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France’s noble gesture resonates in midst of crisis

by Jack Gallagher

It has been said that in times of crisis, people show their true colors.

Some rise to the occasion and respond to the call through duty or compassion, while others fail to meet the test and are exposed as lacking fortitude or sensitivity.

Didier Gailhaguet, president of the Federation Francaise des Sports de Glace (French Ice Sports Federation), met the supreme standard last week when he offered to let Japan hold the 2012 world championships after it was forced to withdraw as this year’s host in the wake of the devastating Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, and the ensuing nuclear crisis.

Next year’s event was scheduled to be held on the Cote d’Azur in the beautiful city of Nice, but in a gallant gesture Gailhaguet said his country would step aside.

“We all have a heart and we stand in solidarity with Japan, the Japanese people and the Japanese Skating Federation in these cruel times that strike them and which have prevented them from organizing the 2011 world championships,” he said in a statement last week. “The solution that we propose to the ISU (International Skating Union) would give the (Japanese) federation enough time to prepare and allow them the possibility of recovering from the current serious events.”

Gailhaguet, a two-time French champion in men’s singles, was also once the coach of nine-time French ladies singles champion Surya Bonaly.

France’s sporting ties with Japan go way back and have included former French president Jacques Chirac’s intense interest in sumo.

It is a tragic irony that exactly 50 years ago, the 1961 world championships in Prague were canceled after the entire U.S. team was killed in a plane crash in Brussels on the way to the event. In the wake of that disaster, Prague was awarded the right to host the 1962 worlds.

Let’s hope the healing will begin soon and Japan can go on to stage next year’s event, which will be an important step in encouraging major competitions to once again come to these shores.

What should never be forgotten is that in Japan’s darkest hour, France extended a genuine hand of friendship.

Moved to Moscow: With Japan unable to host this year’s worlds, the ISU last week awarded the championships to Moscow. It was a wise choice.

It was going to take a major nation to step up on short notice and take over, and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin spoke up early and said his country was able and willing. As a result, the Russian capital will take center stage from April 24-May 1.

With Miki Ando the clear favorite heading into the planned worlds this month, the move to Russia should aid her quest to regain the world crown she won in 2007, as she trains in Moscow with coach Nikolai Morozov.

Kim still in: Olympic gold medalist Kim Yu Na reconfirmed her intention to participate in this year’s worlds after sitting out the Grand Prix season.

In a news release issued on Friday by her agency, All That Sports, the 2009 world champion said: “I’ve been busy with various engagements in Korea since my return. But I hope to regain my focus and amp up my training so that I can devote my full attention to the world championships from now on.

“I have great memories of Moscow as I had achieved a new world record of 133.70 in the long program at the Grand Prix Cup of Russia in 2007. I remember the enthusiastic fans in Russia and I am glad I will be returning to the Megasport Arena.”

Kim returned to South Korea on March 20 and has been practicing at the Taereung Training Center in Seoul, while also working with the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics bid committee.

Kim’s participation will certainly add luster to the worlds. It’s just a pity that her rematch with 2010 world champion Mao Asada won’t take place in Japan.

Star power: Mao stands alone at No. 1 in terms of popularity, recognition and image, according to Video Research Ltd., which has published the results of its recent Japan Celebrity Image Survey, japantoday.com reported last week.

Mao was the only athlete on the list, which was comprised entirely of women. Actress Yuki Amami placed second.

Other notable names included actresses Nanako Matsushima (seventh) and Aya Ueto (eighth).

The ranking confirms what skating fans have known for years — that Mao is a megastar without equal in Japan. She not only lights up a room when she enters it, but has the respect of her competitors and the entire skating world.

More than 40 million people tuned in when she competed at the national championships in December. Another epic number can be expected when she takes the ice in Moscow at the worlds next month.