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London calling: Perfect Ten, Wagner talks triple

Disappointing day for Russian ladies; Kostner feels refreshed after break

Kazakhstan's Denis Ten astonished even himself by finishing second in the men's short.
Kazakhstan's Denis Ten astonished even himself by finishing second in the men's short. (Getty Images)

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By Amy Rosewater, special to icenetwork.com
(03/14/2013) - Denis Ten admitted that he was just as surprised, if not more so, than anyone else at these world championships that he is in second place (behind only two-time world champion Patrick Chan) entering the free skate Friday.

After all, Ten had finished no better than sixth at any of his international competitions this season and was 12th at his latest event, the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships, last month. At worlds last year, he was seventh.

Yet Ten, a 19-year-old from Kazakhstan, performed one of the most brilliant short programs of late with his rendition of The Artist. It was a clever program filled with references from the Academy Award-winning film, and Ten, debonair in his tuxedo costume, delivered the routine the way the choreography demanded. It also included a beautiful quad toe and four Level 4-rated spins.

So how did this transformation occur on skating's biggest stage of the season?

Ten said that he had been struggling with injuries all season and had not felt strong until he came to London.

"The start of my season was rough with injuries," he said. "I am still not fully recovered. I injured my right ankle in December and then my left one after that. But I have been working harder, skating more and working out longer."

Truth be told, the transformation has been a work in progress, ever since he came from Kazakhstan to train with Frank Carroll in Southern California and work with Toronto-based choreographer Lori Nichol after the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. Not only had Ten been impressed with the work they had done with gold medalist Evan Lysacek, but also with that of Michelle Kwan.

Ten's family remains in Kazakhstan, and this is the farthest he has been away from home in his life. Ten got his start in skating in his home country and often would skate on "rinks" that he said were actually soccer fields that would be transformed into ice surfaces in the winter. Most of the skaters would be kids in the "health group," or as Ten put it, kids who lacked strong immune systems. Skating was supposed to help boost that.

Ten didn't mind skating in the health group, but also found time to skate at tiny, circular rinks in local shopping malls. The only standardized rink, he said, was an arena used for professional events.

But Ten, who also was exposed to other activities ranging from swimming, to singing in a boys' choir to drawing, found he liked skating most and eventually went to Russia to train. Following the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, where he placed 11th, he no longer had a coach. And that's when Carroll came into the picture.

"When I was a kid, Evan was sort of my idol," Ten said. "And I loved Michelle Kwan like everyone else. There was one piece in my skating that was missing --- a coach. So, I came to Frank."

Now, with the pieces in place, Ten is showing how he can get things done.

No triple-triple for Wagner

American champion Ashley Wagner had planned to perform a triple flip-triple toe in the short program at worlds, but literally made an on-ice decision to trim it to a triple double. Her coach, John Nicks, said that if she didn't feel secure in the landing of the flip, that she should play things conservatively and do a triple-double instead.

When her landing on the flip was, in her words, "wonky," she opted for the double toe.

"It was on the landing of the flip," she said of making her decision for a safer combination. "I am not a senior man who can rotate three times sideways and stand up, so I decided to play it safe."

Rough day for Russians

Of the three Russians in the field at worlds, the top-ranked ladies skater after the short program was Adelina Sotnikova in eighth. Alena Leonova, who was second in the world a year ago, was 13th, and Elizaveta Tuktamisheva had a brilliant start to her program, only to suffer a fluke fall when she caught an edge entering a flying sit spin, and is 14th. They need to have two skaters have their combined placements total 13 to send three skaters to the Winter Games next year in Sochi.

The other comeback

Yu-Na Kim wasn't the only one making a comeback of sorts at these world championships. Carolina Kostner, the reigning world champion from Italy, considered retiring this past summer but then decided to continue on for Sochi. She was scratched from her Grand Prix event, saying she wasn't in condition to compete. She skated in the Golden Spin and then won Europeans.

Now, she is second after the short program at worlds.

"After 10 years on the senior circuit, I needed some time off to be a normal 25-year-old, having time for family and friends, waking up and staying in my pajamas," she said. "I came back with new energy."