Mao triumphant at Four Continents

by David Hueston and Dave Hueston

Kyodo

Two-time world champion Mao Asada lived up to her billing, leading a trio of Japanese to a sweep of the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships women’s medals on Sunday.

Unlike her short program where she landed a triple axel, Mao was unable to cleanly execute the 3½-revolution jump in the free skate, but still outshined the competition to finish with a combined total of 205.45 points.

Akiko Suzuki took the silver with 190.08, while the bronze went to Kanako Murakami with 181.03.

Skating to “Swan Lake” by Tchaikovsky, Mao nailed her opening triple loop with no problems but was docked for under-rotating her triple axel and had points taken off on a triple Lutz.

“My short program was perfect and I was able to perform my free skate the way I had in practice. I can still get better,” said Mao, who last won the Four Continents in 2010. “I’m glad that I was able to succeed with a triple axel in this competition and challenge it.”

A day earlier, Mao successfully landed her first triple axel in competition since achieving the feat at the 2011 Four Continents.

What is more, she topped South Korean rival Kim Yu Na’s score of 72.27 from an international meet in December last year with her high of 74.49 in the short program — just 1.35 off her personal best.

Vancouver Olympic champion Kim, who has made a comeback after two seasons, did not take part in the warmup for the world championships that will take place in London, Ontario, from March 13-16.

“Of course I would like to execute a triple axel at the worlds,” said Mao, whose 130.96 in the free skate was her season’s best. “Hopefully, I can perform better than I did today. So I plan to practice really hard.”

Suzuki and Murakami held onto their positions behind Mao in second and third from the short program.

Both women received only minor deductions on some jumps, but were otherwise nearly flawless in their performances.

“I am happy with my result. Recently, I haven’t been in the best shape. But this time I was able to overcome many obstacles. I really enjoyed myself,” said Suzuki.

Murakami made her first podium finish in an ISU senior event.

“Last year at the Four Continents I did well in the short program and had a chance but wasn’t able to make the podium. I was anxious because I remembered what happened last time, but today I got a good result, and I’m very happy that all the Japanese got on the podium,” said Murakami.

In the pairs, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford retained their lead from the short program to make it a 1-2 finish for Canada, with Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch taking the silver.

Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir of the United States won the bronze.

On Saturday, Japanese champion Yuzuru Hanyu placed runnerup in the men’s competition won by Canada’s Kevin Reynolds. Former world champion Daisuke Takahashi was left to rue an error-strewn free skate and finished in seventh. Takahiko Mura was eighth.