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Mao faces early test against Kim in Grand Prix opener


Coming off an uneven performance at the Japan Open, Mao Asada will get an early test as she begins her Grand Prix season on Friday at the Trophee Eric Bompard in Paris, where world champion Kim Yu Na will be waiting.

Mao debuted her new free skate in the three-nation team event at Saitama Super Arena just 11 days ago, and fell on her opening triple axel, singled her second triple axel attempt, and botched a planned salchow.

She finished third behind Canada’s Joannie Rochette and Finland’s Laura Lepisto.

It could have been a case of nerves while testing out her new program at the start of the season, but it is pretty clear that she is going to have to get her act together quickly if she doesn’t want to be humiliated by Kim in France.

Mao looked wonderful in her new outfit, and outside of the missed jumps skated with her usual grace, but I have concerns about the dark musical piece (Prelude in C sharp minor by Rachmaninov) she has selected for her free skate. It is clearly not something that is going to put the audience or judges in an upbeat mood.

When going up against the formidable Kim, Mao is going to need every advantage she can get. I’m just not sure this is the right choice for her giving her bright personality.

Kim, meanwhile, will perform her new short program to a medley from James Bond movies.

Kim, who trains with Brian Orser in Toronto, was quoted in South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo as saying she is excited and looking forward to the new campaign.

“I think I’m better prepared now compared to a year ago both physically and technically,” she said.

Despite the disappointment at the Japan Open, Mao was upbeat at a news conference the following day.

“It would be good if I could clear each competition step by step. Last season I tried all kinds of things, and there were times when I failed and times when I succeeded, but this year is the season to bring the things I challenged myself with to fruition.”

Yukari Nakano, who injured her left shoulder when she fell on her opening triple axel at the Japan Open, is also in the lineup for Paris, after finishing fourth behind Mao in Saitama. It is hard to assess where Nakano is with her new long program (The Firebird by Stravinsky), as the mishap clearly affected her performance.

In addition to Kim, Italy’s Carolina Kostner and American Caroline Zhang are also scheduled compete in France.

Sasha Cohen, the 2006 Olympic silver medalist, had planned to make her Grand Prix return in Paris after three seasons on the sidelines, but pulled out last week with an injury to her right calf.

Nobunari Oda will be Japan’s lone male contestant at Bercy Arena.

France’s Brian Joubert, the 2007 world champion, and the Czech Republic’s Tomas Verner, the 2008 European champion, headline the men’s lineup.

Takahashi triumphs: Daisuke Takahashi, the No. 1-ranked skater in the world two seasons ago, made a fine return to competition with his win at the Finlandia Trophy over the weekend after missing all of last season following major knee surgery.

Takahashi captured the warmup event for the GP series with a solid margin over Russia’s Sergei Voronov, who came in second.

Daisuke Murakami, who was fifth after the short program, placed seventh.

Juniors shine again: Junior skaters Kanako Murakami and Yuzuru Hanyu won their second Junior Grand Prix titles of the season at the JGP in Zagreb last weekend.

The 14-year-old Murakami prevailed in commanding fashion again, beating second-place finisher Kate Charbonneau of Canada by more than 18 points.

Hanyu, also 14, won the men’s title by a five-point margin over American Ross Miner.

The victories will install both Murakami and Hanyu as the favorites at the Junior Grand Prix Final to be contested in Tokyo in December.

Meissner’s misery: American Kimmie Meissner, the world champion in 2006, withdrew from the Grand Prix series last week due to a knee injury. The Maryland native had been slated to skate in the NHK Trophy next month.

“After much thought and consideration for what is best for the U.S. team and my career, it is with great regret that I have decided that I must withdraw from my assigned Grand Prix events,” Meissner said.

The knee began bothering Meissner in training earlier this year.

“My knee had become chronically inflamed, swollen and painful,” Meissner said. “After some testing, along with an MRI, I was diagnosed with severe patellar tendinitis and a partial dislocation to my right kneecap.”

Pulling out of the GP series will likely end any hope Meissner had of competing in the 2010 Vancouver Games.