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Japan Goes for Gold at the Torino Winter Olympics (February 6, 2006)

Japan's three representatives in the women's figure skating (left: Suguri; center: Ando; right: Arakawa) (Jiji)
The twentieth Winter Olympics get underway on February 10 in Torino, Italy. At this winter sports festival, athletes will battle against each other in 84 events in seven types of sports over 17 days. As the world's eyes and ears turn to this grand stage, hopes are high for Japan's athletes. This is particularly true in women's figure skating, where a number of Japanese competitors have captured the public's imagination over the past few years. Here we present a guide to some of the Japanese competitors to look out for.

Graceful and Dramatic
It is fair to say that the women's figure skating is the most eagerly anticipated Olympic event among Japanese sports fans. There is much interest surrounding the three skaters who emerged from the close-fought competition to represent Japan: Ando Miki, Arakawa Shizuka, and Suguri Fumie. This trio is so formidable that many commentators believe Japan has a realistic chance of claiming its first-ever women's figure skating gold medal.

Ando's place in the Olympics looked very precarious at one point. Injury ridden with a broken right toe, she finished sixth in the national championships but earned a spot by virtue of her accumulated points total. Ando first shot to fame at the junior grand prix finals when she was a third-year middle school student, where she landed a quadruple jump. She is known for her high jumps and crisp movement. She could be a genuine medal contender, particularly if she is able to land a quadruple.

Arakawa boasts a stellar track record that includes winning the World Championships in March 2004 and competing in the 1998 Nagano Olympics as a first-year high school student. Though she struggled for a time after becoming world champion, she has found a new lease of life following a coaching change. Arakawa has a flair for the dramatic that showcases all of her 166 centimeters. Her strengths are her fluid skating and her trademark "Ina Bauer," a glide performed with an arched back. In terms of the grace and femininity of her performance, she is in a class of her own.

Suguri is one year senior to Arakawa at Waseda University. She finished fifth in the Salt Lake City Olympics, for which Arakawa failed to earn a berth. Her past success includes consecutive bronze medals in the World Championships. Suguri charms fans with her graceful spirals, fast spins, and expressive performances. She got off to a slow start in 2005 due to a groin injury, but she was able to overcome her troubles thanks to a special training regimen and managed to gain a spot on the Olympic team. Suguri may be the best of the three in terms of rising to the big occasion.

Japan's Alpine Ace
Cross-country skier Natsumi Madoka is another athlete to keep an eye on. She finished twelfth in the sprint competition at the Salt Lake City Olympics, but at the 2005 national championships she won her second consecutive sprint. Her strength is her explosive speed, which is powered by her 170-centimeter frame. The sprint relay is a new event debuting in Torino, and the photogenic Natsumi teamed up with Fukuda Nobuko for this discipline at the December 2005 World Cup, where the duo finished eighth.

Sasaki Akira is Japan's alpine skiing ace. He finished second in the World Cup men's slalom event on January 24, Japan's best-ever showing, so he seems to be hitting form at just the right time for Torino. His wild, unconventional style has made him a fan favorite in Europe. If Sasaki wins a medal, he will be the first Japanese alpine skier to do so in fifty years.

Narita Domu and Imai Mero are famous snowboarding siblings, both of whom have earned a trip to the Olympics. Due to a disagreement over coaching methods, Imai left her father and adopted her mother's maiden name. While both are medal hopefuls, Imai may have a better shot than the inconsistent Narita. If Imai is able to nail her trademark "Mero 720" move (nicknamed the "Mellow Seven"), an original jump that consists of a 1.5-turn horizontal spin and a 2-turn vertical spin, a gold medal may be hers for the taking.

With so many events to follow, February is shaping up to be a busy month for Japanese sports fans.

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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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