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Ando Surprises The Field by Winning Skate America Goldby Troy Schwindt
Photo by Michelle Harvath
(10/28/06) - What a difference a year has made for Japan's Miki Ando, who on Saturday night resurrected a struggling career with a dazzling and personal-best performance at Skate America in Hartford, Conn.
The 18-year-old from Nagoya City combined personal-best scores in her short program and free skate to win the gold medal against competition that featured arguably the two best skaters in the world today – country mate Mao Asada and World champion Kimmie Meissner.
Asada, who led after the short program, failed on her opening triple Axel attempt and faded back to third place overall (fourth in the free skate), while Meissner turned in an exhilarating program and jumped from third after the short program to second place.
Ando battled injuries last year and struggled with her jumps. She placed sixth at her national competition and 15th at the Olympic Winter Games. In the last few months, she has switched coaches and appears to have worked out her demons of the past.
“Last year I had a lot of injuries and some problems with training,” said Ando, who scored 192.59 points. Her previous best was 172.30. “I didn't have the image or the attitude that I was part of the Japanese team. This year, that attitude is very strong, and that's why I was able to perform well tonight.”
Ando, who was the Japanese champion in 2004-05, said she doesn't feel like she's being compared to Asada.
“I just want to skate for me, not compared to others and their different levels.”
Meissner, who turned 17 earlier this month, recorded a nearly flawless free skate and finished with a score of 177.78. She nailed six triple jumps, including an opening triple Lutz-triple toe combination. She didn't attempt a triple Axel.
“I feel awesome,” Meissner said. “It feels so good because it's been such a rivalry in the media between me and the Japanese skaters. I admit it feels good to be on top right now.”
Meissner said she doesn't feel there is a rivalry at all.
“I really love all the Japanese skaters,” she said. “They are so nice and so much fun to be around because they are so energetic and very happy all the time.”
Meissner said executing her difficult opening element set the tone for the rest of her program to the music of Galicie Flamenco.
“I didn't even feel the effects of the long program until the last thing, and I was so excited about that,” Meissner said. “The adrenalin was just pumping and the crowd was so great. They were very into it. There were a lot of signs that really pumped me up.”
American Emily Hughes, 17, ran into some bad luck early in her program as she received no credit for a planned triple flip-double loop. She settled for a fifth place overall finish.
“Going out there I felt a lot of confidence and my double Axel (opening element) felt amazing,” said Hughes, who finished seventh at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games and eighth at the World Championships. “I kind of tripped a bit on the flip and I came back but it wasn't the same.
Photo by Paul Harvath
Next time for Hughes will be later next month at Cup of China.
Her teammate, Katy Taylor, experienced more woes with her free skate, falling twice and finishing last out of the 11 competitors.
The 17-year-old from Houston fell twice and never got into a rhythm. She's been battling equipment problems in recent weeks, which she said has cut into her practice time.
“My jumps are feeling better, but I think that mentally I don't feel prepared,” Taylor said. “And I've had a lot of personal things going on. My boots are fine this time but I couldn't get my mounting right. Actually, the day we were scheduled to leave we figured it, but by then we'd already lost two weeks.”
In her morning practice session, Taylor appeared ready to rectify her poor short program. Her legions of fans were there to support her.
“I felt a lot better this morning, but once the nerves hit you start doubting yourself. It's weird how big a part it plays. I mean you have to be physically fit, but if your mental game isn't strong enough you can't do it.”
Taylor, who will compete next week at Skate Canada, said she plans to find a practice rink tomorrow and try to build some confidence for the rest of the season.
“I thought about not coming, but I knew it would be best to get that experience and face the competition out there, and by nationals hopefully everything will be fixed so it will be that much easier.”
Sarah Meier, 22, of Switzerland, finished fourth.
“I am angry with myself,” she said. “If I only did the double Axel, I would have been third. If, if, if. If Mao had done what she is capable of doing, I would not have been so close. I did a personal best and I should be happy. Now I am angry. Later, I will be happy with that.”