Japan has first men’s world title while Olympic champs Virtue-Moir extend dance lead

By Colleen Barry, AP
Thursday, March 25, 2010

Takahashi wins gold, Virtue-Moir lead in dance

TURIN, Italy — Without Evan Lysacek and Evgeni Plushenko to push him, Olympic bronze medalist Daisuke Takahashi had to challenge himself.

Takahashi gave Japan its first men’s title at the World Figure Skating Championships on Thursday and he did it with flair, attempting a rare quadruple flip. Canada’s Patrick Chan won the silver for a second straight year and France’s Brian Joubert took the bronze, both vanquishing disappointing Olympic results.

Takahashi was the only men’s medalist from Vancouver to compete here, and the absence of Lysacek and Plushenko changed his emphasis. Takahashi may have two-footed the landing of the quad flip, but it was enough to let everyone know he’s back in the quad game.

“It was more of a challenge-based competition for me, and I really enjoyed that challenge,” said Takahashi, who has been working to get his four-revolution jumps back into shape since missing last season after having knee surgery.

Skating last, Takahashi held up under extreme pressure. His energetic program included wonderfully expressive and whimsical footwork, and he did seven clean triple jumps, including a soaring triple axel. His score for the free skate, 168.40, was his best of the Olympic season, and gave him a total of 257.70 — more than 10 points ahead of Chan.

When his score was posted, Takahashi saluted the cheering crowd — dozens of Japanese flags were waving — and pumped his fist.

“I am so happy. And I enjoyed it a lot. Thanks so much,” said Takahashi, who won the silver medal at the 2007 worlds. “I was able to perform my best here.”

Chan didn’t have his strongest performance, falling late in the program on a triple loop and fighting to hold the landing of a triple salchow. But with Joubert struggling, it was good enough to hold onto second place.

“This whole season has been quite a challenge. Today it’s a silver medal, but I think it’s more like a gold medal for the effort I put in this season,” said Chan, a medal favorite who finished fifth at the Olympics.

Joubert, the 2007 world champion, had a dismal showing at the Vancouver Games, and was determined to avenge that here. He opened with a quad toe loop-double toe combination and then a quad toe, but he couldn’t keep up the momentum. He fell on a triple lutz and his footwork fizzled.

He was only fourth in the free, but that was enough to give him his fifth straight medal at the world championships.

“I am very proud, because after the Olympics I still wasn’t sure that I could compete like before. Now I have my answer. I know I can fight again,” said Joubert, who finished 16th in Vancouver.

And, now that Takahashi has raised the quad bar with the flip, Joubert said he would work on the more difficult quad lutz.

U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott finished fifth and newcomer Adam Rippon, winner of the 2008 and ‘09 junior world titles, was sixth, ensuring the Americans will have three spots again at next year’s world championships.

“I was expecting it to be a lot scarier than it was,” said Rippon, who trains in Toronto alongside women’s Olympic champion Kim Yu-na. “I’m very happy that I was able to fight through the program and put out a very solid performance both in the short and in the free skate.”

Earlier Thursday, Olympic gold medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada extended their lead over Vancouver runner-ups Meryl Davis and Charlie White, winning the original dance with a sultry, saucy flamenco. Virtue and Moir earned a season-best 70.27 points — almost two points higher than their Vancouver score.

They have 114.40 points heading into Friday’s free dance. Davis and White, two-time U.S. champions who train with Virtue and Moir, have 112.54 points after scoring a season-best 69.29 for their colorful Bollywood-on-ice OD.

“We didn’t think we had quite the magic we had at the Olympic Games, but we were pleased with the performance,” Moir said.

Virtue said their Turin performance was stronger than the one in Vancouver, but there was no shortage of emotion as they performed fiery step sequences. The pair trained with flamenco dancers to infuse the piece with authenticity.

“A lot of that passion that they brought to us now comes from within,” Virtue said.

The Canadians and Americans are both hungry for a world title — something neither has achieved — after their Olympic success. Though Virtue and Moir lead Davis and White by almost two points, that can be made up in Friday’s free dance.

“We feel we used the Olympic Games to help us grow as skaters and performers, and I think it helped us out there,” White said.

In Turin, the job of hometown favorites falls to Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali of Italy, who remained third in the overall standings by finishing third in the original dance. They have 100.01 total points.

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