When Miki Ando takes the ice at the Big Hat in Nagano on Friday she will be looking to notch a Grand Prix victory for Nikolai Morozov’s stable of skaters for the fourth straight weekend.
Ando, who opened her season with a victory at the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow last month, will try to extend the Russian coach’s string of success at the NHK Trophy, after Nobunari Oda began the GP campaign with a victory in the Trophee Bompard in Paris, before adding his second GP crown at the Cup of China last weekend.
“Miki is skating very well,” Morozov said by telephone after arriving in Japan from Beijing on Monday. “She has been working hard in practice and is very determined. I think it shows in her performance.”
When asked if the goal this weekend is for Ando to secure a spot at the Grand Prix Final in Tokyo next month, Morozov had a different take.
“We don’t look at it that way,” he said. “We are just treating this like another competition and not focused on anything else.”
Morozov said he is pleased with the collective effort of his charges.
“Our group has done well so far (this season),” he noted. “We are feeling good about where we are at this point.”
Ando, the 2007 world champion, will be the favorite in a field that will include compatriots Yukari Nakano and Shoko Ishikawa.
Ando’s primary competition is expected to come in the form of American Ashley Wagner (second in Moscow) and Russian Alena Leonova (third in Moscow).
Nakano, who placed third in France, will be looking for another podium finish and a possible place in the GP Final.
Ishikawa, a 19-year-old Tokyo native, will be making her debut in a senior GP. She was a late addition after Nana Takeda withdrew due to injury.
The men’s field in Nagano is loaded. Daisuke Takahashi, the No. 1-ranked skater in the world two seasons ago, will make his return to the Grand Prix circuit after missing all of last season following an injury and major knee surgery.
Also representing Japan will be Takahiko Kozuka (second behind Evgeni Plushenko in Moscow) and the Morozov-coached Daisuke Murakami, who will be skating in his first senior GP.
The United States will have a strong contingent with three-time national champion Johnny Weir, Jeremy Abbott (winner of last year’s GP Final), and two-time world junior champion Adam Rippon (who was formerly coached by Morozov).
France’s Brian Joubert, the 2007 world champion, is also in the field.
Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran will lead Japan in the pairs against the likes of U.S. duo Rena Inoue and John Baldwin and Russia’s Yuko Kawaguchi and Alexander Smirnov.
Japan’s Cathy and Chris Reed will seek their first GP victory in ice dance, where they will go up against Britain’s Sinead and John Kerr.
Mao plot thickens: No word yet from the Japan Skating Federation or Mao Asada’s camp on the planned meeting between JSF president Seiko Hashimoto and Mao to address her struggles this season.
Fans and media will no doubt be anxious to hear the outcome of this powwow and what impact it may have on the status of Mao’s current coach Tatiana Tarasova.
The most recent sign of dysfunction in the relationship came when Nikkan Sports reported that Tarasova may not come to Osaka for the Japan nationals next month because the Russian nationals will be going on at the same time.
This seems to add more intrigue to the equation, as it will be one of Mao’s last chances to skate competitively before the Vancouver Olympics.
The only other opportunity would be at the Four Continents Championships in South Korea at the end of January.
An e-mail request to Mao’s agent, Mariko Wada of IMG, for an update on a timetable for the meeting, went unanswered.
In the meantime, readers of The Japan Times are encouraged to vote in the poll on the top page of our Web site asking how Mao can best improve her chances of winning the gold medal in Vancouver.