Mao looking for spot in Grand Prix Final

Kyodo

Mao Asada will look to nail down a spot in next month’s Grand Prix Final at what will be her last appearance at the NHK Trophy starting Friday.

Asada, who is set to call it a career after the Sochi Olympics, won the Skate America last month to launch her season, and another trip to the podium here should secure her a top-six finish in the Grand Prix standings, qualifying for the Dec. 5-8 Final in Fukuoka.

“I’ll take it one day at a time, first the shorts then the free,” Asada said on the eve of the start of the competition, which she has won three times.

“In both programs, the triple axel will be important. Hopefully, my performance here will get me going for the rest of the season.”

The 23-year-old was sharp in practice Thursday morning, landing a series of triple axels to underline her impressive, present form.

By winning Skate America, Asada completed a career sweep of the seven Grand Prix events including the Final, despite falling on her opening triple axel in the free program. Her final score of 204.55 points was her third highest ever.

At the NHK Trophy though, Asada will seek perfection.

“This season, I want to improve my performance every time I step out on the rink,” she said. “I did OK in the shorts at Skate America, but I feel like I can do better.”

“At Skate America, because I missed my first triple axel in the free, I probably wasn’t as aggressive as I should have been and I’ll try to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

Asada spearheads a field including countrywomen Akiko Suzuki and 15-year-old Satoko Miyahara, who will make her debut on the senior circuit.

Americans Gracie Gold and Mirai Nagasu are also in the mix, as well as 14-year-old Russian sensation Elena Radionova, who was third to Asada at Skate America.

On the men’s side, the Japanese trio of former world champion Daisuke Takahashi, Nobunari Oda and Takahito Mura will continue to slug it out in what is shaping up to be a close competition for places at Sochi.

Takahashi was fourth at Skate America, and admitted he needs to regain his confidence at the NHK Trophy if he wants to qualify for the Final and make the Sochi team.

“I just didn’t have the confidence and I wasn’t happy with my performance,” Takahashi said. “I need to get my confidence back here. It might not be easy, but I’m out to win the competition.”

“And I can say I haven’t felt better all season. Tomorrow, I just need to be aggressive.”

Joining the three Japanese are European champion Javier Fernandez of Spain and the U.S. trio of Adam Rippon, Jeremy Abbott and Max Aaron.