Former world champion Miki Ando will once again be looking for redemption and Yukari Nakano, the fourth-place finisher at the world championships last March, will be out to raise her profile even higher as the 2008 Grand Prix season gets under way this weekend with Skate America in Everett, Wash.

Ando, who suffered through a disastrous 2007-08 season which saw her withdraw from the worlds in Sweden with a leg injury, will be aiming to regain the form that made her skating’s queen in Tokyo in March 2007.

Nakano, whose controversial placement in Sweden made waves throughout the international skating community, heads into the new campaign hoping she can finally break through and garner her first major international medal.

Ando and Nakano, ranked fifth and sixth, respectively in the world standings, will face a formidable field at Skate America, with the likes of U.S. champion Mirai Nagasu, two-time world bronze medalist Kim Yu Na of South Korea, and 2006 American world champion Kimmie Meissner also putting on the blades for this one.

Ando’s short program this season will be performed to the music of “Memoirs of a Geisha,” while her long program is choreographed to “Giselle.”

Nakano’s short program is the Romance section of “The Gadfly Suite,” while her long program is also to “Giselle.”

Takahiko Kozuka will be Japan’s lone representative on the men’s side at Skate America. Kozuka, the 2006 world junior champion, will be taking on a field that includes Americans Johnny Weir, the world bronze medalist, and Evan Lysacek.

With the unexpected retirements of reigning world champion Jeffrey Buttle of Canada and two-time world gold medalist Stephane Lambiel of Switzerland, the path appears much clearer now for three-time defending national champion Daisuke Takahashi to win his first world title.

Takahashi, who split with coach Nikolai Morozov after last season, will begin his GP season at the Cup of China in Beijing next month.

Nobunari Oda, who has already won two minor events (in Germany and Austria) this season, will skate in just one GP event (the NHK Trophy).

Mao back from Moscow: Defending world champion Mao Asada, who will begin her GP season at the Trophee Bompard next month in Paris, has returned to Japan after training with Hall of Fame Russian coach Tatiana Tarasova in Moscow for 10 days. Reports out of the Russian capital say that Mao has greatly improved her jumps under Tarasova’s tutelage.

In particular, Mao’s triple lutz has been praised by Tarasova. In the past Mao has been criticized for turning her lutz into a “flutz” (an unintended combination of a flip and a lutz).

Murakami update: Daisuke Murakami, who had his entire season disrupted after he was prevented from skating in the Mexico City Junior Grand Prix in September due to a certification dispute between the Japan Skating Federation and International Skating Union, finally took the ice at the South African JGP earlier this month and placed fourth after finishing second in the short program.

Promising juniors: Japan continues to make strong showings during the Junior GP season, with Kanako Murakami and Yukiko Fujisawa finishing 1-2 in the ladies event at last weekend’s John Curry Memorial in Sheffield, England.

Haruki Imai won the ladies title at the JGP in Gomel, Belarus, earlier this month, while Tatsuki Machida and Murakami earned spots on the podium with their respective third-place finishes at last month’s competition in Madrid.

This year’s Junior Grand Prix Final will be held concurrently with the the Senior GP Final in South Korea in December.

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