Mao shines at Nagano exhibition


Teenage star figure skater Mao Asada, who will aim to win her first title in her debut at the world championships in March, put on a spectacular display to claim her first victory of the new year at an exhibition meet on Thursday.

News photoMao Asada smiles during her performance with dog Aero at the Japan Super Challenge exhibition at Big Hat ice arena in Nagano on Thursday.

Showing a bounty of expression, Asada collected 99.5 points to win the Japan Super Challenge exhibition held at Big Hat ice arena in her first showcase of 2007.

Asada, who won her first singles title at the figure skating national championships last Friday, skated to the theme from “The Wizard of Oz,” the same program she used to win the world junior championships.

Asada plays heroine Dorothy from the musical fantasy film, skating while carrying her dog Aero, who is supposed to be Dorothy’s beloved companion Toto.

At one point in the performance, Asada handed her dog to her older sister Mai and executed a triple axle, drawing a huge round of applause from the crowd.

“I was really nervous. Aero also got really dizzy but this will be a memorable first experience,” said Asada, who has booked her ticket as one of the top favorites at the world championships from March 20-24 at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.

According to sources close to the skater, Asada is scheduled to travel to the United States in mid-January for training.

Russian Irina Slutskaya, third behind Japanese gold medalist Shizuka Arakawa at the Turin Winter Olympics last February, also took part in the exhibition but said she won’t compete at the worlds.

American Sasha Cohen, who took silver at the Turin Games, has also said she will sit out the worlds.