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Sunday, Dec. 2, 2007

Mistakes cost Ando chance to qualify for GP Final

Staff writer

SENDAI — With a trip to the Grand Prix Final hers for the taking, Miki Ando let it slip away in a calamitous outing at the NHK Trophy on Saturday night, where she finished fourth behind Italy's Carolina Kostner.

Trailing Kostner by less than a point after the short program, the 2007 world champion appeared well positioned to take the title, but came unglued in her free skate.

Ando fell on her planned triple lutz-triple loop opening combination jump, touched down on a triple flip, then fell again on a triple lutz. She topped it all off by botching a triple combination jump.

So poor was Ando's performance this night, where she lacked both the speed and confidence of an elite skater, that she was not even the top Japanese finisher. That honor went to the unheralded Nana Takeda, who finished third.

Perhaps partly responsible for Ando's result was the puncture wound she suffered to her right leg during warmups from her own skate.

Kostner's winning total was 164.69, with Switzerland's Sarah Meier (163.17) taking second. Takeda's tally was 154.83.

Ando (145.81) narrowly edged Finland's Laura Lepisto (145.58) for fourth.

"I'm very happy and satisfied (with the victory)," Kostner said. "I was pleased with my steps and spins. I need to work some more on my jumps, and be more calm and consistent."

Joining Kostner at the GP Final in Turin, Italy, later this month will be American teen Caroline Zhang, who directly benefited from Ando's dismal showing.

"I was anxious and nervous and it showed in my performance," said Ando, who to her credit, refused to use the injury as an excuse. "It definitely hurt, though.

"I was questioning myself during the summer on why I was doing all of these competitions and practice," a clearly conflicted Ando said afterward. "It is not that I want to quit, but my body and my mind are not in unison.

"I won't be going to the GP Final, but I hope to regroup and skate well at nationals."

Takeda, wearing a purple outfit, hit five triple jumps in a nice outing, with the lone mistake coming when she fell on a triple flip.

"I forgot about the fall and just continued on. I am really overwhelmed," an elated Takeda said.

Mai Asada, older sister of star Mao, pulled out of the competition with a cold and high fever. She finished 11th and last in the short program on Friday, skating when she was clearly not well.

Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic won the men's short program, edging defending champion Daisuke Takahashi by a narrow margin.

Verner, who was fourth at last season's world championships, performed to "Melodie en Crepuscule" and was solid all the way through. He notched a total of 78.15 in the victory.

"I feel great," said Verner. "I'm thankful I could show the audience how much I enjoy skating. Tomorrow is another day, so we will see how it goes."

Takahashi, who won Skate America, touched down on the landing of his triple axel and went off balance in his finishing combination spin, and received a score of 77.89.

Skating to the hip-hop version of "Swan Lake," Takahashi excelled in his circular and straight line step sequences and is in easy striking distance of Verner heading into Sunday's free skate.

"It was unfortunate that I made a mistake on the triple axel," Takahashi said. "I was happy the audience cheered during my step sequence."

Despite the mistakes, Takahashi retained an optimistic outlook.

"I'm thinking about winning. I have confidence in myself."

World junior champion Stephen Carriere (67.85) of the U.S. was third with a season's best effort.

Yasuharu Nanri, who finished 10th at Skate America, was close behind in fourth place (67.55). Skating to "Moonlight Sonata," Nanri put on a clean performance and hit all of his jumps.

Kensuke Nakaniwa (63.70) was seventh.

France's Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder captured the ice dancing title. The duo skated to "The Piano" and were strong if not spectacular with a tally of 197.54.

"We are very happy with this competition," Schoenfelder said. "The audience was good and we were glad to show them this new (free dance) program."

Canada's Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir (196.89) delivered an inspiring performance to "Umbrellas of Cherbourg" and missed out on winning by less than one point.

"We thought we skated as well as we could," said Moir. "It was definitely better than we did at Skate Canada (where they won). We are excited to qualify for the Grand Prix Final."

Russia's Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski (186.96) were third.

Japan's Cathy and Chris Reed (143.85) moved up to eighth in the final results with a nice effort in the free dance.

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