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Sunday, Sept. 20, 2009

ICE TIME

Junior skaters shine at Poland JGP


Last weekend was a banner one for Japanese skaters, and not the ones you might think.

Jack Gallagher

While Mao Asada, Miki Ando, Daisuke Takahashi and Nobunari Oda continue preparations for the start of the Grand Prix season, Japan's junior contingent pulled off a rare triple triumph at the Junior Grand Prix in Torun, Poland.

Kanako Murakami notched the second JGP victory of her career in the ladies singles, while Yuzuru Hanyu claimed the men's singles title, and Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran won the pairs event.

With Japan's stable of senior skaters among the best in the world, it was an encouraging showing for the next generation.

Murakami, who finished fourth at last season's Junior Grand Prix Final, won in dominant fashion, finishing more than 18 points ahead of second-place finisher Anna Ovcharova of Russia.

Hanyu's victory was by an even wider margin, as he bested American Austin Kanallakan by over 27 points.

Takahashi and Tran narrowly defeated the Russian team of Tatiana Novik and Mikhail Kuznetsov, winning by just under one point, to earn their first JGP gold medal.

Murakami, who won the JGP event in the United Kingdom last season, is a 14-year-old native from Nagoya who trains under Machiko Yamada.

Hanyu, also 14, was born in Sendai. He was Japan's junior champion last season under coach Nanami Abe.

The 17-year-old Takahashi hails from Chiba, and skates for Japan with 18-year-old Tran from Canada. The pair began their partnership two years ago. They are based in Montreal and coached by Richard Gauthier.

News photo
Big potential: Kanako Murakami won her second Junior Grand Prix title with a victory in Torun, Poland, last weekend. KYODO PHOTO

Season commences: The senior campaign will begin with the Japan Open team event on Oct. 3 at Saitama Super Arena that pits the host nation against squads from North America and Europe.

Mao Asada and Yukari Nakano will team up with Takahiko Kozuka and two-time world medalist Takeshi Honda for the competition.

The North American side will feature Canada's Jeffrey Buttle (the 2008 world champion) and Joannie Rochette (the 2009 world silver medalist), along with Jeremy Abbott and Beatrisa Liang of the United States.

The European unit will be comprised of France's Stephane Lambiel (a two-time world champ) and Samuel Contesti, Switzerland's Sarah Meier and Finland's Laura Lepisto.

Current world champion Evan Lysacek and 2008 U.S. champion Mirai Nagasu were originally scheduled to skate, but withdrew on Friday.

Nagasu, who left coach Charlene Wong in May to work with Frank Carroll, made some interesting comments to the Los Angeles Times recently in the wake of her injury-plagued season.

"There are always moments when I think about leaving skating, but when I think about that I'm not very smart and I'm not very pretty and there's nothing else that stands out about me besides my skating," she said.

Nagasu's statement serves as a reminder that even gifted athletes like her, the U.S. senior champion at 14, struggle with self-doubt.

Suguri moves on: Five-time national champion Fumie Suguri, who was coached by Nikolai Morozov last season, has moved to Russia to train under Alexei Mishin.

Suguri, who returned to the world championships last season under Morozov, will now work with Mishin, who is best known for leading three different Russian men (Alexei Urmanov, Alexei Yagudin and Evgeni Plushenko) to the Olympic gold medal.

Comeback begins: Daisuke Takahashi, who was ranked the No. 1 men's skater in the world two seasons ago, made a successful return to the ice last month in a show at the Shin-Yokohama Skate Center. Takahashi missed all of last season following major surgery to repair torn ligaments in his right knee.

His competitive campaign will begin next month at the Finlandia Trophy in Vantaa, Finland, which is not a Grand Prix event.

Takahashi will return to the GP circuit at the NHK Trophy in November.



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