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Sunday, Nov. 30, 2008

NHK TROPHY

Mao wins NHK title

Reigning world champion leads Japanese sweep


Staff writer

World champion Mao Asada came up short in her bid to make history again Saturday night, trying to land two triple axels in her free skate to become the first female ever to accomplish the feat in the same program in international competition, but was still good enough to lead a Japanese sweep in the ladies singles at the NHK Trophy.

News photo
Like a queen: Mao Asada skates during her free program during the NHK Trophy at Yoyogi National Gymnasium on Saturday. Asada won the tournament and clinched a spot in next month's Grand Prix Final. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

Skating before a full house at Yoyogi Gymnasium, Mao opened with a clean triple axel, then tried a triple axel/double toe loop combination jump that had the crowd roaring when it looked like she had hit it. However, the second triple axel was downgraded in scoring by the judges, because they felt it wasn't fully rotated.

Mao performed to "Masquerade Waltz" and had a consistent outing, faltering only at the very end when she wobbled her final element — a foot-changing combination spin — and briefly touched the ice to regain her balance.

Mao laughed off the miscue and skated to center ice where she was greeted with a standing ovation from a raucous crowd.

Mao became the first female to hit two triple axels in the same program on Christmas Day 2005, when she did it in the Japan national championships at the same venue. The achievement remains unequaled to this day.

"I had a lot of confidence coming in," said Mao, who won with a score of 191.13. "I decided before the event to try the two triple axels.

"After France I practiced my jumps real hard," Mao noted. "I got a lot of support from the fans here and that helped me. I will continue practicing my jumps for the next event."

The victory earned Mao a trip to next month's Grand Prix Final, where she will be joined by 2007 world champion Miki Ando, Yukari Nakano, South Korea's Kim Yu Na, Canada's Joannie Rochette and Italy's Carolina Kostner.

Kim, who won both Skate America and the Cup of China this season, is the two-time defending GP Final champion and will be competing on home ice in Goyang, South Korea, when she tries for her third straight title next month.

Akiko Suzuki, skating in her first Grand Prix event here, came in a surprising second at 167.64, and Yukari Nakano (166.87) was third.

Nakano put on a much more spirited showing this night in her free skate to "Giselle" after coming in fifth in the short program. She changed her planned opening triple axel to a double, and was also downgraded on a triple flip, but mustered enough effort to make the podium.

News photo
Splendid performance: Japan's Yukari Nakano spins during her free program in the NHK Trophy at Yoyogi National Gymnasium on Saturday. She finished third overall. KYODO PHOTO

"I was feeling pressure this morning," said Nakano. "But before I went on the ice tonight my coach (Nobuo Sato) told me, 'You have worked so hard, so please reset your mind.' This comment really motivated me."

By finishing third, Nakano knocked compatriot Fumie Suguri out of a spot in the GP Final.

U.S. senior champion Mirai Nagasu had a calamitous outing which saw her fall twice and appear generally out of sorts on the way to finishing eighth.

Nagasu, who was a disappointing fifth at Skate America, has struggled with a growth spurt of 7 cm since last year which has made it difficult to retain her balance on jumps.

"I'm disappointed," said a tearful and clearly shaken Nagasu afterward. "I had a bone bruise on my right ankle during the summer and took a lot of rest. As a result, I don't have the stamina and strength on my jumps and it shows."

The 15-year-old dearly wants to skate at the worlds — which will be held in her hometown of Los Angeles — next March, and it was obvious that she is very concerned that her current level of fitness may deprive her of the opportunity.

"It would be a dream come true for me to skate in the worlds at home," she said. "I really want to be there, but I have a lot of work to do."

China's Qing Pang and Jian Tong held on to their lead after the short program and won the pairs by a significant margin with a total of 186.06.

The American team of Rena Inoue and John Baldwin finished second at 161.49 after Baldwin hit the ice on their opening triple toe loop.

Inoue was a two-time Olympian (in singles and pairs) for Japan before becoming a U.S. citizen in 2005.

The victory earned the Chinese pair a ticket to the GP Final.

Italy's Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali (176.67) prevailed in the ice dance, narrowly edging out France's Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat (175.42).

The Italians secured their spot in South Korea with the win.

Japan's Cathy and Chrs Reed (135.83) were eighth.

Nobunari Oda, who won the men's short program on Friday, will try for his first Grand Prix title since 2006 in Sunday's free skate. Oda will try to hold off second-place American Johnny Weir and France's Yannick Ponsero, who is third.



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