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Saturday, Nov. 29, 2008

NHK TROPHY

Mao dazzles at NHK


Staff writer

World champion Mao Asada posted a decisive victory in the short program at the NHK Trophy on Friday night with a sparkling program which included three triple jumps.

News photo
Elegance on ice: Mao Asada performs her short program at the NHK Trophy Grand Prix event on Friday at Yoyogi National Gymnasium. Asada leads the event heading into Saturday's free skate. AP PHOTO

Looking for a top-two finish here to clinch a spot in next month's Grand Prix Final, Mao performed to "Clair de Lune" in front of a packed house at Yoyogi Gymnasium and did not disappoint.

Following an uneven performance in a second-place showing at the Trophee Bompard in Paris earlier this month, Mao executed her routine in clinical fashion.

She nailed her opening combination jump, a triple flip/triple toe loop, and made no significant mistakes on the way to the triumph, scoring 64.64 to best American Ashley Wagner (61.52).

Finland's Laura Lepisto (59.14) was third.

"It was my best performance of the season," Mao said. "In practice I was focusing on hitting my jumps and I was able to do that. After my opening jumps, I was a bit nervous and that affected my spiral sequences."

A determined Mao said she would not hold back as she tries to lock up the crown on Saturday night.

"I hope I can relax tomorrow and be aggressive in the free program."

Yukari Nakano, who finished second at Skate America, was a disappointing fifth at 55.56.

Nakano, who is nursing an injured right ankle and groin, doubled the first of her planned opening triple flip/triple toe loop combo jump, did not fully rotate the triple lutz that followed, and lacked her normal speed and pace.

"My body movement was not comfortable in practice this morning," Nakano noted. "I tightened up on the ice tonight."

Nakano, however, refused to blame the injuries for her score.

"The injuries did not bother me. My score was low because I missed my jumps."

U.S. senior champion Mirai Nagasu singled the first part of her planned opening triple flip/double loop combo jump and was eighth at 50.14.

"Even though I popped the jump and it got downgraded, I was happy with my effort tonight," she said. "I skated with all of my heart and gave it my best."

In the men's competition, Nobunari Oda, taking part in his first Grand Prix event in two years, put on an inspired performance on the way to winning the short program. Oda skated to "Waltz Masquerade" and hit four triple jumps while running up a tally of 81.63.

Oda, who won the NHK Trophy two years ago in Nagano, was given an extended ovation by the appreciative crowd after finishing his program.

After sitting out last season following his arrest for drunk driving, Oda seems determined to win back his fans. He is now on track to win his third title of this season, having already been victorious in non-Grand Prix events in Germany and Austria.

"I was more nervous before today's competition than any other in my career," said the Osaka native. "My practice this morning was not good and this gave me a bit of anxiety."

Oda said the warm support of the spectators moved him.

"The cheering of the fans pushed me to excel. I can say that I am very happy with the result."

American Johnny Weir (78.15) placed second, with France's Yannick Ponsero (74.39) taking third.

"It was a big improvement over Skate America (where he finished second)," said Weir. "I felt comfortable on the ice, which is a bit of a surprise, because I have a terrible cold. Considering my condition, I did a good job."

China's Qing Pang and Jian Tong (63.10) won the pairs short program, with the U.S. team of John Baldwin and Rena Inoue (57.60) finishing second.

Japan does not have a team entered in the pairs.

Italy's Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali led the ice dance following the compulsory round with 35.61 points, ahead of France's Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzrat who tallied 33.20.

Japan's Cathy and Chris Reed were in eighth place with a score of 27.17.

The pairs and ice dance will both conclude on Saturday with the free skate.

The men's free skate will be held Sunday prior to the gala exhibition.



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