NICE, France (AP) — Patrick Chan stayed on his feet and on course to keep his title at the figure skating world championships, winning the short program Friday despite almost tumbling backward to the ice.
The Canadian had successfully completed his four jumps when he was betrayed by his usually sure footwork coming out of a camel spin, twice swaying back before regaining his balance in time.
"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 on 85.72. For the U.S., Jeremy Abbott was ninth and Adam Rippon 10th.
Later Friday, defending pairs champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany were looking to seal their fourth world title.
Frenchman Brian Joubert thrilled the home crowd to take the early lead in the short program, thanks to his quad toe loop-triple toe loop element, but the 2007 world champion dropped to fourth with 83.47.
Chan is bidding to become the first man to win back-to-back world titles since the now retired Stephane Lambiel of Switzerland in 2006.
"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, also a three-time runner-up, pumped his fist as he received a roar of approval from the 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 said he had choreographed a move in training with coach Christy Krall to make it look as if he were falling over to get the crowd more involved.
"We wanted to make it look like I'm losing my balance, and then gathering my balance, kind of tricking you guys," a relieved 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," Krall said, jokingly. "I don't believe he had enough speed going into that."
Chan feels confident he can get through Saturday more smoothly.
"I'm glad this one's done. I was more nervous than usual going into the short, so the long (free skate) should be a bit more of a feeling process," Chan said. "It's been a great program this season."
Brezina skated with great fluidity and some in the crowd serenaded him with "Happy Birthday."
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. Abbott had a score of 74.85, followed by Rippon at 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."