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Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2011

ICE TIME

Resurgent Mao to lead strong team at Four Continents


Following last month's dramatic national championships in Nagano, where Miki Ando won her first title in six years and Takahiko Kozuka broke through for his inaugural victory in a major senior competition, Japan will send a loaded squad to next month's Four Continents Championship in Taipei.

Jack Gallagher

In keeping with the pattern of recent years, the Japan Skating Federation has opted to send five of the six singles skaters who represented Japan at the Vancouver Games to Taiwan. This is to keep them sharp and avoid a long layoff between the nationals and world championships in March in Tokyo.

World champion Mao Asada, who finished second at the nationals after a poor Grand Prix season, will head a ladies contingent that will include Ando and Akiko Suzuki. The same trio competed at the Olympics in Canada last February.

World champion Daisuke Takahashi will lead the men's squad and be joined by Kozuka and defending world junior champion Yuzuru Hanyu.

Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran will skate for Japan in the pairs.

Meanwhile, Kanako Murakami, who has had an outstanding debut as a senior this season, with third-place finishes at both the Grand Prix Final and nationals, will be the marquee attraction at the upcoming 7th Asian Winter Games in Almaty, Kazakhstan, starting later this month.

News photo
All grown up: Mao Asada, who has launched her own fashion brand, celebrated Coming of Age Day on Jan. 10. IMG

A complete list of the assignments for the Asian Winter Games, Universiade, Four Continents and world senior and junior championships can be found in Sports Scoreboard on Page 15.

Truth in numbers: The television ratings from the national championships in December illustrated the massive following that skating maintains in Japan.

Sankei Sports, citing numbers from Tokyo Video Research, showed how skating routed its competition on Christmas weekend.

Going head-to-head with the world-title boxing tripleheader featuring the Kameda brothers on Dec. 26, skating had 38.6 percent of households with televisions in the Kanto region tuned in to watch Mao battle her way onto the team for the world championships.

At the same time, the boxing card registered just 13.8 percent, meaning nearly three times as many people watched the unfolding drama in Nagano.

The numbers from Nagoya — where Mao, Miki and Kanako all hail from — were even more staggering. When Mao took the ice for her free skate on Dec. 26 — with everything on the line — the viewership was an amazing 44.8 percent.

With greater Nagoya having a population of approximately 10 million, that means nearly half of the homes were tuned in to see Mao.

When you consider that Japan has a population of nearly 130 million, you can estimate that between 35 million to 40 million people viewed the telecast. Wow.

With statistics like this, it's no secret why television goes live whenever Mao skates and the time zone lines up. One can only imagine what the advertising rates must have been.

You can only shake your head when considering what the figures are going to look like in March, when Mao and Kim Yu Na face off in the worlds. The beauty of skating and sport will be on full display then, only this time before a worldwide audience.

Building the brand: Mao, who celebrated Coming of Age Day on Jan. 10, recently formed her own line of clothing — MaoMao — which began with items like yukata for the summer of 2011, kimono for Coming of Age Day in 2012 and hakama for 2012 graduation.

With Mao's charisma and incredible following, it would seem the sky is the limit for her with commercial endeavors.

Bizarre: The JSF announced last week that Japan would host the 2013 Grand Prix Final, just two months before the Sochi Olympic Games. While that is certainly good news, the timing of it does seem a bit odd.

Why?

Not only is the event nearly three years away, but the host cities for the 2011 and 2012 GP Finals have not yet been selected. Whatever.

Branching out: Kristi Yamaguchi, the American 1992 Olympic gold medalist, has penned her first children's book. "Dream Big Little Pig!" will be released in English in hardcover on March 1.

Yamaguchi, a two-time world champion (1991-92), runs a charitable foundation called Always Dream and cites the motto as inspiration for her success in skating and life.

With the world we live in today, it's admirable that someone of her stature would take the time and energy necessary to invest in publishing the book, which will be available on Amazon.com.



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