Relieved Mao begins Olympic countdown

Kyodo

Mao Asada celebrated her Olympic berth-clinching victory at the national championships with a cake on Sunday night.

The next day the 2008 world champion once again expressed relief that she seized the last chance to qualify as she attended a news conference at an Osaka hotel.

“I’m relieved and I’m so happy,” Asada said with a bright smile. “I was able to execute triple axels without any mistakes.”

The 19-year-old won her fourth straight national title, placing first in both the short program and the free skate.

Asada has decided to skate at the Four Continents Championships in Jeongu, South Korea, on Jan. 27-30, less than a month before the Feb. 23 start of the women’s figure skating competition at the Vancouver Olympics.

Other top skaters such as world champion Kim Yu Na and Miki Ando are sitting out the event.

“I hope to take momentum into the Olympics by pulling off a good performance there,” Asada said.

Akiko Suzuki was also present at the conference after she finished second at the nationals and joined Ando and Asada on the Olympic team.

“I feel like I have nothing left after giving it my all,” the 24-year-old Suzuki said. “I wanted to take coach (Hiroshi) Nagakubo to the Olympics so badly.”

Meanwhile, Daisuke Takahashi revealed that he will head to the final Olympics of his career.

“I don’t think I’ll be skating four years later. It will be my last Olympics, so I will try to show the culmination of everything I’ve been working toward in my career,” said the national champion.

Takahashi, eighth in his Olympic debut in 2006, has returned from major surgery on his right knee that kept him sidelined for the whole of last season.

Kozuka to sit out

Kyodo News

Takahiko Kozuka said Monday he will pull out of next month’s Four Continents figure skating meet, a day after he was officially selected to the men’s Olympic team.

He said he will miss the Jan. 27-30 event in Jeonju, South Korea, since the results will not greatly influence the world rankings which determine the skating order at the Vancouver Games.

Kento Nakamura is expected to replace him to compete alongside Nobunari Oda and Daisuke Takahashi, who have also booked tickets to the Olympics.

Kozuka placed second in the Rostelecom Cup in October and took third in the national championships Saturday to earn his first Olympic berth.