Saturday, March 22, 2008
Buttle's world gold comes without quad; Weir takes bronze
GOTEBORG, Sweden -- Jeffrey Buttle won the world title and set off a debate.
No, this isn't skating's latest controversial victory. Buttle was brilliant in adding the men's title at the World Figure Skating Championships to the 2006 Olympic bronze medal he already owns, with a program that was the perfect blend of artistry and athleticism. His footwork was whimsical and his spins thrilling.
Jeffrey Buttle is the first Canadian man to win a world figure skating championship since 1997, when Elvis Stojko was crowned.
But he had no quadruple jump -- while all the other top contenders at least tried.
Buttle's gold disproves -- this time, at least -- the notion that a man has to do a quad to win the big titles.
"I started skating because I watched Kurt Browning and Brian Orser and it was about the program. And the most memorable programs in skating, you remember the program and you don't remember what elements they did," said Buttle, the first Canadian since Elvis Stojko to win the world title since 1997.
"I went out there and left everything on the ice. I had my heart on my sleeve."
Now he has a gold medal around his neck.
Buttle's score of 245.17 put him well ahead of defending champion Brian Joubert (231.22) and American Johnny Weir (221.84), who won his first world medal and kept the Americans from going home empty for the first time since 1994.
"That makes me feel incredible," Weir said. "I feel great. I am happy to give the United States its only medal."
Weir's finish means the U.S. will be able to send three men to next year's all-important world championships, where results determine slots for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
The top two men had to finish with a combined placement of 13 or lower to preserve the three spots, and Stephen Carriere was 10th in his first world championships. Jeremy Abbott, a late add after Evan Lysacek withdrew because of an injury during practice last week, was 11th.
The debate over the weight of the quad has been going on since Browning landed the first four-revolution jump at the 1988 world championships -- and won't end here.
Some, like Joubert and U.S. champion Evan Lysacek, say the quad is an essential part of men's skating. Joubert, who has done three quads in a program, complained to French television when he came off the ice that quads were undervalued in the current scoring system and their value should be raised.
"Right after the results, I was very disappointed," Joubert said. "And I am still disappointed because Jeffrey did the perfect competition, he made no mistakes, but he didn't try the quad jump."
Others, like Buttle and Weir, say the quad is an important element, but it is only one element in a long list of what makes a great performance.
"I was fortunate to skate a clean program today. I concentrated very hard to do that, but it is not just the jumps. We work whole sessions on spins and stroking and all those things in between because that is figure skating," Buttle said, sitting serenely next to Joubert.
"It's everything that happens in those four and a half minutes. It's not just about the jumps and ... those in-betweens don't mean anything at all."
Indeed, the quadless Buttle earned the highest technical marks with eight triple jumps, while all the men behind him tried quads -- to one degree of success or another. Joubert opened his program with a big one, while Weir two-footed his. Japan's Daisuke Takahashi and former world champ Stephane Lambiel of Switzerland each tried two, landing only one of them successfully. They finished fourth and fifth.
"I think it is a very strong statement that my sport is not defined by one jump ... and not defined by one element," Weir said. "It's a whole package that you have to have to be a top-level skater. You need to have everything."
Buttle does. He brings an elegance to the ice that contrasts with Stojko, who was all about power and jumping. Stojko was the first to do a quad in combination, and was a driving force behind making it a staple in men's skating. But often the effort put into the difficult jump zaps a skater of concentration for other elements. Stojko was often criticized for being wooden, and certainly many lower level-skaters who are pulling them off aren't much to watch.
And a fall or stumble on the jump can be brutal to the confidence. Even Buttle says his quads aren't consistent enough to try them in competition.
Maybe that was for the best, though. No one was talking about Buttle as a medal contender when the week began, and he was able to spend the week in a zenlike zone.
"I wouldn't have bet on Jeffrey when I arrived here," Joubert said. "But competition is competition. That will give me a lesson I will learn in the future."
For Weir, his medal is affirmation of the big changes he made after last year's dismal season. His program Saturday wasn't his best -- besides two-footing his quad, he missed several planned combinations -- and he had to wait to see if it would be good enough for a medal.
"I was so nervous and so scared. ... I didn't want anything to go wrong," Weir said. "I think you could see that in the performance because I was very tentative. I didn't perform as I usually do. I was focused on one element and the next. It's the kind of performance I don't remember everything I did."