Resurgent Ando captures second Grand Prix title


NAGANO — Miki Ando continued her resurgence by capturing her second Grand Prix title of the season on Saturday night at Big Hat.

Ando, who went three years without a GP victory, has now won two in the past 15 days. Her win here assured her of a spot in next month’s Grand Prix Final in Tokyo and appears certain to make her a lock for a spot on Japan’s team for next year’s Vancouver Olympics.

Looking stunning in a blue and gold sequined outfit and skating to “Cleopatra,” the 2007 world champion stumbled on the landing of her opening triple lutz, and fell near the end of her free skate, but displayed technical skill and grace in securing the crown with a score of 162.55.

Russia’s Alena Leonova, who was fifth in the short, vaulted into second place with a strong long program, to finish with 160.85.

American Ashley Wagner, the leader after the short program, was third on 155.99.

Ando, who was second in the short program, received high marks for her spiral sequence and spins.

“After yesterday I wanted to relax a little more and enjoy today’s program,” said Ando. “I wanted to tell the story of Cleopatra through my free skate and was pleased I was able to do that.”

Despite the victory, Ando is still focusing on how she can get better.

“It’s the Olympic season and I want to improve my jumps. I’m doing quads in practice, but they are not ready for competition.”

With Nobunari Oda having already grabbed two GP titles this season, Ando’s success marked the fourth straight weekend that one of Nikolai Morozov’s skaters has won a GP singles event.

Yukari Nakano, third in the short, was downgraded on two of her triple jumps and finished fourth.

France’s Brian Joubert claimed the men’s title, beating American Johnny Weir by a 15-point margin (232.70 to 217.70).

Performing to “Ancient Land” by Ronan Hardiman, Joubert opened with a quadruple toe loop, and despite tripling a planned quad salchow and quad toe loop, and touching the ice on the landing of a triple axel, skated consistently enough the remainder of his program to post an easy victory.

Joubert, who was a disappointing fourth on home ice at the Trophee Bompard in Paris last month, said he was out to prove a point.

“I wanted to show that I am not just a jumper but a figure skater,” he said. “My goal in the free skate was to do three quads, but I also wanted to show that I can do choreography and good steps. I wanted to show a different Brian Joubert.

“Two weeks ago I was not able to start the free program without a mistake, so that is why I didn’t have a lot of confidence. I love to do quads, but I really want to improve the overall skating. I still want to do three quads in the program, and if I can do that with good skating, it would be perfect.”

Weir, who was third in the short program, moved up to second after landing five triple jumps early in his routine, to narrowly edge out Michal Brezina of the Czech Republic, who came in third.

Brezina, the world junior silver medalist last season, was nearly flawless skating to “An American in Paris” and made the podium in his senior GP debut with a tally of 217.48.

Weir’s compatriot Jeremy Abbott, second heading into the free skate, had a calamitous outing and tumbled to fifth. Abbott, the Grand Prix Final champion last season, fell on his opening quad toe loop, again on his next jump — a triple flip — and a third time on a triple axel.

It was a poor showing for Abbott, who appeared in contention for victory here.

Daisuke Takahashi, fourth in the short program, stumbled on his opening quad toe loop, then fell twice and was unable to improve his overall position.

Takahashi, skating in his first major event in 18 months following major knee surgery, became fatigued as his program wore on.

“I need more practice to improve my stamina,” he noted. “I was a bit tired and nervous. My mental toughness was low.”

Takahiko Kozuka, who was second behind Evgeni Plushenko at the Rostelcom Cup in Moscow two weeks ago, fell on his quad toe loop and a triple axel and saw his chances of making the GP Final vanish after coming in seventh.

Kozuka, who took second place at last season’s GP Final, said his result was a mystery to him.

“My condition was good but my performance was not. I don’t know why I made so many mistakes.”

China’s Qing Pang and Jian Tong took the free skate to triumph in the pairs. The duo prevailed with a strong margin of more than six points over Russia’s Yuko Kawaguchi and Alexander Smirnov.

Kawaguchi fell on their opening throw quad salchow and hit her face on the ice. The referee allowed a three-minute injury timeout and they were able to complete their program.

Rena Inoue and John Baldwin of the U.S. finished third.

Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the U.S. retained their lead in ice dance after the original dance, while Britain’s Sinead and John Kerr held on to second place.