onto the bus and got him back to the hotel so he could come back here fresh. He stuck here for a little too long, and it just kind of drains out the energy, and that was evident."

Kozuka, who won this event in 2008, fell out of a triple Salchow late in his free skate to Saint-Saëns' "Rondo Cappriccio," but otherwise hit all the high notes, opening with two quad toes (the second was judged under-rotated) followed by two solid triple Axels and three other triples. He notched 166.12 points for the segment and ended with 251.44 points overall.

"My performance was not so good, but it was OK, I think," Kozuka said. "I did the quad and I am very happy with that."

The skater, who trains under Nobuo Sato in Nagoya, placed a disappointing 12th at the 2012 World Figure Skating Championships, but his win here puts him right back in the thick of the talent-laden Japanese men's scene.

"This season, I have been able to focus on the skating alone," Kozuka said. "I have been accumulating good practices every single day, and hopefully I will be injury-free the rest of the season and skate well.

"It is true that Japanese nationals is a very tough competition, but that doesn't make international competitions easier. I wish we could ask the ISU to have more than three spots at the world championships."

Machida fell on his quad toe but landed a superb triple Axel, as well as a triple Lutz-triple toe combination and four other triples. He was second to Kozuka in the free, earning 154.17 points for 229.95 overall.

"Even though today's performance was not perfect, I was able to skate quite well," Machida said. "That was due to the spectators' help. They really pushed me, and I was able to get my first Grand Prix medal. I am very grateful for their support."

Rough doesn't begin to describe Jeremy Abbott's night. The three-time U.S. champion, who sat third after the short, felt every moment of his self-choreographed free to Les Miserables' "Bring Him Home" down to his fingertips, but the jumps weren't there. After landing a solid triple Lutz, he fell on his quad and the second of his triple Axels, and reduced several other jumps to doubles. He placed eighth in the free and fifth overall with 211.35 points.

"We really kind of retooled the way I train on ice and off ice, physically and mentally, and there was a disconnect somewhere and we have to reevaluate again," said Abbott, who trains under Yuka Sato and Jason Dungjen in Detroit. "That was the hardest long program I've ever done, physically. About halfway through, my body just shut down. It was all I could do to stay on my feet and keep going through the program without giving up."

Soon after the event, Abbott tweeted a message to fans, saying in part, "Just talked with the physio. I have a compression in my spine that is apparently pushing on the nerves that connect to my legs. This is causing the muscle to cramp and not fire properly."

Armin Mahbanoozadeh, fourth in the U.S. last season, gritted out a sprained right ankle to have a respectable free to music from the Dr. Who BBC TV series. He fell on his quad toe but fought back to land a triple Axel and triple Lutz-triple toe combination, as well as an impressive triple Lutz-loop-triple Salchow. He ended up seventh with 203.65 points.

"[The ankle] was an enormous factor, to tell you the truth," said the Colorado Springs-based skater, who is trained by Christy Krall. "It was really tough. I was close to withdrawing, but I'm really glad I stuck it out. I found out a lot about myself this week."

Doug Razzano was the only U.S. skater to land a quad in the event, nailing his opening quad toe in his free to Queen's Who Wants to Live Forever. After falling on his first triple Axel, he scored with his second and also hit four other triples, including a Salchow done out of a sweeping spread eagle. He earned 130.67 in the free and finished ninth with 187.73 total points.

"I'm very satisfied after yesterday's short to know I can hit the quad under pressure," Razzano said. "I haven't done one in a program in a while, so to do it when it counts most is very satisfying."