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Ando, Takahashi Rock in Tokyo

Japanese skaters are giving the home crowd plenty to cheer about at the 2009-10 Grand Prix Final being held in Yoyogi National Stadium in Tokyo. Miki Ando and Daisuke Takahashi are in first place in the ladies and men’s disciplines, respectively, after the short program.

Meanwhile the first sets of medals were handed out, giving the home fans more to celebrate as countryman Yuzuru Hanyu took the junior men’s title. Young upstarts Wenjing Sui and Cong Han (CHN) won the junior pairs title (scroll down to see photos).

The Ladies

Going into the Grand Prix Final, Ando wanted to show that she is the real deal. She won two gold medals on the Grand Prix circuit but felt she had not skated her best. “I am pleased to be in the [Grand Prix] Final and will train hard for it,” Ando said after winning NHK Trophy in Japan. “I’m looking forward to the final in Tokyo, so I can show the people in Japan a better performance. I have to make my free skate more competitive.”

In the short program today, Ando scored 66.20 points. She downgraded a planned triple-triple to open her program and isntead went with a triple-Lutz, double-loop combo. "I wanted to do the triple-triple but the first landing of the triple didn't feel right. I changed it to a double and everything was fine after that," she said.

Skating to “Requiem” by Mozart, Ando skated an otherwise solid program to come out on top. Ando is the 2007 World champion and claimed the bronze at last year’s global event.

Reigning World champion Yu-Na Kim had uncharacteristic problems with a few jumps. The second jump of her triple Lutz-triple toe combination was downgraded. She also singled a triple flip. She produced strong spins and a double Axel to earn 65.64 points.

“I had a huge fall on the Lutz prior to the performance. I got a little nervous," Kim said. "I thought my triple-triple was okay, even if I missed my flip the rest of the program was good.”

Russia's Alena Leonova was third with a score of 61.60. "I’m awarding myself a score of ten-plus for this program. This is a nice present for my coach, who celebrates her birthday today,” Leonova said.

Canadian Joannie Rochette of Canada was fourth with 60.94. Japan’s Akiko Suzuki was fifth (57.54) and American Ashley Wagner was sixth (54.26).

The Men

Takahashi, skating in just his fourth competition in almost two years, landed a triple flip-triple toe loop combination en route to a season best score of 89.95. He was one-tenth of a point ahead of reigning World champion Evan Lysacek of the United States who compiled 89.85 points. Japan's Nobunari Oda was third with a score of 87.65.

“I was very nervous during the warm up since I hadn’t competed with the top skaters last season,” Takahashi said. “But in today’s performance, I didn’t think about what my rivals were doing. The performance today wasn’t ideal but I’m in good condition in the final and I feel I’m achieving my ideal performance step by step.”

Lysacek called his program a “good warm-up” and said he has not pulled out all of his tricks yet.
“For the last two seasons, I’ve been trying to break 85. I think the closest I’ve come was 83 and 84,” he said. “To not just break it, but to go up to almost 90 points, is really a great improvement for me, and I think it’s reflected a lot in the components score. I’ve been working so hard technically making these elements so strong, not just execute them.”

Oda was happy with his performance. “I was very nervous because I was the last skater,” he said. “I knew Daisuke and Evan had gotten high marks, but I just tried to focus on what I had to do. I was confident.“

American Johnny Weir was fourth (84.60), and his teammate, Jeremy Abbott (the defending Grand Prix Final champion) was fifth (76.65). Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic placed sixth (70.17 points).

The Junior Men

Earlier today, Hanyu (JPN) was golden with a stellar showing in the junior men’s division. Hanyu hit a triple Axel and six othertriples including a triple Salchow-triple toe loop combination in the last minute of his routine to “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.”

The 14-year-old posted a season best 136.92 points and accumulated 206.77 overall to move up from third to first place. “I didn’t expect that I could win,” Hanyu said. “My jumps were not good coming into the competition, but what’s important is doing them in competition. I only thought about completing each element as I went along."

Overnight leader Nan Song (CHN) skated to the silver medal with a solid performance that included two triple Axels. He scored 133.29 points for the free skate, which was a season best, and overall had 204.99 points.

Ross Miner (USA) clinched the bronze medal with six clean triples (196.09 points). All three medalists competed in their first Junior Grand Prix Final.

Junior Pairs

Newcomers Sui and Han skated off with the gold medal in their first Junior Grand Prix season, overtaking more experienced competitors. The 14- and 17-year-old skaters turned in a cute Charlie Chaplin program that was highlighted by a big triple twist, a throw triple Salchow and a double Axel-double Axel sequence. The young Chinese team picked up 103.65 points for this routine and totaled 160.45 points.

“We are deeply moved. It is our first time in the final, and we wouldn't have dreamed about achieving such a good result and promise to give our best in the future as well,” Han said. “From our point of view the, performance today was okay, but we could have performed better.”

To the delight of the home crowd, the silver medal went to Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran (JPN), who are only the second pair from Japan to have medaled in the Junior Grand Prix. They produced a throw triple toe and difficult lifts to score 91.36 points and overall had 145.80.

Yue Zhang and Lei Wang (CHN) rounded up an all-Asian podium with their bronze medal. They landed three triple throws and moved up from fifth to third at 137.19 points overall.

In the Money

The seniors skaters are shooting for a big paydays in Tokyo. Skaters will earn the following:

1st place USD $25,000
2nd place USD $18,000
3rd place USD $12,000
4th place USD $6,000
5th place USD $4,000
6th place USD $3,000

Hanyu pocketed $6,000 (U.S.) for his big win; Song netted $5,000; and Miner $4,000. The fourth-, fifth- and sixth-place finishers took home $3,000, $2,000 and $1,000, respectively. In junior pairs, the winning couple split $9,000 (U.S.) the second place team split $7,500, third place $6,000, fourth place $4,500, fifth place $3,000 and sixth place $1,500.

On Tap

The remainder of the schedule for the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final (junior and senior) is as follows:

Saturday, Dec. 5: Junior Original Dance, Junior Ladies Short Program, Pairs, Ladies, Men Free Skating
Sunday, Dec. 6: Junior Free Dance, Junior Ladies Free Skating, Exhibition Gala