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Earliest Mao, Kim can face off is at GP Final in Fukuoka

by Jack Gallagher

The Olympic season officially began with the release of the 2013-2014 Grand Prix assignments on Monday by the International Skating Union.

With the Sochi Games just nine months away, fans hoping to see an early showdown between 2010 Olympic gold medalist and defending world champion Kim Yu-na and Vancouver silver medalist Mao Asada were disappointed.

Mao is entered at the season-opening Skate America (Oct. 18-20) in Detroit and the NHK Trophy (Nov. 8-10) in Tokyo, while Kim will compete at Skate Canada (Oct. 25-27) in St. John’s, New Brunswick, and the Trophee Bompard (Nov. 15-17) in Paris.

This means the earliest the archrivals could meet in competition would be at the Grand Prix Final (Dec. 5-8) in Fukuoka, the last major international event before the Winter Olympics (Feb. 7-23).

This will be the first time since the 2009-10 season that Kim has competed in a Grand Prix campaign.

The upcoming season promises to be another massive one for Japan, as once again it will host four significant events.

In addition to the NHK Trophy and the GP Final, the Japan nationals are set for Dec. 19-23 in Saitama, and the world championships (March 24-30) will return here for the first time since 2007 and be held in either Tokyo or Saitama.

Mao, a two-time world champion, will battle two-time defending U.S. champion Ashley Wagner at Skate America.

Akiko Suzuki, the 2012 world bronze medalist, will go up against Kim at Skate Canada and also take the ice at the NHK Trophy. Suzuki, who finished eighth at the Vancouver Games, will be looking to earn her second trip to the Olympics.

Suzuki will be battling for one of Japan’s three spots along with Mao and Kanako Murakami, and likely Miki Ando as well, who announced recently that she was planning to skate again competitively.

Ando did not receive any GP assignments, and is still without a coach, so her bid for a third trip to the Olympics still looks like a longshot at this point.

Murakami is booked for the Cup of China (Nov. 1-3) in Beijing and the Cup of Russia (Nov. 22-24) in Moscow. Murakami will take on 2013 world silver medalist Carolina Kostner of Italy in both events.

Satoko Miyahara is lined up for the NHK Trophy and Cup of Russia, while Haruka Imai’s lone GP assignment is the Cup of Russia.

American Mirai Nagasu, who finished fourth at the 2010 Olympics, is on the roster for the NHK Trophy and Cup of Russia, after receiving only one GP assignment last season.

On the men’s side, 2010 world champion Daisuke Takahashi is slated to compete at Skate America and the NHK Trophy. Takahashi will challenge 2010 Olympic gold medalist Evan Lysacek in Detroit and three-time U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott in Tokyo.

Yuzuru Hanyu, the defending national champion, is set for Skate Canada and the Trophee Bompard. Hanyu will meet three-time defending world champion Patrick Chan in both of his GP assignments.

Takahiko Kozuka, the 2011 world silver medalist, will pull on the boots at Skate America and the Cup of China. Kozuka will battle 2011 European champion Florent Amodio of France in Beijing.

Veteran Nobunari Oda is down for Skate Canada and the NHK Trophy, while Tatsuki Machida, who won the Cup of China last season, will feature at Skate America and the Cup of Russia.

Takahito Mura, who won the Trophee Bompard last season, is slotted in for Skate Canada and the NHK Trophy.

Narumi Takahashi and Ryuichi Kihara are entered in pairs in the Cup of Russia and likely the NHK Trophy. Takahashi and Kihara will face formidable foes in four-time world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany.

The development of Takahashi and Kihara will be crucial to Japan’s medal hopes in the team competition that will debut in Sochi ahead of the other four disciplines.

Takahashi sat out last season following shoulder surgery, and was forced to find a new partner after she split with Canada’s Mervin Tran, who would not have been able to compete for Japan in the Olympics.

Cathy and Chris Reed will represent Japan in ice dance at Skate America and presumably the NHK Trophy. The Reeds will be up against two-time world champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the U.S. in Detroit.

New programs revealed: Mao announced at a news conference last week in Osaka that she will use Chopin’s “Nocturne” for the short program and Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto No. 2″ for her free skate during the upcoming season.

Lori Nichol choreographed the short program for Mao, while former coach Tatiana Tarasova did the same for the free skate.