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Young Japanese Figure Skaters Prepare for Turin 2006 (February 9, 2004)

Suguri Fumie
Suguri Fumie wins the NHK Cup in November 2003. (Jiji)
Japanese female figure skaters are enjoying unprecedented success. At the December 2003 ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final, Suguri Fumie (of the Shin-Yokohama Prince Club) became the first-ever Japanese champion. Arakawa Shizuka (Waseda University) took third place, and Onda Yoshie (Tokaigakuen University) finished fifth. And at the year-ending All-Japan Figure Skating Championships, meanwhile, Ando Miki (Orion Club), a 16-year-old junior skater, bested her older peers to claim her first national title. Japan's skaters are gathering momentum as they gear up for the quest for medals at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin.

Olympic Hopefuls
Japanese women's figure skating has produced such world-class competitors as Ito Midori, silver medalist at the 1992 Albertville Winter Olympics, and 1994 world champion Sato Yuka. Recently, rather than just a single star, a series of Olympic medal hopefuls have emerged. The performance of these young skaters throughout the current season has been symbolic of their rise.

Only the world's top six skaters were eligible to compete at the ICU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final held in Colorado Springs, United States, three of whom were from Japan. Suguri Fumie, 22, who earned consecutive bronze medals at the 2002 and 2003 World Championships, displayed the expressiveness and dramatic flair of an actress in claiming top honors in both the short and free programs to reign as queen of the ice. She was joined on the victors' rostrum by Arakawa Shizuka, whose graceful skating earned her third place. Onda Yoshie, a skilled jumper whose repertoire includes a triple axel (three-and-a-half turn jump), finished fifth, giving the Japanese skaters three out of the world's top five spots.

Two weeks later, at the All-Japan Figure Skating Championships in Nagano City, these three skaters were upset by Ando Miki, a first-year high school prodigy who at the 2002 Junior Grand Prix Final had become the first woman ever to successfully complete a quadruple jump and who subsequently won the 2003 Junior Grand Prix Final. On the final day of the All-Japan Championships, Ando landed a brilliant quadruple Salchow during the free program to surge from second position past Arakawa, the leader after the short program, and claim a come-from-behind victory.

Blossoming Talent
Ota Yukina (Kyoto Daigo Club), 17, a second-year high school student, and second-year middle school student Asada Mai (Grand Prix Tokai Club) finished fifth and sixth respectively in the All-Japan Championships to join Ando as top-performing teenagers. The rise of these young athletes can be attributed to a gifted-and-talented education initiative for children begun by the Japan Skating Federation 12 years ago. Each summer, the federation holds a camp in Nagano Prefecture for close to 100 youths from throughout Japan, from which those displaying exceptional talent are selected, given long-term instructional support, and ultimately developed into top athletes. The seeds sown by this system are now starting to blossom.

This season's biggest event is the World Figure Skating Championships, which will be held from March 22 to 28, 2004, in Dortmund, Germany. Suguri, Arakawa, and Ando will represent Japan. The exquisite skating of these three athletes is sure to captivate fans around the world.

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Suguri Fumie
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Copyright (c) 2004 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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