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Grand Prix heads to Japan

Miki Ando.
Miki Ando. (Getty Images)

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By Jack Gallagher, special to icenetwork.com
(11/28/2007) - Reigning world champion Miki Ando will continue her quest to book a trip to next month's Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy, when she skates Friday night in the short program at the NHK Trophy, the last of this season's six Grand Prix events.

There is a certain irony in Ando's goal to take another journey to Turin. She suffered the greatest disappointment of her career there when she finished 15th at the 2006 Olympic Games, under the pressure of heavy expectations back home.

The 19-year-old Ando rebounded from that setback to capture the world championship in Tokyo last March.

Compatriots Mao Asada, winner at both Skate Canada and the Trophee Eric Bompard Cachemire, and Yukari Nakano, who placed second at Skate Canada and the Cup of Russia, have already secured spots in the GP Final.

Ando, who was second to American Kimmie Meissnerat last month's Skate America, should clinch a berth in the GP Final with a top-three finish this weekend. The top six skaters in this season's final Grand Prix standings qualify for Turin.

Bothered by an injury to her right shoulder suffered during practice before last month's U.S.-Japan International Counter Match, Ando returned to Japan for treatment earlier this month. Coach Nikolai Morozov, who traveled to Nagoya last week and worked with Ando in practice, said she is recovered from the ailment and back in top form.

"She is 100 percent and ready to go," said Morozov. "She is looking good in practice. I am very confident she will make the Grand Prix Final."

The top challengers to Ando here are Italy's Carolina Kostner, and Switzerland's Sarah Meier. Alissa Czisny is the lone American entered in the ladies singles.

Daisuke Takahashi, the silver medalist at last season's world championships, leads the host nation's men's singles contingent, which also includes Kensuke Nakaniwa and Yasuharu Nanri.

Takahashi, who won Skate America with a fine performance, would have to be considered a solid bet to win the world title next March in Sweden.

Takahashi's competition will include Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic, who finished fourth at the worlds, and last season's world junior champion Stephen Carriere of the U.S. European champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, who won Skate Canada, and Canada's Jessica Dube and Bryce Davison, who took top honors at Skate America, lead the pairs entries. Both have already qualified for the GP Final.

Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker of the U.S., last season's world junior champions, who finished second in the Cup of China, will also vie for the pairs title.

France's Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder, who won the Trophee Bompard and are the reigning European champions, are the top team entered in the ice dance competition.

Americans Kimberly Navarro and Brent Bommentre, who finished fourth in the U.S. nationals last season, are the only Americans entered in ice dance.

Ice dancers Cathy and Chris Reed, Japanese-Americans born in the U.S., but who have chosen to skate for Japan via their dual citizenship, are also scheduled to compete.

The NHK Trophy gets underway with the compulsories in ice dancing on Thursday evening.