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Ando comes unglued, Kostner wins

NHK Trophy gold-medalist, Carolina Kostner.
NHK Trophy gold-medalist, Carolina Kostner. (Getty Images)

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By Jack Gallagher, special to icenetwork.com
(12/01/2007) - Despite making several mistakes in her free skate, Italy's Carolina Kostner won the NHK Trophy on Saturday night, and secured a spot in the Grand Prix Final with the victory.

Taking the ice after a disastrous outing by world champion Miki Ando, Kostner knew triumph and a trip to Turin later this month were within her grasp, as long as she avoided a major meltdown.

Skating to "Dumsky Trio," Kostner doubled two planned triple jumps, lost her balance on a change foot spin, and singled her planned closing double Axel, but still emerged victorious.

"I'm very happy and satisfied (with the victory)," Kostner said. "I was pleased with my steps and spins. I need to work some more on my jumps, and be more calm and consistent."

With a trip to the GP Final hers for the taking, Ando let it slip away in a calamitous showing and finished fourth.

Trailing Kostner by less than a point after the short program, Ando appeared well positioned to take the title, but came unglued in her free skate.

Ando fell on her planned triple Lutz-triple loop opening combination jump, touched down on a triple flip, then fell again on a triple Lutz. She topped it all off by botching a triple combination jump.

So poor was Ando's performance this night, where she lacked both the speed and confidence of an elite skater, that she was not even the top Japanese finisher. That honor went to the unheralded Nana Takeda, who finished third.

Perhaps partly responsible for Ando's result was the puncture wound she suffered to her right leg during warmups from her own skate.

Kostner's winning total was 164.69, with Switzerland's Sarah Meier (163.17) taking second. Takeda's tally was 154.83.

Ando (145.81) narrowly edged Finland's Laura Lepisto (145.58) for fourth.

Joining Kostner at the GP Final will be American teen Carolyn Zhang, who directly benefited from Ando's dismal effort.

"I was anxious and nervous and it showed in my performance," said Ando, who to her credit, refused to use the injury as an excuse. "It definitely hurt, though."

"I was questioning myself during the summer on why I was doing all of these competitions and practice," a clearly conflicted Ando said afterward. "It is not that I want to quit, but my body and my mind are not in unison.

"I won't be going to the GP Final, but I hope to regroup and skate well at nationals."

American Alissa Czisny, looking sharp in a burgundy outfit, singled a planned triple flip and fell on her combination jump, but had executed a nice flying sit spin and a beautiful layback spin to finish sixth at 144.32.

"I was not as good as yesterday and not as bad as China," said Czisny. "I rushed the jump."

Canada's Lesley Hawker (139.96) stumbled on a triple toe loop, did only two of a planned triple combo jump, fell on a triple Lutz and placed seventh.

"I kept fighting until the end today," said Hawker. "I dropped my right side on the Lutz. That is usually a great jump for me."

Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic won the men's short program, edging defending champion Daisuke Takahashi by a narrow margin.

Verner, who was fourth at last season's world championships, performed to "Melodie en Crepuscule" and was solid all the way through. He notched a total of 78.15 in the victory.

"I feel great," said Verner. "I'm thankful I could show the audience how much I enjoy skating. Tomorrow is another day, so we will see how it goes." Takahashi, who won Skate America, touched down on the landing of his triple Axel and went off balance in his finishing combination spin, and received a score of 77.89.

Skating to the hip-hop version of "Swan Lake," Takahashi excelled in his circular and straight line step sequences and is in easy striking distance of Verner heading into Sunday's free skate.

"It was unfortunate that I made a mistake on the triple Axel," Takahashi said. "I was happy the audience cheered during my step sequence."

Despite the mistakes, Takahashi retained an optimistic outlook: "I'm thinking about winning. I have confidence in myself."

World junior champion Stephen Carriere (67.85) of the U.S. was third with a season's best effort. His lone miscue came on the landing of his triple Axel.

"I was a little hesitant out there today," Carriere said. "It could have been better. I was too windy on the lutz, I could feel it. I made a good save on that one."

Canada's Vaughn Chipeur, who stumbled on his opening triple Axel and had a shaky landing on the first part of his triple flip-triple toe loop combination jump, was 10th.

"I got a little ahead of myself on the rotation in the axel," Chipeur said. "On the combo jump it is always better to make the first one a little longer. That makes the second one a little easier."

Canada's Shawn Sawyer skated well to "Another Brick in the Wall" and was ninth at 62.85. He two-footed the landing on his triple Axel, but had a beautiful, self-described "split-stop" maneuver later that wowed the crowd.

"I sometimes two-foot my landing on the Axel when I am under stress," Sawyer noted. "I have change my Axel since the last Grand Prix event."

American Jeremy Abbott fell on a quadruple toe loop, in his planned opening combo jump and singled a triple loop later, but still finished with a season's best score of 58.27. He came in 12th.

"I felt decent out there," said Abbott. "It has not been going well this week. I wanted to put the quad in because I had nothing to lose.

"I had a slight loss of focus on the triple loop," added Abbott. "I still have lots of work to do."

France's Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder captured the ice dancing title. The duo skated to "The Piano" and were strong if not spectacular with a tally of 197.54.

"We are very happy with this competition," Schoenfelder said. "The audience was good and we were glad to show them this new (free dance) program."

Canada's Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue (196.89) delivered an inspiring performance to "Umbrellas of Cherbourg" and missed out on winning by less than one point.

"We thought we skated as well as we could," said Moir. "It was definitely better than we did at Skate Canada (where they won). We are excited to qualify for the Grand Prix Final."

Russia's Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski (186.96) were third.

Americans Kimberly Navarro and Brent Bommentre (156.08) of the U.S. were sixth.

"We felt more comfortable with our program here than at Skate America," said Navarro. "The nationals are still our main focus."

"I feel strongly about our preparations and where we can take them," said Bommentre.