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Big names highlight World Team Trophy

by Jack Gallagher

Six nations will be vying for the inaugural World Team Trophy when action gets under way at Tokyo’s Yoyogi National Gymnasium on Thursday.

Japan, Canada, China, France, Russia and the United States are taking part in the three-day competition, which features two male and two female singles skaters, plus one team in pairs and ice dance for each country.

Japan will be led by 2008 world champion Mao Asada and 2007 world champion Miki Ando in ladies singles, and Takahiko Kozuka and Nobunari Oda on the men’s side.

Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran will represent Japan in pairs, with Cathy and Chris Reed doing the same in ice dance.

The U.S. team will feature world champion Evan Lysacek, Grand Prix Final winner Jeremy Abbott, 2008 world junior champion Rachel Flatt and 2007 world junior champ Caroline Zhang.

World silver medalists Joannie Rochette and Patrick Chan headline Canada’s team, while France is led by 2007 world champion Brian Joubert.

Yuko Kawaguchi and Alexander Smirnov, bronze medalists in pairs at the recent worlds, lead Russia’s entry.

The pairs team of Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang, silver medalists at the last two world championships, is China’s top duo.

Comeback begins: Daisuke Takahashi, sidelined this season following a knee injury and surgery, resumed on-ice training April 4 in Osaka.

Takahashi updated his blog with this message the following day:

” . . . Yesterday was my first skating this year. It was tiring. I was able to skate better than I had expected. . . . For the time being, I’m going to do on-ice training little by little, not every day, and my usual rehabilitation. Your letters and messages are giving me energy. Thank you very much. I would appreciate your support from now on.”

New coaches: Two former Japan internationals, Takeshi Honda and Yoshie Onda, have made the transition from competitive skating to coaching in the past year.

Honda, a two-time world bronze medalist, coaches Mai Asada and assists veteran coach Utako Nagamitsu with her students.

Onda, meanwhile, founded the Superior Aichi Figure Skating Club last summer, where she coaches several young skaters.

Knight’s insight: Legendary basketball coach Bobby Knight, who has the most victories in men’s NCAA Division I history, recently expressed his admiration for athleticism of figure skaters on a New York-based sports radio talk show, according to the Web site rivals.com.

” . . . Now, before we go into any more basketball, I’ve got to tell you about the best athletes in the country, and they aren’t American, they’re Russian,” Knight said. “They’re Russian ice skaters. I went to see them last night at the Riviera (hotel) with (his wife) Karen, and the title of the show is Ice. This was the most incredible athletic scene for an hour and 20 minutes that I’ve ever seen. Unbelievable.”

Knight, who won three national championships at Indiana, was effusive in his praise, even when the announcers tried to steer the subject back to basketball.

“Don’t forget the Russian ice skaters,” Knight said. “I’m telling you, these guys, it must be 40 people, men and women, and they are the most athletic people. . . . I’ve never seen a group of athletes like this.”

Pretty high praise coming from a man who coached Michael Jordan and the U.S. team to the gold medal at the 1984 Summer Olympics.