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Figure skating: Japan’s Asada back into gold-medal rivalry – AFP News : Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics

December 28th, 2009

Tokyo (AFP) – Japan’s former world champion Mao Asada, returning to form with a fourth straight national title, is rekindling a hot rivalry with South Korea’s Kim Yu-Na ahead of their Olympic debut.

Asada nailed her trademark triple axel in the free skate to triumph at the Japanese championships on Sunday, prompting a nationwide sigh of relief for one of the country’s few gold medal hopefuls at February’s Vancouver Winter Games.

“It is important to aim high. I want the gold medal,” the 19-year-old said on television on Monday. “I will aim to perfect all of my programmes.”

It was the first time that the 2008 world champion has stood on the top of the podium in any event this season, which has been fraught with her failures in landing the highly demanding 3.5-revolution jump.

Asada is the only woman who regularly attempts the triple axel in international competitions.

“Freed from the spell of the jump,” read a headline in the daily Asahi Shimbun, which put a picture of Asada waving to the crowd with a big smile and holding a bouquet in one hand on its front page.

The victory made her one of three Japanese women in the Olympic figure skating competition, in which South Korea’s reigning world champion Kim is the top favourite. World silver medalist Joannie Rochette of Canada and bronze medalist Miki Ando of Japan are among other contenders.

Kim, also 19, dethroned Asada at the world championships in April and regained the Grand Prix Final title from her this month.

Kim “has been a good source of inspiration for me. I want to work hard (at the Olympics) together with her,” Asada told Japanese media on Saturday.

Asada and Kim both missed the 2006 Turin Olympics as they were a few months too young to be eligible to compete.

Asada failed to qualify for the Grand Prix Final after she finished runner-up to Kim in the season-opening Grand Prix in Paris and placed fifth at the second round in Moscow.

“I know Asada is going through a tough time, but I’m sure that she’ll come to the Olympics,” Kim told Korean media after winning the final.

After under-rotating a triple-axel in her short programme at the nationals, Asada avoided attempting the jump twice in her free skating as she had done earlier this season. She had succeeded in only one of her eight previous triple axel attempts as she otherwise popped, landed on two feet or fell.

“It is burdensome to try it twice,” she said. “I wanted to focus on other elements as well.”

With just a 0.22-point lead from the short programme, she scored 135.50 points in free skating to win with a total 204.62.

The total, while not scored by judges from the International Skating Union (ISU), was close to the official world record of 210.03 points Kim set at the Paris Grand Prix. Asada has earned even higher points at previous nationals.

Asada’s personal ISU record is 201.87 scored at the World Team Trophy last April.

“I want to make further adjustments going into the next competition,” said Asada, due to take part in the Four Continents championships January 25-31 in Jeonju, South Korea, which Toronto-based Kim is expected to skip.

“I am the kind of skater who gets better in the second half (of a season).”


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