With the pressure squarely on her slender frame, 19-year-old Mao Asada came through and won the ladies crown at Japan national championships Sunday in Osaka. In the process she earned a spot on Japan’s team heading to the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.
Akiko Suzuki also punched her ticket for Vancouver. She placed second with 195.90 points, just 0.17 of a point ahead of third-place finisher Yukari Nakano.
There will be no Olympic appearance for Nakano. Miki Ando will be Japan’s other ladies competitor in Vancouver. She secured her spot by claiming the silver medal at the 2009-10 Grand Pix Series Final. Ando was fourth at nationals with 185.44 points.
It was Asada’s fourth straight title. First after the short program, Asada roared out of the gates in the free skate by landing a triple Axel. The successful jump gave her the momentum to put down a solid program. She landed four other triples and three double jumps, but several of the latter jumps were downgraded because she under-rotated them. Asada scored 204.62 points for competition.
A solid free skate, which included seven triple jumps, helped Suzuki rally from fourth place after the short program to a podium finish. Her only miscue came when she lost her footing after a triple loop.
Asada and Suzuki will compete in the 2010 Four Continents Championships in Jeonju, North Jeolla Province, from Jan. 27 to 30. News reports indicate Asada's coach Tatiana Tarasova plans to travel to Japan to oversee Asada's training for the event. Tarasova missed Japan's nationals as she was in Russia, which was also holding its championships over the weekend. Asada has been working with one of the famed Russian coaches' assistants.
"I'm the kind of skater who gets better in the second half [of a season]," Asada told the press "I want to have good performances in the Four Continents, and carry that momentum to the Olympics."
Meanwhile it appears Daisuke Takahashi is back to his top form. The 23-year-old told IFS in this past summer that his goal was to win the gold medal at 2010 Olympic Games. "But I want to enjoy skating and enjoy every moment. The Olympics [will be] the biggest event for me, but I want to feel and enjoy skating," he said, then added modeslty, "By the way, I need to qualify to be an Olympic member [of Japan's team] though."
That mission is now accomplished as Takahashi put an exclamation point on his comeback (he missed last season due to injury) by winning the men’s title on Saturday. Although he missed his opening quad attempt, he hit six triples and scored a a total of 261.13 points. It was Takahashi's fourth national title. He won his first title duing the 2005-06 season and then claimed the next two titles before missing the 2008-09 season due to a knee injury, subsequent surgery and lengthy rehab.
Nobunari Oda, who won the crown last season, claimed the silver medal with 244.30 points and Takahiko Kozuka was third with a score of 236.13. Oda had already secured his spot on Japan’s Olympic team with his second-place finish at the Grand Prix Final. Kozuka was assigned the Japanese men's third spot for Vancouver.
Cathy Reed and Chris Reed won the ice dance title (there were just two entries) with 163.37 points.