Brandon Mroz of US lands quadruple lutz in Japan

By Jim Armstrong

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Nov. 12 2011 2:25 p.m. MST

Brandon Mroz of the United States performs during the men's short program figure skating at the NHK Trophy Figure Skating in Sapporo, Japan, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011.

Shizuo Kambayashi, Associated Press

SAPPORO, Japan — Brandon Mroz knew he could land this jump. There wasn't video of it two months ago in Colorado and it didn't come at a major competition, but it was a legitimate jump all the same.

This time, the 20-year-old American nailed the quadruple lutz at the NHK Trophy on Saturday, the first to do so at an international competition.

"I'm excited to get it done in an international competition," Mroz said. "Getting another jump done is awesome for generations of skaters to come."

Mroz's jump came on the same day that Akiko Suzuki of Japan won the women's title. Mroz was third after the men's short program with 74.83 points. Japan's Daisuke Takahashi, the Vancouver Olympic bronze medalist, led at 90.43, followed by countryman Takahiko Kozuka at 79.77.

In ice dance, Maia and Alex Shibutani of the United States rallied from third place to win their first Grand Prix title. The pairs was won by Yuko Kawaguchi and Alexander Smirnov of Russia.

Moroz first completed the quadruple lutz Sept. 16 at the Colorado Springs Invitational, a U.S. Figure Skating sanctioned competition. A little more than a month later, the International Skating Union gave the jump its stamp of approval.

Mroz, who lives and trains in Colorado Springs, is coached by Tom Zakrajsek. He was making his international debut at the NHK Trophy, the fourth event of this year's Grand Prix series.

Mroz opened his routine with the quadruple Lutz. The landing was not perfect, but it was on one foot.

"For me, it was little shaky, too. I was fighting," he said. "It was great to get the Lutz done. It was a step into the right direction."

Suzuki held off Mao Asada in the free skate to earn her first Grand Prix title in two seasons. Suzuki led Asada by 8 points after the short program. She made several mistakes in the final but scored 119.43 points for a total of 185.98, just 1.79 points ahead of Asada.

"I'm very happy to have won my first NHK Trophy, but I'm not at all satisfied with my free skate," Suzuki said. "I will reflect on my mistakes and try to improve them."

Alena Leonova of Russia was third (170.68) and Ashley Wagner of the U.S. was fourth (165.65).

As she did in the short program, Asada's failure to hit a triple axel on her opening element cost her. She tried the triple again Saturday but managed only a double.

"I skated my other elements well," she said. "I'm not yet at the level I want to be. I can level up."

Suzuki, skating to "Die Fledermaus" did a single lutz instead of a planned triple lutz later in her routine and singled a triple loop. But her lead from the short program was enough.

It was Suzuki's first victory at the senior Grand Prix series since the 2009 Cup of China. This victory, coupled with a second-place finish as Skate Canada, qualified her for the Dec. 8-11 Grand Final in Quebec City.

In ice dance, the Japanese-American Shibutanis scored a personal-best 92.83 points in the free dance to capture their first senior Grand Prix title with a total of 151.85.

"After the short dance, we felt pretty confident going into today's program," Alex Shibutani said. "It's great to get our first Grand Prix title here in Japan where the fans really support us."

Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Canada were second with 151.76 while Russians Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov, first after the short dance, took the bronze.

The Shibutanis won the bronze medal at the 2011 world championships. Their previous best result at a Grand Prix event was second place at last week's Cup of China in Shanghai.

Lynn Kriengkairut and Logan Giulietti-Schmitt of the U.S. collided with Cathy Reed and Chris Reed of Japan in the warmup. Both couples performed their routines and finished sixth and seventh.

In pairs, Kawaguchi and Smirnov won the gold after receiving 122.49 points in the free skate. The Russians were fifth after the short program, then put on a nearly flawless performance to finish with 177.51.

Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran of Japan were second with 172.09. World champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany finished third.

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