Friday, March 26, 2010

Takahashi ready to inspire new figure skating generation

TURIN, Italy — Daisuke Takahashi insisted he wanted to inspire a new generation of Japanese men after creating history on Thursday night by being crowned his country's first men's world figure skating champion.

Just weeks after putting Japan on the Olympic men's podium for the first time with his bronze, the 24-year-old led all the way to seal victory with a near flawless free skate to the music from the Italian movie "La Strada".

And he said he hoped his gold would lead the way for Japanese men to be as successful as their countrywomen who have won four world and an Olympic title.

"I really hope that I can spur everybody so that the Japanese men also will do well," he said.

"I'm not going to be complacent about what I have achieved so far. I need to continue to evolve.

"As for the future, I see a lot of little kids. The juniors are doing very well including Yuzuru Hanyu, who won the world junior championships.

"I myself feel that I can't be satisfied with where I am now and I'm always threatened by these younger skaters."

But he showed few signs of feeling under threat in the Palavela with an entertaining routine that brought the crowd to their feet.

Skating last, Takahashi two-footed a quadruple jump, but produced a huge triple axel to score 168.40 for the free skate and an overall 257.70 points.

He finished over ten points ahead of last year's runner-up Patrick Chan of Canada (247.22) with France's 2007 world champion Brian Joubert taking bronze, despite both falling during their routines.

Takahashi is the only medallist from Vancouver competing at the world championships with Olympic champion Evan Lysacek and runner-up Yevgeny Plushenko both opting not to take part.

"I don't know why, but somehow I didn't feel pressure in this competition," said Takahashi.

"I really enjoyed that challenge. I even missed Evan and Stephane (Lambiel) not being here."

It was a triumphant comeback for the skater, who returned this season after missing the entire 2008/2009 campaign after tearing ligaments in his right knee as he achieved his second world medal after silver in 2007.

But he admitted he was still not back at his best.

"Before I had my injury and surgery, I succeeded my quads," he said.

"I was able to do two quads in a programme. I want to be back where I was before. I think that is the major reason of the importance of the quad to me.

"The toeloop is not really consistent the way I want it to be. It is a great challenge for me to continue to work on it.

Chan, who finished fifth at the Olympics, fell during his Phantom of the Opera routine but the 19-year-old was able to extend his narrow 0.1 advantage on Joubert.

"Today it's the silver medal, but I think that it's more gold for the effort I put into this season, coming out from the injury, having a bad Skate Canada's performance and disappointing Olympic performance as well," said Chan.

Joubert, 25, found himself on the world podium for the sixth time in a remarkable comeback following his humiliating 16th place at the Olympics.

He completed two quadruple jumps but fell on the triple lutz which had caused him problems in Vancouver during his routine to Ronan Hardiman's Ancient Land, but held on for third place with 241.74.

"This medal is like a world title for me," said Joubert. "This makes me more confident for the future. I wanted to show I could compete again. I now have the answer and I will come back next season for sure."

However, Takahashi's teammates Nobunari Oda and Takahiko Kozuka had less memorable worlds.

Oda failed to qualify for the free skate after struggling into 28th in the short programme, while Kozuka dropped to tenth overall from fourth after a fall and errors left him just 12th best in the free skate.

"I was very tired from Vancouver and yesterday's competition, I think this is the reason for my mistakes," said Kozuka.

"The first mistake caused the following mistakes. I'm quite satisfied with this experience even if I think I could do better."

Competition continues Friday with Olympic ice dancing champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir leading going into the free dance final as South Korea's Kim Yu-Na opens her bid to defend her world title in the women's short programme.

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