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Joubert claims gold

Takahashi skates to silver at worlds

by Ed Odeven

Brian Joubert validated that there is such a thing as a lucky charm. Daisuke Takahashi, meanwhile, gave the host nation another athlete named Daisuke to be passionately proud of — someone who doesn’t throw a wicked assortment of pitches.

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DAISUKE TAKAHASHI performs his free skate program to “Phantom of the Opera” on Thursday evening at the World Figure Skating Championships in Tokyo. Japan’s Takahashi claimed silver in the men’s competition behind gold-medalist Brian Joubert, the first Frenchman to win in 42 years. Inset photo: Joubert celebrates at the end of his routine.
YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTOS
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Joubert scored a personal-record 240.85 points and captured the gold medal in the men’s competition at the World Figure Skating Championships on Thursday evening at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.

He is the first Frenchman to win a gold medal at worlds since Alain Calmat accomplished the feat in 1965 in Colorado Springs, Colo.

“Alain Calmat brings me luck,” a thrilled Joubert said after the competition. “He was (there) when I won the first European title for France since Alain Calmat and now the first worlds since him. I’m relieved and very excited. I was a little nervous.

Could you blame him? After all, he skated moments after two-time reigning world champion Stephane Lambiel of Switzerland, the 21st of 24 competitors, completed his free skating routine (the short program was held on Wednesday).

Joubert, 22, placed second at worlds last year in Calgary and also was the runnerup in 2004 in Dortmund, Germany.

Takahashi, who followed Joubert in the evening’s final group of skaters, thrived in the tense environment, competing before his country and against the world’s top skaters.

“I’m very happy to have won the first world silver medal for Japan,” said Takahashi, an Okayama native who turned 21 last week. “I heard the roaring cheers from the audience when I really got tired, so I just tried to respond and complete the program.

“I was not as nervous as I was yesterday. I focused on showing what I can do.”

That he did, in scintillating fashion.

Takahashi, electrifying from start to finish to the sounds of “Phantom of the Opera,” excited the crowd, especially boisterous females who showered him with applause and tossed flowers onto the ice after he departed.

Like Joubert, Takahashi started his routine with the always-challenging quadruple toeloop, and made it look easy. Every spin, flip and motion that followed showcased the up-and-coming skater’s pure talents.

When his routine, which concluded with a flawless straight line step sequence and change foot combination spin was done, Takahashi had vaulted to second with 163.44 points in the free skate, giving him a combined score of 237.95. He entered the day in third place after the short program with 74.51 points, trailing only Canada’s Jeffrey Buttle (79.90) and Joubert (83.64).

Takahashi became the first Japanese male to win a silver medal at worlds. Japan has not had a gold medalist yet, but Takeshi Honda (2002 and 2003) and Minoru Sano (1977) have earned bronze medals.

Lambiel, who opted to skip the 2007 European Championships, finished with the bronze medal with 233.35 points.

Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic moved up from ninth after the short program to fourth overall by scoring the fourth-most points in the free program. He finished with 226.25.

American Evan Lysacek placed fifth, followed by Buttle and Nobunari Oda.

Czech Tomas Verner, the final skater in Group 3, set the standard for the last sextet. Skating to “Requiem for a Dream,” Verner opened his routine with a quadruple toeloop and mesmerized the judges and giddy fans. He was No. 1 with 226.65 points after stepping off the ice.

Lysacek, equally graceful and methodical during his routine, waved to the crowd after his 222.18-point effort put him in the No. 2 spot with five individuals remaining on the docket.

He didn’t stay there, though, and afterward the frustration showed during his chat with reporters.

“It was definitely my worst skate and my worst score of the season,” said Lysacek, the 2005 and ’06 bronze medalist at worlds. “I’ve been sick for a few days, but I fought through it. Maybe it was the pressure of being a two-time world medalist.”

News photoFrance’s Brian Joubert performs to instrumental versions of Metallica’s “The Unforgiven” and “Nothing Else Matters” played by Appacolyptica during the free skate on his way to winning the gold medal on Thursday in the men’s competition at the World Figure Skating Championships.

Conversely, the pressure seemed to spark Joubert, the 2007 European champion, to new heights.

With instrumental versions of Metallica’s “The Unforgiven” and “Nothing Else Matters” played by Appacolyptica,” blasting from the stadium speakers, Joubert breezed through his routine, starting it off with a quadruple toeloop and a picture-perfect triple flip and triple axel in back-to-back sequences.

He stepped off the ice with 240.85 points for the two-day competition, including 157.21 in the free skate. That kept him in first.

His athleticism and intelligence worked together to produce a winning performance.

“It was very difficult,” Joubert said. “I’m very tired. I didn’t attempt the second quad because I wanted to give the audience a clean program. I worked for the gold.

“It’s been a great season. I gave it everything I could tonight. Today was a difficult day (and) waiting for the scores is torture.”

Oda, who placed fourth at the 2006 world championships, put on a sensational show for the home fans, opening his routine with a flawless triple axel, triple toeloop and double loop in order. He followed with a flying sit spin that drew eager applause. The claps continued throughout his performance, choreographed to the “Mission Impossible” soundtrack by Hans Zimmer, which showcased his ability to move at slow, medium and quick tempos.

“I did all the jumps,” Oda said, who turns 20 on Sunday. “That was good.”

He flashed a big smile in the crowded interview session with reporters, but was not thrilled overall despite his 142.17 points in the free skate which moved him from 14th after the short program (67.17 points) to first (209.94) for a short time.

“However, one triple lutz didn’t count,” he added, referring to an extra maneuver not listed in his program. “I made the same mistake like last year (at worlds, doing four jump combinations while only three are allowed). I tried my best, but I could have done better.

“The audience helped me a lot, and I really enjoyed skating, feeling them behind me.”