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Sunday, Oct. 24, 2010

Kostner skates to win at NHK Trophy; Murakami third


Staff writer

NAGOYA — Italy's Carolina Kostner skated steady if not spectacular on the way to victory in the ladies singles at the NHK Trophy on Saturday night.

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Off to a good start: Italy's Caroline Kostner performs her free skate program at the NHK Trophy on Saturday in Nagoya. Kostner claimed victory in the season's first Grand Prix. KYODO PHOTO

Kostner, who led after the short program, managed to stay upright for the entire free skate, something that was rare on this night, and was rewarded with the victory.

The three-time European champion tallied 164.61 points to top the podium ahead of American Rachel Flatt (161.04), who finished second.

Flatt, the U.S. champion, moved up from third place in the short program.

The 23-year-old Kostner skated to "L Apres-Midi d un Faun" and showed a veteran's poise to earn her second victory in this event (she also won it in 2007).

"I told my coach it felt weird not doing the flip and lutz in my program, so I just tried to score with the rest of what I had," Kostner said. "It shows you that figure skating is not all about the jumps."

World junior champion Kanako Murakami, who was second after the short program, finished third in her first event as a senior.

Murakami (150.16) trailed Kostner by just over one point coming into the free skate, but the precocious teen buckled under the pressure, falling three times while performing to "The Mask of Zorro." She first hit the ice on a planned triple flip/double axel combo, then again on a triple flip and a triple loop.

That she was able to hold on for third place was significant, however, as it gives her a chance to make the Grand Prix Final in Beijing in December.

"I was so tense from before my music started," said Murakami. "I felt good when I hit the triple/triple combo, but the pressure was significant. I'm not satisfied with how I did, but it was good to make the podium."

World champion Mao Asada endured a second straight night of frustration,as she fell twice and landed just one of nine planned jumps cleanly, on the way to a shocking eighth-place finish.

Mao singled her opening triple axel, fell on a planned triple flip/double loop combo, then fell again later on a planned triple flip/double toe loop combo. Terming the outing anything other than disastrous would be insincere.

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Falling queen: Two-time world champion Mao Asada finished eighth in the women's final standings with a career-worst 133.40 points at the NHK Trophy in Nagoya on Saturday. KYODO PHOTO

"I spent the offseason trying to rebuild my jumps, but I haven't perfected them yet," Mao said in something of an understatement. "There is still a lot of work to do."

Mao left the ice with a vacant stare and a total of just 133.40. The poor result doomed any chance she had of qualifying for the GP Final, marking the second straight season she will miss the event.

Mao's second GP assignment is at the Trophee Bompard in Paris at the end of November.

World champion Daisuke Takahashi opened defense of his title with a strong outing. Skating to a selection of Latin music, he had his female fans in the audience hooting as he performed in an outfit that featured a shirt opened almost to his waist.

Takahashi, a two-time NHK Trophy champion, began with a triple flip/triple toe loop combo and also landed a triple axel and triple lutz. His score of 78.04 gave him a solid lead over American Jeremy Abbott (74.62), who was second.

"I felt like it was a good start to my season," the Olympic bronze medalist stated. "I think the music is good for the rhythm of this program. I did it at an ice show before, but there was no pressure. The level of tension was much higher here."

After finishing fourth at last year's NHK Trophy while still getting back into form following major reconstructive knee surgery, Takahashi was clearly in much better condition this time around. He did touch the ice on the landing of his triple axel and was marked down for taking off on the wrong edge on his combo jump, but those miscues could not overshadow his showing on this day.

"I didn't have enough speed on my triple axel, so my timing was off,"Takahashi said. "My rotation was a bit slow on my spins. I need more practice on them."

Abbott, the two-time defending U.S. champion, seemed content with his outing.

"I'm pleased with my performance," he said. "It was the first timeout of the box (this season). Things were a little tight, but I achieved all of the goals I set out to accomplish."

Canada's Shawn Sawyer is in third place (70.15).

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Brilliant debut: Kanako Murakami displays her bronze medal after finishing third in her first senior tournament at the NHK Trophy at Nippon Gaishi Arena in Nagoya on Saturday. KYODO PHOTO

World junior champion Yuzuru Hanyu had a successful senior debut and is fifth. The Sendai native skated to "White Legend" and with the exception of a slight wobble on the landing of his triple lutz/triple toe loop combination jump, was consistent throughout his routine.

"I watched Kanako (Murakami) score well yesterday, so that gave me confidence today that a junior skater moving up could excel," Hanyu commented.

The men's free skate is set for Sunday.

China's Qing Pang and Jian Tong took the pairs by a comfortable margin. The world champions easily outdistanced Russia's Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov (122.27 to 113.67).

Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin (100.69) of the U.S. were third.

Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White won the ice dance at this event for the second straight year. The Olympic silver medalists beat the Canadian duo of Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje by more than 23 points (165.21 to 141.57).

Japan's Cathy and Chris Reed were seventh (114.52).



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