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SKATE AMERICA

Lysacek has impressive start

October 25, 2008|Helene Elliott | Elliott is a Times staff writer.

EVERETT, WASH. — Evan Lysacek breathed new life into a figure skating cliche, performing a near-perfect program to launch his season emphatically.

Despite losing a point because his music to Ravel's "Bolero" ran too long, the two-time U.S. champion took the lead after the men's short program at Skate America, the first event of a season that will end in March at Staples Center with the World Championships.

Lysacek, who trains in El Segundo, pulled off a fine triple axel and solid triple lutz-triple toe loop combination to earn 81.30 points, ahead of compatriot and rival Johnny Weir's 80.55. Lysacek's spins were centered and his footwork nimble, and the crowd at the Comcast Center gave him a standing ovation.

His lead would have been even bigger if he hadn't exceeded the limit of 2 minutes 50 seconds.

"It's completely my fault," Lysacek said. "I started my first movement a second too early. I knew it right away."

That didn't detract from the overall strength of the routine, though he wasn't entirely pleased.

"My steps could have been better. You have to think about every detail in the new judging system," he said. "It'll get more and more natural as the season progresses."

Weir skated surely to "On the Wings of Time," also without errors.

"I'm very pleased with the way the first performance of the season went," he said. "I'm happy I stayed on my feet. Any score above 80 is fantastic."

Takahiko Kozuka of Japan was third with 80.10 points.

In the pairs event, Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov of Russia led world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany after the short program, 66.32 to 64.08. U.S. champions Keauna McLaughlin of Los Angeles and Rockne Brubaker were third at 57.02. Two-time U.S. champions Rena Inoue and John Baldwin Jr. of Santa Monica were fifth with 50 points after committing two errors.

The Russians, coached by 1984 Olympic pairs gold medalist Oleg Vasiliev and skating to Pink Floyd's "Nobody Home," were sharp and strong. Asked if they felt obliged to uphold Russia's tradition of excellence in pairs, Trankov nodded.

"We have in the blood, this," he said. "We have a good coach who was Olympic champion."

Inoue and Baldwin lost points when he doubled their side-by-side triple toe loops and she fell landing the throw triple axel. "Technically it didn't go well. We missed two elements and this is the technical program so it's not a success," he said.

The men and pairs finish tonight with their free skates. The women's competition will begin with the short program.

The big ice dance news was that Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, five-time U.S. champions and Turin silver medalists, stayed upright during their Viennese Waltz compulsory routine.

That's noteworthy because Belbin fell during the compulsory dance at last season's World Championships and the duo never recovered. They finished fourth, one of the reasons they changed coaches last summer.

Entering today's original dance Belbin and Agosto are second to world champions Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder of France, who earned 38.49 points for a sure and smooth skate. Belbin and Agosto, elegant in white outfits but out of sync at times, got 37.63 points.

"I'm glad to get it out of the way," Belbin said.

Delobel and Schoenfelder had the top scores across the board -- in skating skills, timing, performance and interpretation. They thought about retiring after their triumph but decided in May they'd continue.

"We love so much our new programs and to be on the ice and skate for the audience," Delobel said.

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helene.elliott@latimes.com

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