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Three Japanese Female Skaters Compete in the Grand Prix Final (December 22, 2006)

Japanese skaters swept the medals at the NHK trophy (Jiji)
It is the golden age of Japanese women's figure skating. Asada Mao of Chukyo High School won the ladies' division of the NHK Trophy, held from November 30 to December 3, 2006, in Nagano. It was the last event in the International Skating Union's Grand Prix of Figure Skating series leading up to the final. Asada marked a landslide victory with a score of 199.52 points, the highest ever in the ladies' division under the ISU's new judging system. Moreover, Japanese women made a clean sweep of the podium places for the first time in the history of the ISU Grand Prix, with Suguri Fumie coming in second place and Nakano Yukari coming in third.

Off to a Good Start
Asada and Suguri were joined in the final by Ando Miki, the victor of Skate America, the first competition in the series. Only the six athletes who accumulate the highest scores in the six Grand Prix competitions qualify for the final, and Japanese athletes took three of the positions. The Grand Prix series, which was held for the eleventh time in 2006, is a competition that awards prize money to leading finishers. Only the top skaters in the ISU rankings are eligible to compete, and they can enter up to two events in the series. As always, 2006 witnessed a high-level contest among the world’s ice queens.

Japanese skaters turned in fine performances right from the start of the series. Ando Miki won the opening event with a slimmer silhouette and superb skating that belied her recent slump. Suguri Fumie finished in second place at Skate Canada, the next event, and Nakano Yukari and Asada Mai, Mao's older sister, took the second and sixth places at the following Cup of China. Ando entered the series again at theTrophée Eric Bompard, where she was runner-up, and the Cup of Russia saw Onda Yoshie win third place and Sawada Aki of Kyoto Gaidai Nishi High School win fifth place. Alongside seasoned skaters, up-and-coming athletes demonstrated their remarkable growth.

NHK Trophy winner Asada Mao (Jiji)

Asada Qualifies at the Last Minute
The NHK Trophy, the last leg of the series, was an all-or-nothing deal for Asada Mao. At Skate America she took the lead in the short program but fell behind in the free skating and finished in third place, yielding the palm to Ando. Her only hope for entering the final and winning the championship for the second straight year was to prevail at the NHK Trophy.

Asada came out on top in the short program. She gave a stunning performance in the free skating as well, succeeding at the triple axel (three-and-a-half-turn jump), which she was unable to pull off at Skate America. Excitement rang through the stadium as the scores were announced: The element score that evaluates technical points was an astounding 70.18 points, and all five program component scores were in the mid-sevens. "I'm very happy, because I really wanted to go to the final," Asada commented.

The Grand Prix Final in December saw Ando, Asada, and Suguri face off against Cup of China winner Julia Sebestyen of Hungary, Cup of Russia winner Sarah Meier of Switzerland, and Trophée Eric Bompard winner Kim Yu-Na of South Korea. Asada led after the short program but fell in the free program to finish second overall behind South Korea’s Kim. But while the Grand Prix crown may have eluded the country’s skaters this year, Japan continues to be a powerhouse of women's figure skating after Arakawa Shizuka skated to the gold medal at the Torino Olympics.

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Copyright (c) 2006 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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