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Sunday, March 25, 2007

JAPAN CAPTIVATES WORLD

Miki, Mao place 1-2


Staff writer

After bombing in last year's Olympic Winter Games, Miki Ando was written off by just about everybody.

News photo
Gold medalist Miki Ando, center, and Mao Asada, who took the silver, pose with South Korea's Kim Yu Na, the bronze medalist, shown on the left, on the awards podium at the World Figure Skating Championships in Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium on Saturday. KYODO PHOTO

Considered overweight, lacking in discipline and absent the requisite passion for the sport, her future on the ice appeared grim.

But instead of packing it in, the Nagoya native worked herself into better shape, hired a new coach, and set out to prove her critics wrong.

It all came together for Ando on a glorious Saturday night before a capacity crowd at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, as she became just the fourth Japanese to win a world figure skating title.

Ando, second in the short program to South Korea's Kim Yu Na, performed to "Violin Concerto" and chose to put her once-renowned jumping skills on display to try and get the gold.

Trying to join Midori Ito (1989), Yuka Sato (1994) and Shizuka Arakawa (2004) as world champions, Ando, the 2004 world junior champion, abandoned her planned quadruple salchow but still hit seven triple jumps and edged out Mao Asada for the gold medal.

Ando, who skated last, performed to "Violin Concerto" and chose to put her once-renowned jumping skills on display for all to see. The result was a narrow win of less than one point (195.09 to 194.45) for the 19-year-old, who up to this point was most well known for becoming the first female to pull of a quadruple jump in competition.

"Thanks to my family, coach (Nikolai Morozov), who led Arakawa to the Olympic gold in Turin), and everybody here I have won the championship. After Turin I had such a hard time . . . but I came back strong."

Asada, who botched her opening combination jump in the short program and finished fifth, pulled out all of the stops in an attempt to win it all, slotting seven triple jumps into her routine to "Czardas," on her way to the silver medal.

She opened with a triple axel that drew a huge roar from the partisan crowd, and with the exception of stumbling on the landing of her second jump -- a double axel/triple toeloop combination -- was majestic in a beautiful red costume as she pulled off seven triple jumps on the way to racking up a personal-best score of 194.45.

Asada, who had to have been disheartened with her poor showing on Friday, shook it off and delivered the true performance of a champion, breaking down in tears as the audience saluted her with rapturous applause at the conclusion of her program.

"I am very happy. I was very disappointed with my showing in the short program," Asada commented immediately after coming off the ice, when it looked like she might have won.

News photo
Terrific finish: Mao Asada moved up from fifth after the short program to second with a superb effort in the free program Saturday to secure a silver medal at the World Figure Skating Championships at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

In the end, it very well may have been the one poor landing that cost her the world title this night.

Kim, who won Friday's short program in spectacular fashion, setting a new record with a tally of 71.95, skated to "The Lark Ascending" and started off well, executing an Ina Bauer in front of the judges between her two opening combination jumps and a superb camel spin.

But things quickly went downhill for Kim, as she fell at the beginning of a planned triple lutz/double toeloop/double loop combination. She bounced up and got through her flying sit spin, before hitting the deck again on a triple lutz.

Kim, who has been nursing a tailbone injury, must have been in pain after the second fall and appeared a bit winded during the rest of her program. She received a total score of 186.14 and settle for the bronze.

"I was not in my best condition today and I missed a few jumps due to lack of energy," said Kim.

"For coming into this competition injured, I am very happy with the way I skated. My legs felt very heavy today."

Italy's Carolina Kostner, who earlier this year became the first Italian female to win the European title, and finished a surprising third in the short program, tumbled to the ice on her opening triple flip.

She missed two more jumps and had a lackluster performance to "Memoirs of a Geisha," dropping to ninth place in the process.

Meissner, the 2006 world champion, planned an ambitious free skate with seven triple jumps in all to "Galicia Flamenco." She got off on the wrong foot, so to speak, however, as she touched the ice with her hand on her opening triple lutz/triple toeloop combination.

Outside of a bit of a wobble on a triple loop midway through her program, Meissner made no further mistakes but failed to inspire in the way that Asada did and finished fourth at 180.23.

Yukari Nakano, gold medalist at this year's Winter Asian Games and seventh in the short program, chose "Cinderella" for her routine but fell when she attempted a triple axel on her opening jump.

She bravely skated on, and despite wobbling a bit on a foot changing combination spin, put forth a respectable program to finish fifth with a mark of 168.92.

Emily Hughes, second in this year's U.S. nationals and sixth after the short program, lost her footing on a triple flip/double loop combination early, but recovered from the mistake and appeared to skate well the rest of the way.

The judges, however, did not see it that way and Hughes slid to ninth place.

Fumie Suguri, who was second at last year's worlds in Calgary, did not qualify for this year's competition.



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