Fumie Suguri clinched a spot for the Winter Olympic Games in Turin after coming from behind to win her fifth title and first in three years at the figure skating national championships Sunday, edging teenage sensation Mao Asada with a solid free skate.
|Fumie Suguri poses to finish her free program performance en route to winning the national figure skating title at Yoyogi Arena. Suguri captured an Olympic berth for the 2006 Turin Winter Games.
Suguri earned the highest mark in the free skate on her way to a winning total of 194.16 points at Yoyogi National Gymnasium and later made the list of skaters bound for Turin along with former world champion Shizuka Arakawa and popular teenager Miki Ando.
Daisuke Takahashi was picked for the Olympic men’s event after winning his first national title on Saturday.
Suguri, second to Arakawa in the women’s short program, staggered when she landed a combination of jumps but otherwise turned in a technically high-quality performance capped by high-speed spins that drew a standing ovation from the packed crowd.
Asada took second with 188.10. She became the first woman to successfully execute a pair of triple axels in a single program.
The 15-year-old, who beat Russian world champion Irina Slutskaya to win the Grand Prix Final a week ago, is ineligible to skate in Turin due to the age limit set by the International Skating Union.
|Daisuke Takahashi celebrates after winning the men’s singles at the National Championships.
Arakawa failed to maintain her lead and settled for third with 187.36, followed by Yoshie Onda (186.06) in fourth and Yukari Nakano (175.66) in fifth.
Two-time defending champion Ando was sixth with 173.36 but will make her first Olympic appearance thanks to the points advantage she accumulated from major competitions in the qualifying process.
It was an impressive comeback for Suguri, who got off to a slow start to the season due to a groin injury.
“It’s a relief that I skated this well. I couldn’t shake off the pains for a long time after suffering the injury in September but now I feel like I managed to make ends meet,” Suguri said.
The 24-year-old won the 2003 Grand Prix Final and the bronze medal at the 2002 and 2003 world championships. She claimed the national title in 1996 and from 2000-2002 while finishing fifth at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.
“I have mixed feelings right now. I’m relieved that I was picked but at the same time I think I need to do a lot more things to improve on my performance,” Suguri said after the Japan Skating Federation announced the selection of skaters for the Olympics in February.
Arakawa, who turns 24 on Thursday, will skate in her second Olympics and first since the 1998 Games in Nagano. She appears to have lost some of the luster that brought her to the 2004 world crown and had two third-place finishes in this year’s Grand Prix series while missing out on a place in the Grand Prix Final.
“Honestly speaking, I’d felt Turin would likely be an Olympics for the generation below us. I need to change that thought now that I’ve made it and I’ll do my best for the support that I’ve got,” she said.
The 18-year-old Ando is known as the first woman to land a quadruple jump and finished fourth and sixth at the previous two world championships. The 2004 world junior champion, however, slumped since finishing second to Slutskaya in the Cup of Russia last month in a tight competition schedule.
“I’m glad that I’m going to the Olympics but I’m disappointed with the result this time at the national championships. I know I have to try much harder before skating in Turin,” Ando said.
For the men’s event, Takahashi was chosen following his win over rival Nobunari Oda after Saturday’s free skate, which was marred by a judging mistake that led to a reversal of the results of the top two finishers.
Takahashi had an anxious wait for about an hour after skating officials first declared Oda the winner and even held a medals ceremony, only to spot judging errors and reverse the results.
Japan Skating Federation officials said Oda was found to have attempted triple jumps beyond the regulated limit in his long program and had 7.40 points deducted from his original total score of 226.10.
The JSF attributed the fiasco to both human and computer programming errors.
Oda settled for second with 218.70 points, followed in third by Kensuke Nakaniwa with 200.62. Veteran Olympic skater Takeshi Honda, who will retire after this season, was fifth with 179.64.
“I wanted to land a quadruple jump but failed. I got pretty nervous because an Olympic berth was at stake,” Takahashi said. “It could have been easier if I had finished first in the short program.”
“I won but I don’t think I can celebrate this outcome wholeheartedly, and I wanted the ceremony for me to be held with the crowd watching,” Takahashi said after receiving a medal late at night while standing alone on the podium.
Takahashi attempted a quadruple toe loop but landed it on both feet. But he continued to skate aggressively and lively throughout his program, finding his rhythm with his trademark elegant steps.
The 19-year-old Takahashi won the 2002 world junior title and burst onto the international scene with a surprise victory at Skate America, the opening leg of this year’s Grand Prix series, in late October. He finished third in the Grand Prix Final earlier this month.
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