NAGANO – Miki Ando produced a near-flawless free skate to come out of second as she topped overnight leader Mao Asada to win the women’s figure skating national title for the first time in six years on Sunday.
Ando denied Mao a fifth consecutive title, nailing all of her jumps to perfection while dazzling the crowd with her straight line step sequence and foot spin combination for a total of 202.34 points at Nagano Big Hat.
“I was so happy to win,” said Ando. “This was the biggest meet in Japan and the most nerve-racking this season but I didn’t make any big mistakes in either the short or free program so I want to give my performance a passing grade,” she said.
While Mao shrugged off a lackluster Grand Prix season, coming alive with her signature trip axel jump in a performance that was equally dramatic, the 20-year-old Nagoya native fell short of Ando by 8.65 points.
“I’ve gotten over a big hurdle. I thought I might be able to pull it off today. I feel more relieved than excited,” Mao said. “The hard work I’ve been putting in is finally paying off. I’ll keep getting stronger.”
Teenager Kanako Murakami, Japan’s latest 16-year-old sensation to grace the ice, placed third with 187.52.
“I was able to do everything that I rehearsed in practice. I am so happy. I finally was able to relax and perform,” said Murakami.
Mao under-rotated a triple axel but was otherwise error free.
“Mao has a lot of guts. I’m amazed by her. I thought it would definitely take longer for her to get out of her slump but this is a big surprise. I feel there is nothing to worry about with her now. She really did a great job,” said Mao’s coach Nobuo Sato.
Akiko Suzuki, who had also been in contention for a spot in the worlds, came out of seventh but finished just outside the medals in fourth with 175.96 points. Risa Shoji, who is just 14, made a strong showing in fifth place.
After the completion of the women’s event, the Japan Skating Federation announced that Ando, Mao and Murakami will represent the host country at the world championships in Tokyo next March while the men’s squad consists of newly crowned national champion Takahiko Kozuka, Nobunari Oda and Daisuke Takahashi.
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