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Japan’s four world champions set for NHK Trophy

by Jack Gallagher

Japan won’t waste any time showing off its four new world champions, according to the recently released Grand Prix assignments for the 2010-11 season.

Mao Asada, Daisuke Takahashi, Kanako Murakami and Yuzuru Hanyu are all slated to compete in the season-opening NHK Trophy in Nagoya from Oct. 22-24. In addition to being a triumphant homecoming for two-time world champion Mao, the event will also mark the senior debuts of Murakami (also a Nagoya native) and Hanyu.

The women’s lineup will also include American champion Rachel Flatt and teammates Caroline Zhang and Ashley Wagner. They will be joined by Italy’s Carolina Kostner and Finland’s Kiira Korpi.

In addition to Takahashi and Hanyu, Takahito Mura will also compete at the NHK Trophy in a field that boasts two-time defending U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott and compatriot Ross Miner.

Olympic silver medalists Qing Pang and Jian Tong from China will headline a pairs roster which includes the American team of Rena Inoue and John Baldwin.

The ice dance will be topped by Vancouver silver medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the U.S. The Japanese-American duo of Maia and Alex Shibutani, who took the bronze medal at the Junior Grand Prix Final in Tokyo last December, will be making their senior debut.

The GP assignments will present some interesting matchups over the course of the season. In addition to the NHK Trophy, Mao will take the ice at the Trophee Bompard (Nov. 26-28) in Paris, which is the last of the six regular Grand Prix events this time around.

Mao will be joined by Fumie Suguri and Haruka Imai in France, where they will meet American Mirai Nagasu, who placed fourth in Vancouver.

Miki Ando, who won both GPs she entered last season, is penciled in for the Cup of China (Nov. 5-7) and the Cup of Russia (Nov. 19-21). Ando may find it tougher to repeat her twin killing this time around, as Olympic gold medalist Kim Yu Na will also skate in both Beijing and Moscow.

Akiko Suzuki will join Ando and Kim at both competitions, with Nagasu also tapped for the Cup of China.

Murakami’s second GP will be Skate America (Nov. 12-14), while Suguri and Imai will put on the blades at Skate Canada (Oct. 29-31).

Under the present scenario, the earliest Mao and Kim could meet to reprise their Olympic battle would be at the Grand Prix Final in Beijing (Dec. 9-12).

Vancouver bronze medalist Joannie Rochette has not been assigned a Grand Prix event at this point.

On the men’s side, Takahashi’s second GP will be Skate America, while Hanyu will go to the Cup of Russia where he will face Vancouver silver medalist Evgeni Plushenko.

Nobunari Oda is scheduled to take part in Skate Canada and Skate America, while fellow Olympian Takahiko Kozuka will attend the Cup of China and Trophee Bompard.

Olympic champion Evan Lysacek of the U.S. has not yet been assigned a Grand Prix event.

The pairs team of Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran will go up against Yuko Kawaguchi and Alexander Smirnov at the Cup of Russia, while ice dancers Cathy and Chris Reed will take on Davis and White and the Shibutanis at Skate America.

Tuning up: Mao recently returned home from a trip to Canada where she worked on the choreography for her long program for the coming campaign.

Mao announced she will perform to “Liebestraume” by Franz Liszt in her free skate, which was arranged by Lori Nichol.

She announced that the music for her short program, which was choreographed by former coach Tatiana Tarasova, will be “Tango” by Alfred Schnittke.

In addition to unveiling her music for the coming season, Mao also revealed that Hiroshi Nagakubo, who coaches Akiko Suzuki, will be mentoring her on jumps. Mao has yet to decide on a full-time coach to replace Tarasova.

“As the Olympics are over, now is the time for me to challenge new things,” Mao was quoted as saying by Sports Nippon. “There is still room to improve.”

Formidable team: Daisuke Takahashi is not content to rest on his laurels.

After winning his first world championship in March, Takahashi reportedly traveled to Switzerland to have two-time world champion Stephane Lambiel choreograph a short program for him for this season.

“(The new program) has a lot of Stephane’s original movements,” Jiji Press reported Takahashi said in Shin-Yokohama on Friday where he performed in Dreams on Ice. “It’s been a long time for me to use this kind of music. I was very nervous.”

Takahashi skated to a musical selection from the French movie “Amelie” in the show.

Lambiel, who retired from competition in March, is clearly wasting no time in moving into a new phase of his career.