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Dazzling Daisuke upstages Lysacek in winning short

10/27/2007

READING, Pa. -- The Boston Red Sox weren't playing in the World Series tonight, but there was a Daisuke who was enjoying October.

Daisuke Takahashi -- Japan's other Daisuke -- played the role of an ace, nailing his short program and taking the lead at Skate America. His showy performance, skating to a hip-hop version of "Swan Lake," was so well skated, especially considering this is the opening event of the season, that the judges rewarded him 80.04 points.

To get an idea of how impressive that was, consider this: U.S. champion Evan Lysacek is runner-up with 67.70.

"I was surprised and excited," said Takahashi, who spent nearly two months taking hip-hop dance classes in Manhattan to help prepare for the program.

Takahashi, who appeared as if he could host his MTV show on ice, could have given Jay-Z and Lil Wayne a run for the money. Takahashi even had the spiked hairdo to boot.

Although he didn't attempt a quad, opting for a triple flip-triple toe combination instead, he had so much life to his routine that it almost wasn't necessary. His footwork steps were crisp and purposeful, and although his spins weren't perfect, they definitely sufficed.

Takahashi entered this competition as one of the favorites after claiming the silver medal at the 2007 world championships in Tokyo in March.

"Of course it gave me great confidence to finish second in the world last season," Takahashi said. "But coming up for the new season, I just wanted to be one of the skaters to challenge for the podium."

He certainly made that case tonight.

Lysacek, meanwhile, didn't skate poorly, but missing his quad toe loop proved costly. It was the first time Lysacek performed his program, to music from the soundtrack of "Zorro."

"The quads are hard, man," Lysacek said. "They're really hard."

But neither Lysacek, nor his coach, Frank Carroll, have any plans to take the four-revolution jump out of the short program, where skaters tend to be more conservative than in the free skate. Instead, they seemed more determined than ever to keep it in.

"It's a gamble," Carroll said. "But if you don't want to be the best, then don't take the high risks. Do something else with your life, that means technically, artistically and bravery-wise."

So Lysacek will be back again Saturday night in the free skate with his new routine to "Tosca," and yes --- you guessed it --- a quad is part of the plan. Takahashi has landed a quad in competition and is trying to develop consistency with the jump, but if he continues to skate as well as he did without it, it could be a moot point.

"Right now, he's on a whole different level," said Canada's Patrick Chan, who is in third place with 67.47 points.

Takahashi certainly stole the show, but there were some other impressive moments on the night. Chan's triple axel was arguably the best of the night, both for height and distance. And Stephen Carriere, of Boston, made a nice senior Grand Prix debut with his Led Zeppelin routine to place sixth.

Perhaps the only routine of the night that had more character than Takahashi's was that of Alban Preaubert. But that was to be expected. Last season, the Frenchman skated in a bumblebee outfit. On Friday night, he played the role of the "Addams Family," complete with a hand ("The Thing") on his back. He was creepy and kooky and finds himself in fourth.

On Saturday, Takahashi will return to a more traditional style of skating with a program to "Romeo and Juliet."

And if strikes out the competition, Theo Epstein might just give him a call.

Ice chips
Reigning U.S. champion Kimmie Meissner and silver medalist Emily Hughes skated their first practice in Reading today. Meissner is taking three classes (two online) at the University of Delaware; Hughes is living in a dorm and taking four courses at Harvard. The third U.S. entrant in the women's field is Caroline Zhang, 14, who attends Brea Junior High School in Southern California. ... World champion Miki Ando, of Japan, sported a sleeveless outfit during practice conspicuously revealing a bandage on her right shoulder. She injured her shoulder at a recent made-for-TV event in Japan where she fell twice, once in practice. The women's short program is set for Saturday with the free skate Sunday. ... For the first time at a Grand Prix event, skaters' start orders were based on their ranking at the end of last season in International Skating Union. In the past, there was a random draw.

Amy Rosewater, a freelance writer based in Baltimore, is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.