Buttle takes short program at Four Continents

Canadian champion Jeffrey Buttle shook off an early stumble to win the men's short program Wednesday at the Four Continents figure skating competition.

The superior footwork and spins of Canadian champion Jeffrey Buttle made up for a stumble on a triple Axel as he won the men's short program Wednesday night at the Four Continents figure skating competition.

Buttle,from Smooth Rock Falls, Ont., scored a personal-best 77.72 points in Colorado Springs, Colo., despite putting both hands down to steady himself on the second leap of his program.

"My jumps weren't the best," Buttle said, "but everything else was pretty darn good."

American Jeremy Abbott, a late addition when compatriot Johnny Weir decided not to attend, finished second and Ryan Bradley of the U.S. was third.

Emanuel Sandhu of Richmond Hill, Ont.,was fifth with 64.98 points, while Christopher Mabee of Tillsonburg, Ont., was eighth with 58.58 points.

The men's free skate is scheduled for Friday night.

Buttle, who won the Canadian nationals a few weeks ago, said he's shocked at his success so soon after suffering a stress fracture in his back last August.

Buttle was off his skates for three months before picking up training again in November.

"My jumps are stronger and bigger," he said. "It's sort of surprising."

Dubreuil and Lauzon lead ice dance

Canadians Patrice Lauzon and Marie-France Dubreuil also started out strong in the ice dance competition, finishing first after the compulsory event.

But the altitude, combined with the exertion of the Golden Waltz, left Lauzon huffing and puffing a good five minutes after the Montreal duo's performance, which left them first heading into Thursday's original dance.

"It's a pretty hard compulsory dance," said Lauzon. "It's not much breathing time in it.

"For the dance and altitude, we did pretty good."

Dubreuil agreed, although she said going first in front of a sparse crowd was difficult.

"When there's less electricity, you don't perform as much," she said. "Being the first skater, it's hard for the judges to start their mark.

"I think it was pretty good."

Dubreuil and Lauzon led with a score of 38.54.

American champions Ben Agosto and Tanith Belbin, a native of Kingston, Ont., who also has U.S. citizenship, were second after Agosto stumbled during their program.

Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White were in third place.

Competed through infection

Tessa Virtue of London, Ont., and Scott Moir of Ilderton, Ont., were fourth and Lauren Senft of Vancouver and Leif Gislason of Winnipeg were fifth.

Before the Canadian championships in late January, Dubreuil came down with a virus, which led to an inner ear infection and then turned into vertigo so bad she couldn't sleep lying down.

Dubreuil competed through the inner ear infection — the couple took home a gold medal — and that bolstered Lauzon's respect for his partner.

Dubreuil also took a horrific tumble at the 2006 Olympics on a lift in the original dance that forced the team to withdraw.

But they went on to win silver at the world championships.

"To me, every time she feels sick or injured, when she gets on the ice she's always as amazing," Lauzon said. "I don't see the difference.

"To me, she's always as good as she is."

Canadian pairs impress

Canadians also had a solid showing in the pairs short program.

Valerie Marcoux of Gatineau, Que., and Craig Buntin of Kelowna, B.C., were fourth heading into Thursday's free skate with a 60.43 score.

Anabelle Langlois of Grand-Mere, Que., and Cody Hay of Grande Prairie, Alta., with 56.15 were fifth.

Jessica Dube of Drummondville, Que., and Bryce Davison of Cambridge, Ont., stood eighth at 53.39.

Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo hold the lead and are up on Chinese counterparts Tong Jian and Pang Qing by 3.49 points.

Defending champions Rena Inoue and John Baldwin landed their signature throw triple Axel, but they still were in third place, 7.56 out of the lead.