Rochette Wins Short Program, But Sawada Charms the Crowd

by Laura Fawcett
Aki Sawada
Photo by Matt Stockman/Getty Images

2007 Four Continents Results, Photos, Video and News

(2/8/07) - There was only one truly happy skater after Thursday's ladies short program at the 2007 Four Continents Championships.

That distinction belonged to the final competitor of the evening, 18-year-old Aki Sawada of Japan, who sits in third place after a less-than-stellar competition at the Colorado Springs World Arena.

Her hair spazzed out in a wild ponytail, Sawada, who finished sixth at the recent Japanese Championships, skated one of the few clean programs in an otherwise forgettable competition.

Even first-place finisher Joannie Rochette of Canada (56.60 points), and second-place Emily Hughes (55.34), although both pleased at their efforts, didn't have the same exuberance. After all, as two of the top-ranked competitors at the event, they both expected to be near the top. Sawada, however, was a surprise to all, including herself.

“This is my first big senior international event, so I was very nervous,” Sawada said. “But because of the cheering of the Japanese team members I was able to skate very well and I'm very happy.”

Sawada (55.13) finished ahead of Americans Alissa Czisny, who is in fourth with 54.64 points, and World champion Kimmie Meissner, who is in sixth with 52.49 points.

With only four points separating first through six, none of the top skaters are out of the game, especially Meissner, whose arsenal of triple-triples could easily leapfrog her to the top.

“My favorite is the long; there's much more that I can do with that,” said Meissner, who added that she and coach Pam Gregory were still not sure if they would include the triple Axel. “It was good today in practice, on my little warm-up. But Pam is the ultimate [decision-maker]. I would like to try it. I've got nothing to lose, but we'll find out.”

Meissner skated first in the penultimate group and opened with a fall on her triple Lutz-triple toe combination. She survived the landing of the triple flip and hit the double Axel, but she also had trouble on her layback spin and received a level one. With nearly all 26 skaters making a mistake, the extra errors made the difference in placement for the 17-year-old.

Rochette wasn't perfect either, as she stumbled out of the front end of her triple flip combination, tacking on the double toe. The Canadian champion lost training time after the Canadian nationals due to illness.

“My health is doing pretty good,” she said. “Coming here we didn't have much time preparing for this. I came here early to get used to the altitude. It was hard to breathe, but it's getting better every day. Despite making a costly mistake on my first jump I was still able to enjoy my performance and do my triple Lutz, which I missed at nationals.”

Joannie Rochette
Photo by Matt Stockman/Getty Images
All three U.S. competitors fell on their opening jumps, and only Hughes managed the combination. She went down on her triple flip but continued to sell the program for all it was worth.

“My goal tonight was to compete for my personal best,” Hughes said. “It didn't happen, but I am already ready to move on. I am looking forward to Saturday to compete and recover from the fall. The fall surprised me, but it was [early] in the program so I took control.”

Czisny fell on her triple flip, but in many ways she's just happy to be here. Scheduled to leave Tuesday, she had two flights cancelled out of Detroit before finally arriving on Wednesday afternoon. Add to that the fact that she is working to stay focused after the pressure and success of the U.S. Championships, and you've got a competitor who took her mistake in stride.

“I just tried to stay in the present and not worry about it,” she said. “I think it was a pretty good performance. The flip wasn't that good, but I fought back and worked it out.

“It was a little difficult to go from nationals to here because of the short time, and I was emotionally tired. I was still high from nationals and began to crash a little bit this week, but went back to training.”

But the surprising star of the night was Sawada, who faced her first press conference with the grace of a veteran, albeit a nervous veteran. One thing to watch out for – before she skates her coach, Mie Hamada, gives her good bop on the forehead.

“When she hit me for the first time at the national novice championships (in 2002), I won,” Sawada smiled. “So since then that is my good luck charm.”