Patrick Chan takes lead at figure skating worlds

JEROME PUGMIRE AP Sports Writer Published:

NICE, France (AP) -- Patrick Chan stayed on course to defend his title at the figure skating world championships after taking the lead in Friday's short program, despite almost tumbling backward onto the ice.

The Canadian had successfully completed his four jumps when he was suddenly let down by his usually assured footwork coming out of a camel spin, twice swaying back before regaining his balance.

"I was kind of upset at myself for not keeping it together," Chan said. "The expression on my face was priceless."

But he had done enough with cleanly executed jumps to secure a season's best score of 89.41 points heading into Saturday's free skate.

Czech skater Michal Brezina, celebrating his 22nd birthday, was second with 87.67, followed by Japan's Daisuke Takahashi at 85.72.

Frenchman Brian Joubert thrilled the home crowd to take the early lead, thanks to a huge score of 14.40 on his quad toe loop-triple toe loop element, but the 2007 world champion dropped to fourth overall with 83.47.

Following a bad day for the American women on Thursday when Ashley Wagner finished eighth and Alissa Czisny placed 16th in the women's short, the American men fared little better.

Jeremy Abbott was ninth (74.85), and Adam Rippon was 10th (73.55).

"I was mentally, physically, emotionally ready to go out there and bring it and win," Abbott said. "I'll have to go back and talk with my coaches. I know I've had performances like this before, but I've never been more prepared for a competition. I really believed in my heart of hearts that this was my moment."

Chan, who is bidding to become the first man to win back-to-back world titles since the now retired Stephane Lambiel of Switzerland in 2006, is not putting too much pressure on himself.

"I don't think about that so much, but about defending it for myself," Chan said. "I've been watching videos of world championships last year in Moscow and world championships this year. There was a big improvement in my eye, I see a lot of improvement artistically."

Joubert, who was also a three-time runner-up, pumped his fist as he received a roar of approval from the home crowd at Palais des Expositions.

Chan, skating after Joubert's group, had a slightly heavy landing on his quad toe loop, choosing not to follow through with a triple toe loop combination. But he later compensated for that by adding a triple toe loop to a beautifully crisp triple lutz on his final jump.

Then, he unexpectedly lost his balance -- twice arching backward coming out of the camel spin into a bracket turn. With great dexterity, he managed to stay up.

Chan admitted afterward he had choreographed a move in training with coach Christy Krall to make it look like he was falling over, in order to get the crowd more emotionally involved in his routine. But this time, he really did lose his balance.

"We wanted to make it look like I'm losing my balance, and then gathering my balance, kind of tricking you guys," Chan said. "But this time I actually fooled myself and was off balance. It was a unique situation. I started going forwards and lost my balance, and changed to backwards to see if that would help."

Krall made light of what could have ended up being an awkward mistake.

"I think he needs a figure lesson -- back to the brackets," said Krall, jokingly. "I don't believe he had enough speed going into that. He was coming out of the camel slow(ly), he didn't get his momentum coming around. (But) he has incredibly good balance."

Chan feels confident he can get through Saturday more smoothly.

Brezina skated with great fluidity and some of the crowd sang "Happy birthday" to him.

Later Friday, defending pairs champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany were looking to seal their fourth world title.