Suzuki rescues Japan after Mao stumbles

by Jack Gallagher

Staff Writer

Solid performances by Daisuke Takahashi and Akiko Suzuki offset a poor showing by Mao Asada and helped give Japan the lead in the World Team Trophy on Thursday night at Yoyogi Gymnasium.

Japan leads the biennial six-nation competition with 47 points, with the United States second (also with 47), and Russia (41) third.

Canada, France and China are also entered in the contest, which pits skaters with the highest combined points at major senior and junior competitions during the Grand Prix season.

Russia’s Adelina Sotnikova skated clean to “Capriccio Espagnol” and leads after the women’s short program with 67.13 points.

Sotnikova was fluid throughout her routine, despite underrotating the back end of a triple lutz/triple toe loop combination jump at the outset. She also executed a triple flip and double axel on the way to securing the top spot.

Suzuki competing to “Kill Bill” and “Once Upon a Time in Mexico,” put on an enthusiastic show and is second at 66.56.

The 2012 world bronze medalist landed a triple toe loop/double toe loop combo to begin her program and followed with a triple flip and double axel.

“I could not hit my planned triple/triple jump, so I tried to concentrate for my other jumps after that,” said Suzuki. “My practice before the worlds (where she finished 12th) was not good, but I have been doing well in practice here.”

American Gracie Gold is in third place on 59.77.

Two-time world champion Mao Asada struggled again with her short program and is fifth. Mao, who was third at the worlds last month, fell hard on her planned opening triple axel and then doubled a triple flip on the front end of a combo jump to end up with a tally of 59.39.

“I couldn’t do the triple axel cleanly in the six-minute practice and that carried over to the competition,” said Mao. “Japan is first thanks to Akiko’s good performance. I’ll try to do better in the free skate with Akiko.”

Three-time defending world champion Patrick Chan of Canada hit the ice on his opening quad and was shaky on the landing of his triple axel to “Elegie” by Rachmaninov, but holds a commanding lead in men’s singles with a score of 86.67.

“I really accomplished my goal at the world championships and this is more icing on the cake,” Chan commented. “This is a team event and I was very happy to help the team. I think we have a pretty good chance of winning here because we have a very good team.”

Takahashi, coming off a disappointing sixth-place finish at last month’s worlds, two-footed the landing on his opening quad and stumbled on a triple toe loop, but is second with 80.87.

The 2010 world champion, who skated to “Moonlight Sonata,” said he is not placing all his attention on Chan heading into the free skate.

“I don’t consider Patrick to be my only rival. Everybody is my rival,” said Takahashi. “I can’t say with great confidence that I will hit all my quads in the free skate, but I will focus on my other jumps and choreography, and if I do that we should be in a good position.”

American Jeremy Abbott, a three-time national champion, is in third at 80.24.

Madison Chock and Evan Bates racked up 12 points for the U.S. by taking the short program in ice dance with 66.54. The duo is representing the U.S. after world champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White passed on participating here.

Canada’s Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje are in second on 62.42, while Russia’s Ksenia Monko and Kirill Khaliavin (59.47) stand third.

Takahashi sees value in the way relationships are built within teams in these kinds of competitions, especially ahead of the first Olympic team event at the Sochi Olympics next February.

“I believe there is a stronger bond among the skaters with an event like this,” he stated. “We won’t have this kind of support in Sochi next year, but we are still motivated.”

The U.S. won the inaugural World Team Trophy in 2009, while Japan reigned last year. Tokyo has hosted the event each time it has been held.

The competition continues on Friday with the short program in pairs and free skate in men’s singles and ice dance.