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Saturday, March 24, 2007

S. Korea's Kim leads after short program

Ando places second, Asada lies fifth

Staff writer

South Korea's Kim Yu Na put on a dramatic performance Friday night to win the ladies singles short program at the World Figure Skating Championships.

News photo
Japan's Miki Ando performs during the short program at the World Figure Skating Championships in Tokyo on Friday evening. Ando skated to "Scheherazade" and placed second behind South Korea's Kim Yu Na. Inset photo: Kim skates to "Tango de Roxane" from Moulin Rouge. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTOS
News photo

Skating before a capacity crowd at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, Kim, the 2006 world junior champion, performed to "Tango de Roxane" from Moulin Rouge and was nothing short of spectacular.

Dressed in a sharp black and red costume, she was especially deft in her layback spin and program-ending combination spin.

Coached by 1987 world champion Brian Orser, Kim executed an opening triple flip-triple toeloop combination, then added a strong triple lutz later on the way to establishing a new personal best of 71.95.

Crowd favorite Mao Asada, skating in her first senior worlds, took to the ice for her eagerly anticipated showdown with Kim, but botched a planned combination jump and found herself in fifth place heading into Saturday's free program.

"I am disappointed because I made a huge mistake," said Asada. "I don't know what happened to me. -- I will do the triple axel tomorrow and catch up with the top skaters."

Two-time national champion Miki Ando, clearly in much better physical condition than last season, showed she also has it together mentally, as she recorded a personal best of 67.98 to take second place.

Ando performed to "Scheherazade," and put her considerable presentation skills on display, most notably in her spiral sequence. She opened with a fine triple lutz-triple loop combination, followed by a triple flip, and was on her way.

"After the opening combination I felt really good and started to enjoy performing," said Ando. "I heard the cheers from the audience and it was really encouraging."

Italy's Carolina Kostner, the 2007 European champion, was the surprise of the evening, skating a solid and technically sound program to finish third with a personal best of 67.15.

"Today I was a lot more nervous (than at the Euros), just because of the environment and atmosphere," Kostner noted. "I knew everybody here is strong and well prepared."

The 162-cm Kim was enthusiastically applauded by the crowd, which showed a great appreciation for her skill, throughout her routine.

Earlier in the week, Kim mentioned that she had hoped to skate before Asada to try and relieve the pressure of having to live up to her rival's score.

The 16-year-old, who missed the South Korean nationals with a hernia and has been nursing a tailbone injury, got her wish via the draw and was very pleased with her results.

"I still had back pain at the beginning of this championship, but it gradually went away and now I feel OK," Kim said. "I was surprised with such a high score, but I don't know what will happen tomorrow."

American Kimmie Meissner, the 2006 world champion, took fourth place. She skated first among the favorites, performing to "Snow Storm."

The Maryland native, who won the Four Continents Championships and the U.S. national titles earlier this year, was mistake-free and showed off some nifty footwork on her step sequence to notch a personal best of 64.67.

"The short program is always a little nerve-wracking for me," said Meissner. "I have a lot of confidence coming off tonight. I'm glad I did my triple-triple combination."

Asada, the first female to complete two triple axels in the same program in competition (at the 2005 Japan nationals), skated to "Nocturne" and after starting with a perfect triple lutz, she then tried a triple flip-triple loop combination, but singled the latter.

News photo
Japan's Mao Asada skates to "Nocturne," on her way to fifth place after the short program at the World Figure Skating Championships in Tokyo on Friday evening.

The judges took note of Asada's significant blunder, awarding her just 61.32 points.

Nakano, winner of the NHK Trophy in 2005, was rewarded with a personal best of 60.62 by the judges and finished seventh.

Wearing a purple costume and skates with gold blades, she skated to "Memoirs of a Geisha," and outside of a shaky landing on her opening triple lutz, was stellar the rest of the way, concluding with a crowd-pleasing donut spin.

"I did whatever I could do. So I am satisfied with my performance tonight. If possible, I would like to do a triple axel (in the free skate), but I have to see how I feel tomorrow."

Asada, who won the Grand Prix Final in 2005 at 15, has been training with sister, Mai, in Lake Arrowhead, Calif., for the past several months under the tutelage of Rafael Artunian.

American Emily Hughes, sister of 2002 Olympic gold medalist Sarah, came in sixth with a mark of 60.08.

Three-time defending Canadian champion Joannie Rochette had a disappointing night. She stumbled on the landing of a triple lutz, then fell on a straight line step sequence and had to settle for 16th place.

Earlier in the day, Bulgaria's Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski captured the gold in ice dancing, edging out Canada's Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon.

The victory was the second world title for the Bulgarian pair, who finished first in both the original and free dance, moving up from second place in the compulsory dance. They won with a score of 201.61, while the Canadians had a mark of 200.46.

Americans Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto took the bronze with a total of 195.43.

"We fought for it," said Denkova. "We worked very hard. We are very happy we can perform like that."

"This is the brilliant end for us," said Staviski, of the pair who are expected to retire after this event.

Japan's Nozomi Watanabe and Akiyuki Kido were 15th with 152.21 in their final competition.

"I just want to thank all the people who supported us through our long skating career," Kido said.

Saturday's free skate will begin at 5:30 p.m.

This marks the fifth time that Japan has hosted the worlds. Tokyo was previously the site of the competition in 1977 and 1985. Chiba (1994), where Yuka Sato won the women's singles crown, and Nagano (2002) have also played host.

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