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Sunday, Oct. 7, 2007

Ando falters as U.S. shocks Japan

Staff writer

YOKOHAMA — Led by world junior champion Caroline Zhang and veteran Johnny Weir, the United States pulled off a surprising sweep of Japan in their International Counter Match at Shin-Yokohama Arena on Saturday evening.

News photo
Japan's Mao Asada performs her short program during the U.S.-Japan International Counter Match at Shin-Yokohama Skate Center on Saturday. Japan fell short in both men's and women's competitions. KYODO PHOTO

The event matched eight skaters (four women, four men) from the two nations in head-to-head competition in either the short or free programs, with the cumulative scores being tallied up to determine the winner.

The U.S. women won by a total of 289.00 points to 284.90, while the U.S. men outpaced the Japan team by a tally of 362.81 to 334.48.

The heavily favored Japanese women, featuring world champion Miki Ando, world runnerup Mao Asada, veteran Fumie Suguri and junior skater Rumi Suizu, came up short against a youthful U.S. squad comprised of Zhang, U.S. junior national champion Mirai Nagasu, Rachael Flatt and Beatrisa Liang.

Ando, who won the world title in Tokyo back in March, had an especially difficult evening, as she crashed to the ice on her planned opening triple lutz/triple loop combination, hurting the same right shoulder she injured in practice on Friday.

Skating her new short program to "Bacharaliy," Ando, wearing a beautiful burgundy outfit, looked exquisite. But she never got it going, as she needed a two-minute break to recover from the fall, then went off-balance during her spiral sequence and lost her balance again during her closing combination foot spin.

Ando was paired against Zhang, who outscored her 56.78 to 46.54.

"I felt responsible for the loss tonight," said Ando. "I wasn't even sure I was going to skate, but I talked to my coach (Nikolai Morozov) and decided to go ahead. I wanted to show my new program to the fans."

Asada gave Japan's best performance in her victory over Flatt.

Unveiling her new short program to "Fantasia for Violin and Orchestra," Mao soared on her opening triple lutz. She also performed a magnificent layback spin and spiral sequence, but did not pull out her famed triple axel.

"I couldn't do my combination jump well," said Mao. "I wasn't able to perform as well tonight as I have been doing in practice."

Despite her disappointment, Mao outscored Flatt, who posted a personal best, 60.42 to 53.78.

World junior champion Stephen Carriere opened the skating with a solid victory (122.30 to 102.34) for the U.S. men over Tatsuki Machida.

Weir topped Yasuharu Nanri by a big margin (73.90 to 51.07), tearing off a nice triple lutz along the way.

"We all have separate strengths, and when they were combined it helped us to win," said Weir, the 2006 U.S. national champion.

Daisuke Takahashi, the world runnerup in March, took the ice looking confident in an electric purple-sequined outfit, but struggled with his free program to "Romeo and Juliet."

Takahashi touched the ice on his opening quadruple toe loop, fell down on his subsequent triple axel, and touched down once more on a triple axel later.

Despite the missteps, Takahashi outscored Jeremy Abbott 122.83 to 116.96.

"I had a big miss on that first jump and stepped out later (on a triple flip/triple toe loop combination)," said Takahashi. "Those were the biggest problems for me tonight."

Suizu was a pleasant surprise for Japan, posting an impressive win (87.79 to 85.96) over the more accomplished Nagasu.

Suguri, twice a fourth-place finisher in the Winter Olympics, had what could only be described as a calamitous outing, falling down twice in a 92.48 to 90.15 defeat to Liang.

This was the second installment of the series between the U.S. and Japan. In last year's event, in Cincinnati, the Japanese women and U.S. men were victorious.

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