Better late than never, I suppose :-)
Jeffrey Buttle of team North America started off the mens competition, skating to a medley of pieces by Glenn Gould. He completed a triple flip/triple toe loop with a step-out in between, a nice double Axel, a triple Lutz/double toe loop/double loop, double loop, a triple Lutz with a slight cheat, a triple Salchow that leaned and he stepped out, a second double Axel, and finally a triple loop that was landed forwards and had a hand down. I noticed that Jeff must be keeping up with the changes within the scoring system, because he (like many of the other men) has opted to add difficult variations at the end of some of his spins that really kill the speed and overall beauty.
As always, it is obvious that he really listens to the music as soon as the performance begins. He's one of the several skaters in this competition whose skating is really all about classic, clean lines and making everything appear simple. His second footwork sequence was done to very slow music towards the end, and it was absolutely gorgeous. There were plenty of transitions throughout the program and into some of the jump elements, and overall I really enjoyed the program. His speed could have been a little bit better, but he's never been a fast skater.
Michal Brezina started off team Europe's efforts, reprising his An American in Paris free skate from last season. He began with a nice triple Axel and huge, delayed triple flip, and he also gave a good effort on a quadruple Salchow attempt, but stepped out. It's amazing to me how much height and power he gets into his jumps when you look at the lack of speed that he has going into them. In the second half of the program, he had some trouble, doing a second triple Axel with a hand down and combined it with a single toe loop, another triple flip that had a fall-out and combined with another single toe loop, a single loop, a double Lutz, and a triple Salchow/single toe loop. Obviously, the combinations weren't working to his favor on this day. To his credit, it looks like he has worked on his spins over the summer, and all of them looked improved to the point where they shouldn't receive negative grades of execution anymore. As far as the program goes, he really killed the energy in the second half when he started making mistakes, and this is a case where I really wish he would have come up with a new free skate for this year. I think the choreography, while not horrible, still looks a bit junior.
Takahiko Kozuka of team Japan attempted a quadruple toe loop that he landed but then slipped off the edge and fell, popped a triple Axel, and then pulled it back together, completing a triple Lutz/double toe loop, a triple Axel/double toe loop/double loop, a back spiral into a triple flip, a beautiful triple Lutz/triple toe loop, a spread eagle into a great triple loop, and a triple Salchow. His spins were well-done, and his footwork showed off the effortless edge quality and control he has in his basic skating.
This is tough, because Takahiko is my favorite up-and-coming skater. I think that the music (aside from the aforementioned footwork sequences) didn't really help showcase just how good he is, and his problem remains that he is a very internal skater. If the program and music don't help tell the story, then everything becomes a little flat. Anyways, there is still some nice choreography and plenty of transitions spread throughout, so I have some hope that he will gain the ability to sell it! 150.71.
Adam Rippon of team North America chose to skate to Rachmaninov for his long program this season. What's the first note I have about his skating? Gentle. Very much like Buttle, everything he does is so subtle and he makes all of the difficult stuff look so easy. As far as the jumps go, he did a triple Axel/double toe loop (the latter looking a little bit toe-Axeled to me), spread eagles directly into an easy double Axel, a triple Lutz with both hands over his head, another good triple Axel, a triple flip/triple toe loop that was absolutely perfect, a triple Lutz/double toe loop/double loop with one hand over his head for all three jumps, a triple loop, and an easy triple Salchow. I've heard (and reported here) that he has an absolute beauty of a quadruple toe loop in practice, so I'm guessing the early double Axel will be replaced by that later in the season. Adam also did some great spins, including a flying camel that went into a donut spin-- he's one of the few that actually does it well.
This program is exactly the type of vehicle Adam needs, as he is very similar to Kozuka in the sense that everything is internal. You can see throughout the choreography that he always has his eyes down rather than looking at the crowd. However, when the skating tells the story, as this did, none of that matters anymore. I will make the quick mentioning of his crossovers though.. he needs to work on smoothing them out rather than being so bouncy. Huge score of 166.63. He's going to be a serious contender for World Champion this year I bet.
Evgeny Plushenko of team Europe reprises his Tribute to Nijinski free skate that he used in during the 2004 season. Crossovers around a circle to start into a triple Axel that leaned in the air but landed just fine. Some more set-up for another triple Axel/double toe loop. He also completed a triple flip, a triple Salchow, a surprising catch-foot spiral into a triple Lutz/triple toe loop that was nice, a triple loop, a planned triple Lutz which he doubled, and a double Axel. He added a lot of catch-foot/half-Biellmann positions in his spins, and I'm sure I sound like a broken record now, but most of these attempts from the skaters absolutely kill the speed and the overall look of the spins. The footwork, surprisingly for me, didn't really stand out or engage me like it usually does.
There isn't much to say here. I respect Evgeny and what he's been able to do so far in his career, but when you have the likes of Buttle, Kozuka, and especially Rippon skating right before him, you can really see all of his weaknesses loud and clear. Much of the choreography in the beginning involved arm flailing while either standing in place or doing simple pushes, and while the catch-foot into the triple/triple combination was nice, it really was one of the only difficult transitions throughout the whole program. He usually has this ability to draw me in and really pay attention, but I ended up a little bit bored. 151.00.
Daisuke Takahashi of team Japan closed the mens competition, debuting his free skate to Invierno Porteno and Primavera Portena by Tango Siempre. He did an absolutely gorgeous quadruple toe loop to start the program, but singled an Axel attempt a few seconds later. He also completed a triple loop, a triple flip/triple toe loop with a big step-out, a triple Axel with another fall-out, a triple Lutz, a triple Salchow, and another triple Lutz in combination with a double toe loop. He featured a unique flying upright-turned-layback spin that he centered well, and had decent spins overall aside from his camel positions that could still use plenty of work. His footwork sequences, as always, were done well and included his typical flair.
So, I don't love it and I don't hate it. I question whether Daisuke completely believes in the concept yet, because everything ended up just a little bit flat in my opinion, even if his basics just seem so effortless. I'm worried that even with a strong performance that the music doesn't really build up enough (or quick enough) to really get the crowd going, because even here at home, there was a very polite applause rather than people losing it over seeing the current World Champion deliver a decent performance. I know the Japanese are usually somewhat reserved compared to North American fans, but still... :-) 159.19.