Ando poised despite fall

by Jack Gallagher

NAGANO — Despite falling on a planned triple flip, Miki Ando was well-positioned for her second Grand Prix title of the season after finishing second in the short program at the NHK Trophy on Friday night at Big Hat.

Skating to Mozart’s “Requiem,” Ando opened with a nice triple lutz-triple loop combination jump before the tumble, but recovered to hit a double axel and execute an excellent spiral sequence to finish less than one point behind leader Ashley Wagner of the United States.

Ando, who won the Rostelecom Cup title two weeks ago in Moscow, totaled 56.22 points, while Wagner was in first on 56.54.

Wagner, who finished second behind Ando in Russia, began with a triple lutz-double toe loop combo jump, then followed that with a triple lutz. She saved her final jump — a double axel — for later in her program and had it downgraded.

Ando, the 2007 world champion, gave herself a harsh review.

“I wasn’t pleased with my program today,” she said. “It was poor from my viewpoint. It wasn’t just that I fell, but the overall performance. I was able to finish second perhaps because of the support of the fans. But the result just wasn’t good enough.”

Yukari Nakano botched her planned triple lutz-double toe loop combo at the outset of her routine, two-footing the landing on the former and not attempting the latter. She was flawless the rest of the way, however, with her patented “donut spin” and a nice spiral and placed third at 54.92.

A podium finish here would likely give Wagner a place in the Grand Prix Final in Tokyo next month.

“First place is a good place to be, but it wasn’t my best performance,” said Wagner. “I hope to do my double axel cleanly in the long program, but I am happy with where I am.”

Nakano, who was third in the Trophee Bompard, is also vying for a spot in the GP Final.

“I failed on my first jump, but overall was fairly pleased,” said Nakano. “It’s too bad I missed that first jump because the rest was pretty clean.”

In her senior GP debut, Shoko Ishikawa stands 10th with 44.28.

France’s Brian Joubert grabbed the lead in the men’s short program with a crowd-pleasing performance to “Rise” by Safri Duo. Joubert, the 2007 world champion, opened with a quadruple toe loop-triple toe loop combination, then landed a triple axel, before stumbling on the landing of his triple lutz.

Joubert, who is wildly popular with female fans in Japan, had the audience clapping in unison for nearly the entire program, which clearly impressed the judges, and was rewarded with a score of 85.35 and a standing ovation.

Joubert, who finished a surprising fourth place at the Trophee Bompard in Paris, was pleased with his performance.

“I’m very happy because my first Grand Prix was difficult,” Joubert said. “I was very disappointed, so it was important for me to do well today and the rest of this competition.”

American Jeremy Abbott finished second with 83.00 points after an enthusiastic effort to “A Day In the Life” by the Beatles. Skating in the shadow of where John Lennon used to spend his summer holidays, last season’s Grand Prix Final champion opened with a triple flip-triple toe loop combination, before hitting a triple axel and a triple lutz.

Abbott, who is in his first season being coached by 1994 world champion Yuka Sato, credited her for his showing.

“Last season was a big breakthrough for me,” said Abbott. “But the end of the season wasn’t that good, and I felt like I needed a change. My new coach has made me skate with a lot of confidence. Even when I feel bad I am able to be comfortable on the ice.”

Abbott’s compatriot Johnny Weir came in third with a tally of 78.35. Weir, who was under the weather with a cold, hit all of his jumps cleanly while performing to “I Love You, I Hate You.”

Daisuke Takahashi, skating in his first major competition in 18 months after missing last season due to major knee surgery, is fourth with 78.18.

He slipped on the landing of a triple lutz and then fell later during his step sequence.

“Everything went pretty well according to plan,” said Takahashi. “I wasn’t planning to fall on my step sequence. I was a bit nervous, so hopefully I can relax a bit more tomorrow.”

Takahiko Kozuka, who placed second behind Evgeni Plushenko in Moscow two weeks ago, fell on his triple axel but closed with an outstanding combination spin and was fourth at 74.05.

Russia’s Yuko Kawaguchi and Alexander Smirnov lead the pairs with a total of 68.90. China’s Qing Pang and Jian Tong are second at 67.30.

American’s Rena Inoue and John Baldwin are in fourth place at 52.52.

Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the U.S. lead after the compulsory dance with 38.09. Britain’s Sinead and John Kerr are second at 35.04.