Mao comes through to win national title

by David Hueston and Dave Hueston

Kyodo

Mao Asada, Kanako Murakami and Akiko Suzuki were all named to compete at the world figure skating championships in March, the Japan Skating Federation said Sunday.

Yuzuru Hanyu, who won his first national title a day earlier, Grand Prix Final winner Daisuke Takahashi and Takahito Mura, the bronze medalist here, were selected on the men’s side to take part in the March 13-16 worlds in London, Ontario, which will double as a qualifier for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

Mao trailed Suzuki by 2.28 points after Saturday’s short program, but collected a high total of 193.56 points Sunday to claim the gold medal at the national championships for her sixth overall title after a dynamic exhibition in the free program at Makomanai Ice Arena.

“I’m a little disappointed because it wasn’t my best performance,” said Mao. “But this has motivated me to go a level higher in my next competition.”

Murakami, fifth after the short program, surged to silver for a personal best with 183.67, while reigning junior national champion Satoko Miyahara made her first senior podium finish in third with a score of 180.55.

“I was really excited to see a score like that for the first time in a long while,” said Murakami, who burst into a delirious smile after posting the second-highest free score of 126.41. “The most important thing was that my coach praised my efforts today.”

Miyahara, who at 14 is too young to compete at the worlds, was still flying on cloud nine.

“I am really happy,” said Miyahara. “I am satisfied because I was able to land a triple-triple combination in the free. I want to be thought of as a skater who has great jumps, spins and steps.”

Suzuki, who was shooting for her first title, was left to rue an error-strewn free program and finished fourth at 180.03.

Skating to Cirque du Soleil’s “O” based on the water-theme Canadian stage production, Suzuki was anything but fluid. She singled her opening triple flip combination and later took a spill on another triple flip.

Mao, who triumphed at the Grand Prix Final earlier this month in Sochi, Russia, was nearly flawless in her rendition to “Swan Lake.” She landed all of her jumps cleanly except for a triple flip combination where she lost her balance on the first jump.

Mao, who also won the NHK Trophy in November, is still hoping somewhere down the road to include in her repertoire a triple axel, the high-octane jump that once put her in a league by herself. There is added pressure on her now with the return of Vancouver Olympic champion Kim Yu Na from an extended hiatus.

“I am not totally back to form, but I’m halfway there,” said the two-time world champion.

Brother and sister duo Chris and Cathy Reed won the ice dance competition with a high of 133.92. Marien De La Asuncion and Emi Hirai surged out of third place to take the silver with 110.31 and Bryna Oi and Taiyo Mizutani settled for the bronze at 99.32.