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Japan's Machida dominates to win Skate America short program, leads Abbott, Brown

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HOFFMAN ESTATES, Illinois — Tatsuki Machida of Japan won the Skate America men's short program with a dominant performance on Friday.

On a night when there were plenty of falls, Machida kept his footing and left the ice to loud cheers after wowing the crowd. With 93.39 points, he had a comfortable lead over American Jeremy Abbott (81.82) and Chicago-area product Jason Brown (79.75).

Machida's performance came after Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates won the ice dance short competition.

The men's long program and ice dance free skate are Saturday evening, with the pairs and women's short programs earlier in the day. Gracie Gold, the 2014 Olympian and U.S. champion, leads the women's field along with two-time junior champion Elena Radionova of Russia.

Abbott stumbled on a triple axel early in his routine, and there was a rough turn early on for Brown when he went down performing the same move.

It was an especially difficult start for Brown with the home crowd cheering him on. Brown is from Highland Park, and he drew attention with a silver medal at the U.S. championships in January, right before the Olympics. That and his ponytail makes him one of the most recognizable skaters.

This competition also was the first time that music backed by vocals was allowed in a major singles or pairs event. It's a shift in a sport where instrumental pieces rule, but a desire to appeal to younger audiences sparked the move.

That wall came crashing down when Russia's Artur Gachinski performed to Michael Buble's rendition of "Cry Me A River."

"When you skate you can bring about the song, you can feel what the song has inside," he said. "I think it's a good idea."

Even so, switching to music with lyrics was not an easy decision. He said it's easier to get distracted.

"You start dancing like you're in the club," Gachinski said.

In the ice dance, Chock and Bates scored 68.96 points, outclassing the field in a competition that featured the Flamenco and Paso Doble.

The brother-sister combo of Americans Maia and Alex Shibutani (64.14) were second, with Russians Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin (56.37) in third.

North Americans have dominated ice dance in recent years, but reigning Olympic gold medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White and 2010 champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are not competing this season.

That leaves Chock and Bates to carry on the winning tradition, along with the Shibutanis, and the teams are holding the top two spots heading into Saturday's free skate.

"I think obviously the long goal is the 2018 Olympics, but this year is really important for us," said Bates, who placed eighth with Chock at the Sochi Games. "I think what we saw and really learned from Meryl and Charlie was we got a first-hand experience of what it is like to be the elite team in the world. We had the opportunity to train alongside them but also compete alongside them. I think our experience with them in Sochi was more than anything inspiring."

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