Ando Wins Gold; Meissner Fourth at World Championshipsby Laura Fawcett
(3/24/07) - For Japan's Mao Asada, the difference between gold and silver might have been a triple toe loop.
The 16-year-old wunderkind reeled off a triple Axel (slightly two-footed) and triple flip-triple loop combination in her free skate Saturday night at the 2007 World Championships. But she also badly two-footed the back end of a double Axel-triple toe loop combination, an error that turned out to be more costly than she probably expected.
Asada lost the World title to Japanese teammate Miki Ando by a mere five-tenths of a point, despite winning the free skate with a technically ambitious program. Asada's short program deficit couldn't overcome Ando's solid, if not spectacular, performance.
Defending World champion Kimmie Meissner had a few small errors to finish third in the free skate but fourth overall behind Korea's Yu-Na Kim. Kim was the short program leader, but two falls in the free skate dropped her down to third.
Meissner's fourth-place finish combined with Emily Hughes' ninth-place finish guaranteed the U.S. ladies three spots in next year's World Championships. Alissa Czisny finished 15th.
A definite shift in the ladies figure skating world could be heard as the final group performed. Once again the top four finishers all attempted triple-triple combinations, and two competitors tried triple Axels. Japan's Yukari Nakano (skating in the penultimate group) fell on her attempt, while Asada stayed upright on hers.
“I told everyone I will win with my perfect free program, and I did it,” Asada said right after she skated (before Ando). “I am very satisfied with my performance. The crowd was very nice. I was very impressed by myself. I love skating at home!”
And well she should. The applause was thunderous for Asada, from the moment she landed the triple Axel until her scores were finalized. She collected a personal best 133.13 points in the free skate and landed six clean triples, including a triple flip-triple loop combination. She now holds the top free skate score under the international judging system, moving ahead of Sasha Cohen, who scored 130.89 at 2003 Skate America. Her program components score of 63.49 points was also the highest of the night.
Ando landed seven triples, some with shaky landings, but her program lacked the wow factor of Asada's.
Nevertheless, the World title is hers.
“Thanks to my family, coach and everybody here I have won the championships,” Ando said. “After the Torino Olympic Winter Games I had such a hard time, but thanks to the “Skaters' Lounge” web site (a Japanese site for figure skating fans), and my new coach (Nikoli Morozov), I came back strong.”
Meissner's program was similar to her performance at the U.S. Championships. She put her hand down on the opening triple Lutz and did not do the combination. The back end of her triple flip-triple toe combination was downgraded, but she landed three more triples and a double Axel-double toe-double loop combination. Her program components scores were actually higher than her technical score, something rarely seen from Meissner. The World champion also had to deal with following Asada on the ice.
“I had to skate right after Mao did awesome,” Meissner said. “It's hard to come out after such a good performance. I tuned out the scores but I couldn't tune out the screaming, so I knew it was really good. I was trying to just take a deep breath myself and calm down. I had to remember, ‘I still had to do my program, because I was kind of excited for her! I had to remember, ‘Oh yeah, I still have to do that.'
Meissner knew it was just an OK performance for her, but it fit right into a long season of ups and downs. She rated her season as about a seven or eight on a scale of 1-10.
“At competitions I'd either do a good short and a shaky long or a shaky short and a good long,” she said. “But this season for me was really about trying out new styles and seeing if they worked for me, because it was the post-Olympic year, so I had time to do this. It could've been better, but I still got the national title, Four Continents [title], I got all sorts of stuff."
Kim looked well on her way to capturing the World title until she fell on two consecutive triple Lutzes about halfway through her program. She then received no credit for a triple Salchow-double combination, since it was scored as a fourth combo.
“I was not at my best condition today, and I missed a few jumps due to the lack of energy,” said Kim, who believed it was her health, not pressure that affected her performance. “My legs felt very heavy today. I felt more pressure going into the second [triple Lutz], and my legs were shaking toward the end.”
Hughes had a rough go of it, falling on a triple flip and having two more triples downgraded. She successfully completed a triple Lutz-double toe-double loop combination, triple toe-double toe and triple Salchow. She finished 13th in the free skate.
“It was tough,” Hughes said. “Falling in the beginning is very unexpected and always tough to come back from, but I'm happy I fought back. You never really prepare for a fall in the beginning because you're not tired and you know you can do the jump, so I just try not to think about it and move on.
After a disappointing short program, Czisny was looking for the motivation to stay on her feet and express her “Sabrina” free skate to the audience. Her second appearance on the Tokyo Metropolitan ice was better than the first, although it didn't match her sparkling performance at the 2007 State Farm U.S. Championships. Olympic champion Brian Boitano spoke with Czisny on the phone and offered advice.
“I talked to Brian Boitano on the phone again, and he told me something that he told me at nationals. He said, ‘Don't go out and sabotage your jumps. Just say, ‘I'm going to do this' and think of that one thing that works on every jump.' And that's what I did.”
Two of Czisny's triples, the flip and the front end of the triple toe-double toe-double toe combination, were downgraded. Coach Julianne Berlin said the problem is something she and Czisny will work on this year.
“[It's] strength. I think under pressure she's a little sluggish in the legs,” Berlin said. “Today I could see they were sluggish even in the choreography, and that's just fatigue, nerves, the short, and just trying to stay focused.
“She works with a performance coach, Stephanie Hanlon, whose done an incredible job with her. Now, I want to work on strength training, getting her stronger. She's so lean. I think that because if the mental's there, she'll have the strength in her body to execute and not get the downgrades. That cost her about 15 points.”