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Late skate goes to Japan’s Kozuka

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Everett, Wash. -- By the time the men’s free skate at Skate America had ended and the top finishers had taken their victory laps and gotten their medals, it was well past 11 p.m. Saturday and a confused crowd had filed out of the Comcast Center wondering about the outcome.

Evan Lysacek, the crowd favorite, had dropped from first after the short program to third. Johnny Weir, usually effervescent, was cautious during his program to ‘Notre Dame de Paris’ and left a double toe loop off a combination jump only to lose to Takahiko Kozuka by less than a point and realize he might have won if he’d done that jump.

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And Kozuka, who had a crashing fall on his opening jump, a quadruple toe loop, emerged the surprise winner, vaulting from third to first on a technically strong program to ‘Romeo and Juliet.’

Lysacek said he hadn’t analyzed the results, but this much was clear: he was marked harshly for his step sequences and for falling on his planned opening quad toe-triple toe, losing enough points to finish with the bronze medal instead of gold.

He was the final skater and most of the crowd thought he had won, and the announcement of the results brought a smattering of boos.

‘I’m happy with the performance and that’s what it was about for me today, the performance,’ said Lysacek, who is the current U.S. champion and trains in El Segundo.

‘We’re trying to get people back into skating and I wanted to look up into the crowd and see happy faces and I think I did see people that were happy to be here watching skating.’

They saw none of the top three land a clean quad-- fourth-place finisher Kevin Reynolds of Canada landed two -- and they saw many imperfect performances in the season-opening Grand Prix event.

‘My performance was good for first time out this season,’ Weir said. ‘There are so many things that need to be refined and polished.

‘I hope later in the season as I get stronger I can show more emotion and show the stories in these programs. Tonight I was thinking about element to element just so I could get through the program as clean as possible.’

Weir also said he regretted not tacking that double toe onto his triple lutz-triple toe combination because it might have given him the victory. He left out a double toe at the last U.S. championships and finished in a tie with Lysacek, losing on a tiebreaker.

‘It was just me being stupid and being cautious about everything past the halfway point,’ Weir said. ‘I’ve done it twice now where I’ve lost out on titles by a double toe loop. I hope it deosn’t become a real habit.’

Kozuka, 19, was the 2006 world junior champion. He is a terrific spinner and -- blessedly -- didn’t wear a single sequin or spangle on his purple outfit.

‘I fell on the quad and I am not completely satisfied,’ he said, ‘but I am glad I did not give up and was able to skate until the end.’

-- Helene Elliott


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