Mon, Oct 30, 2006 - Page 19 News List

Japanese skaters sweep singles at Skate America

AP , HARTFORD, CONNECTICUT

Miki Ando of Japan performs in the women's free skate program during the Skate America figure skating competition at the Hartford Civic Center in Hartford, Connecticut, on Saturday. Ando won the overall women's competition.

PHOTO: AP

Japan swept the singles titles at Skate America behind a strong effort by Miki Ando, the surprise women's winner.

After the far more heralded Mao Asada had one of the worst performances of her young career, it appeared US world champion Kimmie Meissner might grab the gold after a sensational free skate on Saturday night.

Then Ando went her one better.

Actually, quite a few better, landing 10 jumps in the first 2 1/2 minutes and posting a personal-best 125.85 points for the free skate and 192.59 overall. That outdistanced Meissner and the disappointed Asada in a three-way battle of teenage skaters.

For Ando, it was a sizzling start to the season after a distressing Olympics, where she could barely land a jump and finished 15th. Her nation, which owns the women's Olympic gold thanks to Shizuka Arakawa, completed a dominant showing at the first Grand Prix event when Nobunari Oda took the men's title on Friday night.

Ando fought through right foot injuries and some coaching issues a year ago that combined to ruin her season. Putting that behind her, the 18 year old was determined to start this season strongly.

"I couldn't concentrate that much [last year] even though it was a big season," she said through a translator. "It was not easy for me.

"I wanted to perform this way, that I did tonight, in the Olympics. Last year ... I didn't have the attitude of a member of the Japanese team. This year, the image and attitude is very strong and that's why I skated so well," she said.

Skating to a Mendelssohn concerto, Ando sizzled from the outset. Taking the ice directly after Meissner, Ando nailed seven triple jumps, four in combination. At the end, she struggled to catch her breath.

So did the crowd.

The bubbly Meissner, 17, vowed after a mediocre short program that she always does better in the free skate. That, after all, was how she won worlds in March, and how she almost won here.

Her flamenco routine was punctuated by six triple jumps and some enchanting footwork, not a strength in her previous two years as a senior. She threw kisses to the crowd as she left the ice and tended to a cut finger she got during a catch spin while awaiting her marks.

"In the Grand Prix, it's good to know I am getting better," she said, noting her best previous GP finish was fifth. "The program felt great and the crowd liked it, I think."

The crowd was behind Asada, last year's Grand Prix champion who was too young to compete at worlds and in the Turin Olympics. She mesmerized the audience in the short program, but everything went wrong in her long program.

Her opening triple axel, something few women even practice, turned into a single. She didn't complete a triple jump until 2:31 into the program. Her spins were very slow and other than her smooth and lengthy spirals, the 16-year-old Asada struggled and fell to third place.

Later on Saturday, two-time US champions Rena Inoue and John Baldwin won the pairs crown even though Poland's Dorota and Mariuz Siudek took the free skate.

Inoue and Baldwin failed to land their trademark throw triple axel -- she fell hard on it in the long program -- but had a big enough lead after the short program to capture their first Grand Prix trophy.

Earlier, world championship winners Maxim Staviski and Albena Denkova of Bulgaria overcame a crash, a cut and a bloodied costume to win the ice dancing gold medal.

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