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Takeda's star is on the rise

Nana Takeda at the NHK Trophy.
Nana Takeda at the NHK Trophy. (Getty Images)

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By Jack Gallagher, special to icenetwork.com
(12/14/2007) - Basking in the glow of her first medal finish in a Grand Prix event, Nana Takeda emitted the same kind of unbridled joy she does on the ice.

The day after her third-place showing at the NHK Trophy in Sendai, the 18-year-old talked about the catalyst for her interest in skating.

"I was five years old and I saw Yuka Sato win the world championship (in 1994) at Makuhari (in Japan) on TV," Takeda said with a bright smile. "The next day I went to the skating rink."

With all eyes on 2007 world champion Miki Ando at the season's last Grand Prix event, Takeda went into the contest as almost an afterthought. But after Ando finished fourth (behind Italy's Carolina Kostner, Switzerland Sarah Meier, and Takeda), and missed out on the Grand Prix Final; Takeda suddenly found herself in the spotlight.

"My goal at Skate Canada was to finish sixth, and I achieved that," she said. "For this event, I was trying to make 55 points for the short program and a total of 150 points, and I did both, so I was very happy."

Takeda, a freshman at Tokyo's Waseda University, sets herself apart on the ice with more than just her skating. She bucks the traditional 'updo' most female skaters sport, and allows her hair to hang down near her shoulders, which means it is often flying through the air as she skates.

"I used to have a pony tail, but ever since I cut my hair, everybody tells me it's better that way," said Takeda, who finished fourth at the World Junior Championships in 2006.

People definitely took notice of her breakout performance in Sendai.

"Nana Takeda was the revelation of this event," noted ESPN figure skating analyst Peter Carruthers, who was a silver medalist in pairs for the United States at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. "She was very solid on the ice."

With Takeda's strong showing at the NHK Trophy, and Ando's bizarre comments after the free skate, where she indicated she may be considering stepping away from competition due to burnout; Takeda now has a chance to be one of Japan's three representatives at the world championships in Sweden this March.

Mao Asada and Yukari Nakano are nearly certain two grab the first two spots, but with Ando's form and motivation in question, Takeda could find herself participating in her first Senior Worlds.

"Everybody is going to try and tune up to be in shape for nationals," Takeda said. "I hope I can perform to my own capacity. I'm not worried about what place I'm going to finish. I just want to do my best.

"I hope my performance may lead to me participating in the Four Continents (in South Korea in February)," the Chiba native added. "I haven't even thought about the worlds."

Like several of Japan's top skaters who train abroad, Takeda, an only child, would welcome the opportunity to improve her skills outside the country.

"I am thinking of training overseas, especially in terms of creating my programs. My base is going to be in Japan, but if there is more of an opportunity for me to train overseas, that is something to think about."

Takeda, a former gymnast who incorporates ballet and jazz dance, along with low oxygen and muscle training into her off-ice workouts, cites jumping as her biggest challenge.

"There are some jumps I am not good at," she said. "Last season I could not do any of them. Even though I fell, I was able to incorporate the jumps into my program, and I made that the challenge. So my accuracy is on the rise. I hoping I can achieve one level up (on jumps)."

Takeda, who admired Russia's Irina Slutskaya while growing up, admitted that the adulation that comes with skating well in front of a partisan crowd in your home country was nearly overwhelming.

"I must say that in front of the Japanese audience...when everybody was cheering for me, and I was able to do exactly what I wanted to do, that was really a thrilling moment for me."

Though she has a long way to go, Takeda is already thinking about life after her competitive days as a skater are over.

"I want to take part in shows and travel around the world. Maybe also do some choreography and be a coach and teach."