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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

ICE TIME

Japan's sweep of world singles titles sends message


Mao Asada's triumph at the world championships in Turin, Italy, last month capped off what was nothing short of an amazing season for Japanese skaters.

Jack Gallagher

For the first time ever, Japan boasts all four world titlists in the singles disciplines. Mao and Daisuke Takahashi in the seniors and Kanako Murakami and Yuzuru Hanyu in the juniors.

When you consider how competitive skating has become globally, this is quite an achievement. The feat marks the first time a country has held all four titles simultaneously since Russia did back in 1999.

One could make the argument that because not all of the Olympic medalists skated at the worlds or were in top condition, that somehow Mao and Takahashi's titles are less than legitimate. That theory is nonsense.

You still have to go out and perform. If somebody couldn't answer the bell because of injury, indifference or some other reason, that is their problem.

If anything, that makes me respect the world champions even more. They recognized that the season didn't end in Vancouver, but a month later in Europe.

Mao's win was especially meaningful, as it not only came on the heels of the Olympic disappointment, but also made her Japan's first two-time world champion in the sport.

News photo
Golden age: Mao Asada, Daisuke Takahashi, Kanako Murakami and Yuzuru Hanyu gave Japan a sweep of the world titles this season in the senior and junior singles ranks. KYODO, AP PHOTO

It was wonderful to see Takahashi cap off his storybook comeback by becoming Japan's first male world champion. His effort in Italy defined a champion — winning despite clearly not being at his best.

Murakami and Hanyu's comprehensive victories provide hope for the future. The 15-year-olds both enjoyed incredible seasons, racking up victory after victory.

There are many gifted youngsters out there, but these kids have the right attitude to go along with their skills.

Any coach will tell you that you can never have enough talent in reserve. Japan is fortunate to have this pair.

Yu Na's next move: The skating world awaits Kim Yu Na's announcement about her future plans. Based on her spectacular performance at the Olympics and the accomplishment of her lifelong goal of winning the gold medal, she could easily hang up her skates.

The darling of South Korea will have no shortage of endorsement and employment opportunities going forward, but so dominating was her victory in Vancouver that one senses she may well want to try and put an exclamation point on it by going for another gold at the 2014 Sochi Games.

It is worth noting that since Norwegian skating legend Sonja Henie's three straight Olympic victories (1928, 1932, 1936), only one other woman — East Germany's Katarina Witt (1984, 1988) — has been able to win two straight golds.

Yu Na's class, elegance and incredible talent have helped elevate skating. Here's hoping she continues on.

Coaching carousel: Multiple reports have stated that Mao and coach Tatiana Tarasova have officially parted, but that Tarasova will stay on as a choreographer.

This has stirred the pot and created more speculation about what is next for Mao, with Japanese skating sources saying she may take on multiple coaches.

The Hochi Shimbun reported that both Hall of Fame coach Nobuo Sato and Takeshi Honda are under consideration for various roles.

An e-mail to Mao's agent, Mariko Wada of IMG, asking for clarification on the matter, was not responded to.

It appears that Team Mao is playing it close to the vest and won't make any announcement until its plans have been finalized.

Whatever the direction, the feeling here is that decisive action should be taken sooner rather than later, so the endless parlor game of who is coaching Mao will finally come to an end.

Mao is a national treasure. Tranquility and stability are what she needs going forward.

Meanwhile, the moves started fast and furious following the end of the worlds, with Nikolai Morozov announcing he was moving his base from Hackensack, N.J., to Moscow.

Morozov is going home at the request of the Russian federation, which wants to bolster its chances for medals at Sochi.

Miki Ando will follow Morozov to Moscow, while Nobunari Oda will seek a new coach.

No word yet on the fates of Daisuke Murakami and Cathy and Chris Reed.

Frank Carroll, coach of Olympic gold medalist Evan Lysacek and Mirai Nagasu, has also announced he will move to a new rink closer to his home in Palm Springs, Calif., after working in Los Angeles for the past several years.

This makes it very likely that Nagasu will have to leave her Arcadia, Calif., home and find a place closer to Cathedral City, Calif., where Carroll will be based.

Fumie's future: Less than a month after holding a news conference and declaring she needed a new sponsor to continue skating, five-time Japan champion Fumie Suguri has taken a job with the promotional firm Sunny Side Up in Tokyo. The position will allow her to work and keep on competing.

Sunny Side Up then announced Tuesday that medical firm Yoshindo has become Suguri's primary sponsor.



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