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Amid slopfest and weak field, U.S. men hang onto three places in world championships

By Philip Hersh

The U.S. rookie, Adam Rippon, came through Thursday.

The two veterans, Jeremy Abbott and Ryan Bradley, were weak again.

Yet the United States still earned the maximum three spots for the 2011 world championships, thanks to a watered-down field at the 2010 worlds in Turin, Italy.

Rippon, 20, in his world meet debut, stepped out of one jump, a triple axel, but gave a thoroughly polished performance and took sixth, including a fifth to Abbott's sixth in the free skate Thursday.

Abbott, 24, the two-time U.S. champion, made it four straight muck-ups at major events.  He had been 11th at the last two worlds and ninth at the Olympics, the last a stunningly poor effort, given how brilliant his flawless skating had been at the U.S. Championships a month earlier. 

With four of the top six finishers at the Olympics missing from worlds, the level of competition was weak enough and the performances sloppy enough (four of the final six skaters fell) that Abbott got away with two falls -- one on a double axel (!), one on a quad -- in the free skate and still finished fifth to assure the U.S. men a third spot again next year.

To get three, the finishes of the top two U.S. skaters needed to total 13 or fewer.

Bradley, 26, skating with a broken metatarsal in his left foot, rebounded respectably from a painfully bad short program that had left him in 21st place.

Landing one quadruple jump and six triples, Bradley moved up three places in the final standings to 18th.

It was the second lowest finish for a U.S. man at the world championships:  only Dan Hollander's18th in a 1997 qualifying group is worse.  Bradley's 15th in his other worlds appearance, 2007, is fifth worst of all time for a U.S. man.

The U.S. trio was minus its top two Olympic performers, gold medalist Evan Lysacek (also the 2009 world champion) and sixth finisher Johnny Weir.

The messy free skate ended with a historic moment:  Daisuke Takahashi, the 2010 Olympic bronze medalist and last to skate, became the first Japanese man to win a world title.

Takahashi won by 10 points over Canada's Patrick Chan, silver medalist for the second straight year.  Brian Joubert of France took a second straight bronze, giving him medals in five straight world championships -- one gold, two silver, two bronze.

Although he needed take no risk, the 24-year-old Takahashi tried to be the first to land a quadruple flip jump and managed to stay upright but came down on two feet.

It finished quite a comeback for Takahashi, who missed the entire 2009 season with a knee injury.  His bronze in Vancouver was the first medal for a Japanese man at the Olympics.

Takahashi was the only medalist not to fall in the free skate.

Abbott, who beat Rippon by less than a point, was 25 behind Takahashi and more than nine from a medal.

 
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