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Kim sends shot across bow with victory in Vancouver

by Jack Gallagher

Kim Yu Na delivered a strong message to world champion Mao Asada with her victory at the recent Four Continents Championship in Vancouver.

After seeing Mao beat her with two triple axels at the Grand Prix Final on home ice in Seoul back in December, Kim knew she had a prime chance to try and regain a psychological edge at the site of the 2010 Vancouver Games and heading into next month’s world championships in the United States.

Kim, who won Skate America and the Cup of China this season, continued her strong campaign with an elegant performance in the short program, where Mao struggled.

Despite winning the free skate, Mao, who has made a habit of coming from behind in big competitions, was unable to do so this time and had to settle for third.

While it is clear that Mao and Kim maintain a friendly relationship, it is also a certainty that both have a fierce drive to win the gold medal next winter. The sad reality is that only one of them can stand atop the podium.

When you want something badly, whether is it a job, a mate, or a gold medal, it can lead to near obsession. Kim’s coach, two-time Olympic silver medalist Brian Orser, had some interesting comments before the South Korean’s victory at the Four Continents.

“She (Yu Na) tracks every move that girl (Mao) makes, all year long,” Orser told UniversalSports.com. “Where she’s skating, when she’s skating, what program she’s doing, what (music) she’s skating to, who’s choreographing, who’s coaching her now. Everything. And I bet you Mao’s doing the same thing.”

Orser, the 1987 world champion, surely knows the emotions of an elite skater. He was the runnerup at the 1984 Sarajevo Games and again at the 1988 Calgary Games in his native Canada.

He trains Kim at the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club, where he is the skating director.

One can only imagine what the television ratings will be like in Asia next February on the night that Kim, a national hero in South Korea, and Mao, Japan’s most popular female athlete, face off in the free skate with the gold on the line.

It has been said that life all comes down to a few moments. In this instance, the two skating wizards will have just over 4 minutes to make their cases to the judges at rinkside.

A lot can happen in a year, but presuming they both remain healthy, it should be a showdown for the ages.

Family matters: It appears that Tatiana Tarasova, the Russian coach of Mao Asada, may be nearing the end of her illustrious career.

Tarasova gave a recent interview to Russian journalist Elena Vaitsehovskaya in which she was quoted as saying, “Just a bit more and I can step aside.”

The article said that Tarasova can’t devote as much time to coaching these days as she would like to.

“I don’t work as much with Mao as I did with Shizuka (Arakawa), but that’s because of some family matters. My loved ones are sick. That’s why I can’t spend much time in Japan.”

Tarasova went on to say that she has her proxy in place and receives a constant stream of information on Mao.

“My assistant, Zhanna Folle, is now working permanently with Asada in Japan. We talk daily, so I am well informed. I try to come as often as I can and to accompany Asada to all her competitions.”

It is worth noting that Tarasova did not travel to Vancouver with Mao for the Four Continents.

Season ends early: Mirai Nagasu, the 2008 U.S. champion, saw her difficult season come to an early end when she was forced to withdraw from next week’s World Junior Championships in Ostrava, Czech Republic, due to continuing trouble with her right ankle.

Nagasu, who won the Junior Grand Prix Final last season, first injured herself last summer and has been unable to shake it. The injury, along with a growth spurt of 7 cm, have resulted in a long string of disappointing results for the California native.

The 15-year-old finished fifth at Skate America, eighth at the NHK Trophy, and fifth at this year’s U.S. nationals.

Her poor finish at nationals means she won’t be skating in next month’s worlds in her hometown of Los Angeles.

Timetable set: Sidelined Daisuke Takahashi is expected to resume on-ice training in March, coach Utako Nagamitsu announced recently. That is certainly good news for Japan’s hopes at next year’s Vancouver Games.

The issue now is whether Takahashi, who had surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament and torn meniscus (cartilage) in December, can get himself back in shape while out of competition before the start of the Grand Prix season in October.

It will be a real pity if Takahashi, who was injured during a jump in practice, is not at his best heading into the fall. The window of opportunity is likely very narrow for him now.

It was a true shame when Takahashi finished fourth at last year’s worlds after being the favorite to win. Now he will miss next month’s worlds because of the injury.