No one was more surprised to see Japan's Daisuke Takahashi in first place after the men's short program at Skate America last night in Atlantic City, than Daisuke Takahashi. The last time Takahashi saw a "1" in front of his name at a major international competition, it was followed by a "5" -- he finished 15th at the world championships in March. Even at the national championships in Japan last winter, he couldn't crack the podium. He was sixth.
Asked if he expected to lead a field going into today's deciding free skate that includes the reigning world bronze medalist (Evan Lysacek of Chicago), Olympic bronze medalist (Tim Goebel, who trains in Fairfax) and 2004 world silver medal winner (Brian Joubert of France), Takahashi shook his head vigorously. No.
"I'm surprised and happy," he said.
After a well-rounded skate that included a fall coming out of a triple axel but intricate footwork and spins, Takahashi stood at the top of the scoreboard at Boardwalk Hall with 69.10 points as the first major event of the 2005-06 skating season got underway. Takahashi topped another surprise finisher, Belgium's Kevin Van Der Perren, who landed a quadruple toe loop and claimed 68.79 points for second place.
The successful quad was Van Der Perren's first in competition. A five-time national champion in Belgium, Van Der Perren has never won an international title of any sort.
"It's a fun experience to be in the top for once," Van Der Perren, 23, said.
Lysacek, considered the favorite here because of his rise last season, skated without major mistakes but also without major flair, landing him in third place with 67.75 points -- but certainly within a clean long program (worth two-thirds of the final score) of a gold medal here.
Joubert, who made three major mistakes, finished fourth (62.88) and Goebel, who fell attempting a quadruple jump and failed to execute a planned spin, managed just sixth place (58.72) in the field of 12.
The three-year-old technically oriented scoring system, which replaced what many viewed as a highly subjective system after a judging controversy at the 2002 Winter Games, has allowed performance to overtake reputation in a sport once known for propping up its stars, with last night being a major case in point.
"I definitely think the trend is we're trying to eliminate name-recognition from skating," Lysacek said.
Goebel, who trains under coach Audrey Weisiger, said he hasn't practiced his jumps with his usual intensity because of left knee pain that he suspects might be tendinitis.
"This year is about building," Goebel said. "They're not judging nationals [the U.S. Olympic trials in January] on what we do at Skate America . . . My goal is to show up at nationals and skate two clean programs and end up on the team."
-- Amy Shipley