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Ando makes successful return to competition

New mom makes statement with 'My Way;' Kim out of Grand Prix
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Miki Ando began her comeback with a 59.79-point short program at Nebelhorn. -Getty Images

Miki Ando is doing it her way.

In her first competition in 2 1/2 years, the two-time world champion opened her bid for a spot on Japan's Olympic team with a solid short program at the 2013 Nebelhorn Trophy that notched 59.79 points, including near-flawless jumps.

Performing to "My Way," Paul Anka's anthem to individuality popularized in the U.S. by Frank Sinatra, the 25-year-old skater showed good form just six months after giving birth to a daughter.

Ando opened with a triple Lutz-double loop combination, but the loop was judged under-rotated. Her triple loop and double Axel were solid, but she lost points on her spins; two of them gained Level 3, and the third earned Level 2. Her step sequence rated Level 3.

Her score, while far under her personal best of 67.98 points, included a technical elements score (TES) of 30.13, which easily surpassed the minimum TES of 20 required for entry into the Olympics and World Figure Skating Championships. She must also meet a TES minimum score of 36 in her free skate Saturday.

"This morning in practice I was not nervous at all, but when I got into my costume, I suddenly thought, 'Oh my god, it is a competition now," a clearly relieved Ando told English-speaking reporters in the mixed zone.

"During my performance, when the public was clapping, they pushed me to get through the program," she continued. "My coach, Valter Rizzo, told me to concentrate on the elements. He gave me a good feeling."

The 1988 Olympic ice dance champion, Natalia Bestemianova, and her husband, former European champion Igor Bobrin, choreographed Ando's short. Her free skate, which is set to Stravinsky's "Firebird," was choreographed by Lea Ann Miller.

Ando created a media stir in Japan in early July when she announced the birth of her daughter during a television interview. She has chosen not to reveal the identity of the baby's father due to privacy concerns. The baby's name, Himawari, means "sunflower" in Japanese.

"Before the program, I thought of my baby, who I brought with me to Germany," she said. "My mother takes care of her at the moment. [Thinking about her] made my happy.

"I know I have to improve my spins and my emotions [in the program], but the time for training after the birth of my daughter in April was very short. I got back to the ice one month after the birth. At the end of the program, I was happy, but my emotions must become stronger." 

The Italian Rizzo worked with Ando for one week before Nebelhorn, in his hometown of Milan. He previously worked with Ando when he was an assistant to her former coach, Nikoli Morozov, with whom she split in 2011. In Japan, Ando trains with Yuka Monna, one of her childhood coaches. 

"It was a very good first performance after more than two years of not competing," Rizzo said. "We will see what happens tomorrow." 

Ando has added impetus to win the title here. ISU officials told reporters in Oberstdorf that Korea's Olympic champion, Yu-Na Kim, has withdrawn from her two Grand Prix assignments, Skate Canada and Trophée Eric Bompard, due to a foot injury which will keep her off the ice for at least six weeks. If Ando gains the Nebelhorn crown and the 250 ISU rankings points that go with it, she will be one of the top five ladies on the ISU's unofficial substitute list for Grand Prix assignments, and may be invited to Canada or France in lieu of Kim.

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