The 2007-08 skating season got off to a figurative early start with the holding of the NHK Trophy news conference in Tokyo on Sept 8.
The Grand Prix event promises to be one of the highlights of the season, with world champion Mao Asada and three-time defending national champion Daisuke Takahashi headlining.
The two marquee names will be joined by rivals Yukari Nakano and Nobunari Oda at Tokyo’s Yoyogi Gymnasium from Nov. 28-30.
Mao, who will turn 18 on Sept. 25, left little doubt that she is aiming to defend the world title she won in Goteborg, Sweden, last March. “Of course I want to win it (again),” Mao told the packed audience in attendance, “but I’m just focused on making a solid and consistent performance for the upcoming season.”
Mao, who will be coached this year by legendary Russian Tatiana Tarasova, looked refreshed and ready for the new campaign when she spoke.
“I’m composing my programs now,” Mao said. “I will focus on every competition to try to do what I can do best.”
Mao, who fell last year on her opening triple axel in the free skate at the worlds, was asked if she would be in a battle with Nakano (who landed her triple axel the same night) this season.
“Jumping is not something you compare with somebody else,” Mao said. “You jump when you want to jump. I’ve never compared my jump with anybody else’s.”
Nakano, who placed fourth at the worlds in what many felt was a case of highway robbery, was deferential to her younger rival.
“I envy Mao-chan’s confidence,” she said, as laughter filled the room. “Her jump is so light and beautiful. I always learn something from her performance.”
Mao’s other GP assignment is the Trophee Bompard in Paris, while Nakano will take the ice for the season-opening Skate America later next month.
Takahashi, who finished a disappointing fourth at the worlds and then left coach Nikolai Morozov, seems determined to get back on track.
“Now I’m checking my programs again and trying to develop the details of my performance,” Takahashi said. “In late September, I’ll go to the U.S. to work on my programs.”
Takahashi, who is also slated to skate in the Cup of China, said he is looking forward to renewing his rivalry with fellow Kansai University graduate Oda.
“(The NHK Trophy) will be our first (competitive) meeting in a while,” Takahashi said. “I will not say I don’t feel his existence. I’m looking forward to the competition, and I will not get defeated. I’ll make every effort to win.”
Oda, who is returning to competition after missing last season while suspended for the Grand Prix events by the Japan Skating Federation following a drunk driving arrest in July 2007, looked like a man who wanted to put his troubles behind him and focus on the future.
“I want to improve my overall skating,” he said. “I will skate in the Nebelhorn Trophy (a non-Grand Prix event) in Germany later this month and take part in the Western Japan championships after that.”
Oda’s time away clearly has not affected his desire to excel.
“I can compete in only one Grand Prix event (the NHK Trophy) this season,” Oda said, “so I want to win it by all means.”
Cautionary tale: Ice Time was contacted by Tokyo resident Akiko Hasegawa last month during the Beijing Games about a problem she was having with the Champions on Ice show that was held at Shin-Yokohama Arena last weekend.
Hasegawa-san was hopping mad about what she felt was an attempt by CIC — the promoters of Champions on Ice — to deliberately mislead the public into buying tickets to the event.
According to Hasegawa, ticket sales for the five shows, where prices started at ¥8,000 and went all the way up to ¥22,000, were still available, when on Aug. 15 CIC suddenly listed Takahashi, the world’s No. 1-ranked male figure skater, as being confirmed to participate on the Champions on Ice Web site.
Over the next 24 hours, fans of the star bought tickets for multiple shows.
Hasegawa said the very next day CIC removed Takahashi’s name from the site, without any explanation, never for it to return.
Hasegawa noted that CIC stated on the site that skaters may be forced to withdraw from the shows on short notice. However, this was not good enough for the skating fan, who referred to the move as “a bad natured fraud.”
This is where the story gets interesting.
After Takahashi’s alleged pullout, Hasegawa wanted her money back. When she contacted CIC, it gave her the cold shoulder.
She then consulted with the Consumer Support Center of Tokyo’s Edogawa Ward, and it contacted CIC. The promoters initially refused to give Hasegawa a refund, but relented shortly thereafter and put a message on their Web site claiming Takahashi’s had been listed by mistake.
When Ice Time contacted CIC, it claimed it was in the process of issuing refunds and Hasegawa would receive hers in due course. She finally received her ¥60,000 back on Sept. 19.
Takahashi’s agent, Tak Ihara, confirmed to Ice Time that his client had never confirmed his participation with Champions on Ice.
In various sports over the years, promoters have taken advantage of Japanese fans with questionable tactics, counting on the fact that the great majority of them won’t complain even if they don’t get what they are promised.
A tip of the cap to Hasegawa, who took a stand and refused to be run over.
Junior update: The Junior Grand Prix season is already well under way, with three of the eight events having taking place.
Rumi Suizu, who skated in last year’s U.S.-Japan International Counter Match, finished second in Merano, Italy, earlier this month.
Daisuke Murakami, who is coached by Morozov and considered a top prospect, was forced to withdraw from the Junior GP last week in Mexico City in controversial circumstances.
The International Skating Union refused to let Murakami participate after claiming the JSF did not submit the proper documents on time.
Murakami, whose parents won a green card lottery to live in the United States, previously skated for the U.S., leading to nationality issues when the Kanagawa native wanted to skate for Japan again.
Ice Time will investigate this story in the coming days and try to get to the bottom of it.