Asada looking to hone Olympic program

Asada looking to hone Olympic program

TOKYO - Agence France-Presse
Asada looking to hone Olympic program

Japanese figure skating superstar, the 2008 and 2010 world champion, won the season-opening Skate America event ahead of US titleholder Ashley Wagner and Russian prodigy Elena Radionova. REUTERS photo

Japan’s two-time world champion Mao Asada will use the NHK Trophy to fine-tune her Olympic programme on home ice in the absence of fierce rival Kim Yuna of South Korea.

The event, due to open in Tokyo today as the fourth round of the Grand Prix series, provides the 2010 Olympic silver medalist with the perfect opportunity to polish her moves before an expected showdown with Olympic champion Kim at the Sochi Games in February.

The 23-year-old South Korean figure skating queen is skipping the high-profile Grand Prix series due to a foot injury.

The world’s elite skaters are each assigned to two of the season’s six Grand Prix events. The top six finishers in each category in terms of points will qualify for the December 5-8 Grand Prix Final in Fukuoka, Japan.

Asada, the 2008 and 2010 world champion, won the season-opening Skate America event ahead of US champion Ashley Wagner and the reigning world junior champion, 14-year-old Russian Elena Radionova.

After topping the short programme, Asada fell on her opening triple axel and downgraded a combination jump in the free skate. But she went on to land five clean triple jumps between high-level spins and steps.

Twelfth Grand Prix title

As a result, she won her 12th Grand Prix title with a total of 204.55 points, close to her personal best and a comfortable 10.74 points ahead of Wagner.

“I’m not yet satisfied with many elements,” said Asada, 23, the only female skater who has regularly executed the demanding 3.5-revolution triple axel in competition with an improving success rate in recent attempts.

“I want to overcome problems at the NHK Trophy and work hard to reach my target level,” she said. “For me, the Olympics have already begun.”

Solid favorite in women’s field

Asada is a solid favorite in a women’s field including Radionova, compatriot Akiko Suzuki and American Gracie Gold. Suzuki and Gold finished second and third at Skate Canada, the second Grand Prix event.

In the men’s singles, Japan’s Daisuke Takahashi, the Olympic bronze medallist and the 2010 world champion, also has a jumping issue.

At Skate America, the 27-year-old crashed on a quadruple jump and bungled a triple axel in the short programme, a difficulty he has had on previous occasions. He managed to finish fourth with the top scores in programme components, a metric of skating skills and artistic impression.

European champion Javier Fernandez from Spain, third at this year’s world championship won by Canada’s Patrick Chan, is looking to shine in his first Grand Prix outing this season.

The US men’s contingent is led by reigning national champion Max Aaron and former champion Jeremy Abbott as well as Skate America runner-up Adam Rippon.

The pairs event is led by world and European champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov of Russia.

Skate Canada silver medallists Sui Wenjing and Han Cong as well as fellow Chinese Peng Cheng and Zhang Hao, who took the bronze at the Cup of China last week, are also aiming for the podium.

In the ice dance, world champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White are set to dominate with the momentum from victory at Skate America.