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Saturday, Oct. 6, 2007

U.S.-Japan skate meet starts season

Staff Writer

YOKOHAMA — The 2007-08 figure skating season gets under way here on Saturday afternoon when the U.S.-Japan International Counter Match, featuring world champion Miki Ando and world runnerup Mao Asada, is held at Shin-Yokohama Skate Center.

The event consists of four female and four male skaters from both nations competing in a format that has one skater take the ice for the short program and another perform the free skate, with the scores from both tallied together.

Each country will field three senior-level skaters and one junior-level skater on both the male and female sides.

World championship runnerup Daisuke Takahashi will lead the Japan men's squad, which will include Kensuke Nakaniwa, Yasuharu Nanri and Tatsuki Machida.

In addition to Ando and Asada, the Japan women's team will feature veteran Fumie Suguri and teenager Rumi Suizu.

Asada will unveil one of the new programs she honed this summer while training under famed Russian coach Tatiana Tarasova.

"I have been working hard in the offseason on my programs and am really trying change my image as a skater," Mao said at a pre-event news conference Friday afternoon.

The U.S. women's squad is led by world junior champion Caroline Zhang and national junior champion Mirai Nagasu.

Nagasu, who was born in California to Japanese parents, will be skating in her first competitive event in Japan.

"I am looking forward to skating in front of my Japanese fans," the 14-year-old said in Japanese. She has already won two Junior Grand Prix events this season.

Nagasu, who skated in an ice show with Asada in Nagoya over the summer, expressed her high admiration for her rival.

"Everybody in Japan knows Mao. She has the complete package as a skater — jumps, footwork, spins."

Johnny Weir, the 2006 U.S. champion, headlines the U.S. men's team, and made no secret of his ambitions for the next six months.

"I am looking to win every event I enter this season," said Weir.

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