DETROIT — To the atmospheric tones of Debussy’s “Afternoon of a Faun,” Adam Rippon fell on his under-rotated quadruple Lutz, then slid into the boards at Joe Louis Arena.
Moments before, fellow American Max Aaron took a hard fall on his opening jump, a quadruple toe loop that has given the reigning U.S figure-skating champion fits since Skate America got underway Friday.
But like prizefighters refusing to concede, both popped back up and carried on, salvaging programs with calamitous beginnings to claim the silver and bronze medals, respectively, in the first Grand Prix event of the international figure skating season.
Japan’s Tatsuki Machida, who led the field of eight men following Friday’s short program, staged a dazzling display of jumps, including a flawlessly rendered quadruple toe, to win gold with a total score of 265.38 points.
Performing to Stravinski’s “Firebird” in a black and red outfit adorned with red feathers, Machida stacked the front of his program with two quads and the rest with seven triples — three of them placed in the late stages of the four-and-a-half minute program.
Rippon’s second-place finish (241.24) was the best Grand Prix showing of his career, well earned for a graceful and cleverly choreographed long program with elegant transitions and artful variations on his spins.
If Rippon played the figure-skating equivalent of a faun in his performance, Aaron played a bull. A former junior hockey player, Aaron chocked his long program with three difficult quadruple jumps on the theory that points earned for the technical rigor of his performance would compensate for what he lacks in his still-developing artistry.
And though Aaron stumbled in one fashion or another on each quad — two-footing the landing on his first Salchow and putting a hand down to keep himself upright on his second — his fundamental strategy was sound. He earned the night’s second-highest “element scores” for his program’s degree of difficulty, which helped close the gap for his sixth-place score on the more artistic aspects, such as interpretation, execution and transitions.
Whether the total package is enough to earn Aaron a spot in the Sochi Olympics is unclear. The United States has been allotted just two spots for men’s singles at the 2014 Winter Games. Less than four months out, it’s difficult to identify the front-runners.
But Aaron made clear after his performance that he intends to stick with his high-stakes strategy.
“It didn’t go as planned today,” said Aaron, 21, who was mired in sixth entering the free skate, having fallen during his opening quad in Friday’s short program, as well. “But I’m not gonna back down. I’m not afraid of it. I want that three quad program! That’s what’s going to set me apart in the U.S.”
And he had a word for the critics behind the e-mails and tweets that criticize his efforts and question the marks he receives for the ambitious programs that might be beyond his grasp just now.
“I take that into practice with me,” Aaron said, explaining that doubters only drive him to work harder to prove his point.
Rippon, originally from Scranton, Pa., but now training in California alongside Northern Virginia’s Ashley Wagner, overcame his own challenge en route to the silver, needing an emergency repair job when the heel separated from one of his skating boots during Thursday’s practice.
Like Rippon conceded that Saturday’s showing wasn’t his best, but he was pleased nonetheless.
“I gave each element 100 percent,” said Rippon, 23. “I’m pleased I could fight through everything and pick the program up from that really dangerous looking fall, just keep it going and finish strong.”
Regarding the U.S. Olympic team, the biggest question in men’s skating centers on the fitness of defending Olympic champion Evan Lysacek, 28, sidelined since the 2010 Vancouver Games because of a string of injuries. Originally scheduled to make his competition return here at Skate America, Lysacek withdrew in early October, citing a hip injury.
Lysacek’s absence proved an opportunity 18-year-old Jason Brown, the 2013 world junior silver medalist named as his replacement for Skate America. A surprising second following the short program, Brown finished sixth overall in his Grand Prix debut.
“This is more than I had hoped,” said Brown, whose free skate to music from Riverdance got the sparse crowd clapping along but lacked the technical ambition of competitors who were older and more experienced than he.
“No matter what happened, I kept fighting and pushing through,” Brown said. “That’s definitely my main goal: No matter what happens, leave it there, keep moving and go forward!”
Note: In ice dance, two-time defending world champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White won their fourth consecutive Skate America title Saturday night, beating their nearest competitor by nearly 20 points. Davis and White finished with 188.23 points, earning a standing ovation for a fast-paced, emotive dance set to Rimski-Korsikov’s “Scheherazade.” Italians Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte claimed silver (168.49), while American siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani took bronze (154.47).