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Sunday, May 18, 2008

ICE TIME

Skaters going all out to try and keep ice rinks open


With Japan currently boasting the No. 1 ranked female (Mao Asada) and male (Daisuke Takahashi) figure skaters in the world, The Japan Times will begin a periodic notebook chronicling the latest news and notes on Japanese skaters in the buildup to the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games.

Jack Gallagher

During a recent break between skating shows at Shin-Yokohama Arena, Japan Skating Federation director Hidehito Ito held a news conference with several of the nation's top skaters to bring attention to the ongoing crisis facing ice rinks in Japan and launch a "Save The Rinks" campaign that will include petitions and performances.

2006 Olympic champion Shizuka Arakawa, Daisuke Takahashi, five-time national champion Fumie Suguri, Yukari Nakano, and former world bronze medalist Takeshi Honda, attended the May 5 gathering and spoke up on behalf of the JSF's efforts to save rinks in Tsuruga (Fukui Prefecture), Kurashiki (Okayama) and Rinkai (Osaka).

News photo
Speaking out: Shizuka Arakawa, gold medalist at the 2006 Turin Winter Olympic Games, joined other top skaters at a recent news conference to call attention to the continued closure of ice rinks in Japan. MIDUKA KUMAKURA PHOTO

Arakawa noted that the rink she trained at in Sendai closed down a few years ago, and only reopened after she won the gold medal in Turin, which brought a new wave of interest in the sport here.

"With the cooperation of many people, my old rink opened again last year," Arakawa said. "But when it was closed, I guess many skaters left the location or lost their practice facility."

Arakawa is committed to keeping interest in skating high by continuing to show her skills on the ice.

"What I can do is appeal to people how important the skate rinks are to the skaters by performing in these ice shows," she said. "I want to give young kids a dream of skating.

"Many kids have grown up and some of them are competing in the junior level now. They should appreciate that they have the skate rinks to practice on. Closing the rinks is ending their dreams."

Nakano cited the grim reality of the current plight of ice rinks here.

"Despite the fact that figure skating has earned a lot of popularity in Japan, the number of the skate rinks are decreasing," she said. "This gives the skaters concerns they will have no place or lose the place to practice in. This will affect Japanese skaters' performance in the future. When I think about Japanese skaters' future, I have to make some movement to save the rinks."

Added Nakano, "We have to do this to make another Shizuka Arakawa, the Olympic gold medalist, come along in the future."

Honda, who finished fourth at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, said that the rink closures take a toll on the skaters.

"Many years ago, I lost my skate rink in Koriyama (Fukushima) and I had to go to Sendai by shinkansen every day," he said. "There are 220 skaters training at the Rinkai facility. They are dreaming of becoming a future Daisuke Takahashi or Mao Asada. But the rink is being closed. They are losing their dreams, too."

The feeling here is that it is nothing short of an absolute disgrace that these rinks are being allowed to close and that local and prefectural governments are doing nothing about it.

Cost is always the primary reason cited, so perhaps a few public works projects could be sacrificed in the name of giving kids and families a place to exercise and enjoy themselves.

No respect: It is amazing how perspective can vary from place to place, or in this instance, country to country.

Yukari Nakano's recent performance at the world championships being a case in point.

Nakano put on a dazzling free skate as the final competitor of the ladies singles at the worlds in Goteborg, Sweden, back in March.

She was the only female skater to land a triple axel there — and is one of only six women in history to execute the jump in competition — but was rewarded with a fourth-place finish in the free skate, which dropped her from third after the short program to fourth overall.

Even more stunning was the fact that Italy's Carolina Kostner, who won the short program, fell once and touched the ice twice during her free skate, yet was awarded a higher total than Nakano for the free skate (finishing third) and ended up with the silver medal behind Mao Asada.

It seems like everybody but the judges at rinkside recognized what was clearly the best single performance of Nakano's career.

The crowd gave her a standing ovation when she finished her skate in a bright orange costume.

Now it could be said that perhaps the fans did not have the technical expertise of those doing the scoring, but some of the experts also felt an injustice had been done.

Bringing down the curtain on ABC-TV's 46-year run telecasting figure skating in the United States, the commentating crew — which included two-time Olympic champion Dick Button (1948, 1952) and Peggy Fleming (1968) — marveled at Nakano's performance, saying, "Is she going to end up first or second?"

When Nakano's scores were posted, they were as shocked as anyone in the building by her marks.

The record books will show that Mao won the world championship, but won't reflect that the Waseda University graduate student was robbed of her best chance to earn a medal in a major international competition.

Next year, the youthful American trio of Mirai Nagasu, Caroline Zhang and Rachel Flatt will be eligible to skate at the senior worlds, making the field that much tougher.

Nakano showed her true class by refusing to complain about the results, but that doesn't change the fact that she got a raw deal.

New bid for worlds: Japan, which continues to flex its muscles on the international figure skating scene, has submitted a formal bid for the right to host the 2011 world championships.

The JSF's Tatsuro Matsumura confirmed that the formal documents were recently filed with the International Skating Union.

"We have submitted the bid," Matsumura said by telephone on Friday. "We don't know who the other candidate cities are at this point."

If Japan wins the right to stage the worlds, it will mark the third time it has hosted the event in a 10-year period.

Nagano (2002) and Tokyo (2007) were the two most recent cities to earn the honor.

Japan has been the site of the worlds five times altogether, with Tokyo playing host three times (1977, 1985, 2007).

Japanese skaters have won two world titles on home soil. Yuka Sato took the gold medal at the 1994 worlds in Chiba in ladies singles, while Miki Ando equaled the feat last year.

"I think we are going to get it," a JSF member, who requested anonymity, told me.

The decision on the host city for the 2011 worlds is expected to be announced at the ISU Congress meeting in November.



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