Brezina wins first Grand Prix title in Ontario, Calif.

Despite a third place free skate, Czech Republic’s Michal Brezina captured the men’s title at Skate America in Ontario, Calif., with 216.00 points. It is his first gold medal on the International Skating Union (ISU) Grand Prix of Figure Skating Series circuit. Free skate winner Kevin Van Der Perren of Belgium finished second with 212.48 while Takahiko Kozuka of Japan placed third with 212.09.

“I’m really happy with the place,” said Brezina, who opened the season by finishing second at Nebelhorn Trophy. “It’s my first gold medal at the Grand Prix. I think after last season when I couldn’t compete, it’s a good start. I’m really happy that’s for sure.”

In his Grand Prix debut, 2011 U.S. Championship silver medalist Richard Dornbush (Corona, Calif.) finished fourth with 202.27, the highest score by an American man in Ontario. Douglas Razzano (Glendale, Ariz.) placed seventh with a score of 192.95. Armin Mahbanoozadeh (Great Falls, Va.) placed 10th with 179.07.

Brezina was not perfect in his skate to music from “The Untouchables” soundtrack. He landed a triple Axel, a triple flip-triple toe combination and a triple Salchow to start the program. After a triple Axel-double toe and a triple flip, he singled his planned triple loop and underrotated his triple Lutz. Brezina also performed a single Axel-double toe.

“I didn’t do what I wanted to do, but as I said earlier in the interview, I’m happy with the place, I’m not happy with the way I skated, so that’s something I want to work on for the next competition,” said Brezina, who was not allowed by his coaches to attempt the quad. “On the next competition, I just want to prove to my coach that the quad will be in the program no matter what because again today was their decision to go without. For the next competition I just really want to prove them that the jump will be there even if they say no.”

Brezina was assigned to compete at 2010 Cup of China and Trophee Eric Bompard but missed the 2010-11 Grand Prix circuit after undergoing surgery for a varicose vein in his abdomen. He recovered in time to place eighth at the European Championships and notch a second consecutive fourth place performance at the World Championship.

“After my surgery, it messes up your head,” he said. “When you have an injury at the beginning of the season that you have been preparing for the whole summer and everything works well. Then you’re told you need surgery otherwise you can’t skate the whole season, that was something I was scared about. But then I got to our Olympic physiotherapist. He helped me a lot and I think that’s why I did so well at Worlds.”

Van Der Perren opened his program with a quad toe that garnered 12.16 points and followed that with a triple Axel and a triple flip. He also performed a triple Salchow-triple toe-triple toe combination that earned 14.54 points.

“Most important for me at the competition is to do the quad and the Axel,” he said. “This season the only thing I’m really focused about is Europeans. I’m happy of how I skated, I’m happy of how it came out even if I would have been fifth or sixth, I still would have been happy.”

Kozuka, who won the silver medal at the 2011 World Championships, opened his program with a fall on the quad toe, which was also downgraded, and he later fell on his triple Lutz. His solo triple flip received an edge call and the triple Lutz in the triple Lutz-double toe was underrotated.

“About my performance today, of course I made mistakes on the jumps but more than that, I was happy I was able to get level four on my steps and my choreography score was quite high,” Kozuka said. “Today I really wanted to show I was having fun performing to the music that I love. This was what I really wanted to show here and I think I was successful with that. I did feel bad about the jumps but overall I think I did what I could and I feel pretty satisfied.”

Dornbush opened with a quad toe but fell on his triple loop and popped his second triple Axel. While he was sixth in the free skate, he was fourth overall.

“That was definitely the best part of the program,” Dornbush said of the quad. “After that I made a lot of little mistakes that I regret but it was the first competition of the season and it was good to get my feet under me and get the quad out there. I just need to work on the rest of the program. I think that’s probably the hardest part about doing the quad in the long program. You have to be able to do the entire program, not just that one element.”

Wrapping up his first Grand Prix event on his birthday, Razzano handed in the fifth best program of the afternoon, receiving all positive grades of execution. His program included a triple Axel-double toe combination.

“I was so pleased with it,” he said. “And to do it on my birthday just made it ten times better. Especially after a disappointing short yesterday.”

Mahbanoozadeh, who won the bronze medal at 2010 Skate America, botched the opening quad toe, which was also downgraded to a triple. He also fell on his solo triple Axel and singled his triple Lutz.

“I definitely want to stand up on the quad,” said Mahbanoozadeh, who has competed in three previous Grand Prix events. “I felt that I wasn’t too far off today. I also want to keep in the moment during the program.”

World champions Meryl Davis (West Bloomfield,  Mich.) and Charlie White (Ann Arbor, Mich.) won their seventh consecutive major competition dating back to last year by easily defending their Skate America crown with 178.07 points. The Michigan natives earned level three and four for all their elements.

“It’s really nice to have our first competition of the year be Skate America,” White said. “We felt the crowd behind and that does make a big difference, especially the first time out when you might be a little bit unsure. We always like to thank the fans. The skate for us was very good. Definitely the best we have done the program to date which is always nice in competition. We haven’t been able to see the levels but I think in terms of the character and how we wanted to present ourselves, we’re very pleased. We’re looking forward to working on it more.”

Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat of France, who finished a disappointing fourth at the 2011 World Championships, finished a solid second with a strong free dance. They had 156.29 points overall. Lithuanians Isabella Tobias and Deividas Stagniunas clinched bronze with 132.58.

“We are very happy with our bronze medal,” Stagniunas said. “We were happy with how we skated. We came here last minute to Skate America because somebody dropped out. We are excited to come here. Thank you.”

New team Madison Hubbell (Sylvania, Ohio) and Zachary Donohue (Waterford, Mich.) performed well at their first-ever Grand Prix event, finishing third in the free skate and sixth overall with 131.04. Isabella Cannuscio (Egg Harbor Township, N.J.) and Ian Lorello (Gambrills, Md.) finished eighth in the free dance and seventh overall with 115.22. It was Grand Prix event for both teams.

“We felt good,” Hubbell said. “Our goal after yesterday’s performance was not to let our scores and the whole event overtake us. We stayed strong and confident in what we could do. It wasn’t our perfect performance, but we fought for it and stayed aggressive.”

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Photo courtesy of Leah Adams

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