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Asada, Takahashi confident for worlds

Japan buzzing over top skaters

Mao Asada.
Mao Asada. (Getty Images)

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By Jack Gallagher, special to icenetwork.com
(02/23/2008) - Following their recent victories at the Four Continents Championships in South Korea, both Mao Asada and Daisuke Takahashi expressed confidence about their prospects at next month's 2008 World Championships in Sweden.

Asada and Takahashi, both silver medalists at last year's worlds in Tokyo, have posted identical results this season -- two Grand Prix wins, titles at nationals, plus the top place on the podium at Four Continents.

The only blemish on both Asada and Takahashi's record this season came in the Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy, where they finished second. South Korea's Yu-Na Kim beat Asada, while Switzerland's Stéphane Lambiel bested Takahashi.

Japanese commentators were buzzing about the duel victories at the Four Continents, referring to it as an "avec yusho." The word "avec" means dual, while "yusho" is championship.

The term gained popularity back during the heyday of baseball's Tokyo Giants in the 1960's. Whenever star players Sadaharu Oh and Shigeo Nagashima homered in the same game, it was referred to as "avec."

"I was really happy to land the triple Axel. The enthusiasm of the crowd was so intense that it really motivated me," said Asada, who looked stunning in a lavender outfit, following her victory. "I want to build on this and take the momentum into the worlds."

The 17-year-old Asada, who narrowly missed winning the world title last year to compatriot Miki Ando, landed six triple jumps and beat Ando, who finished third.

Ando recently announced she will have surgery on her right shoulder following the season.

Takahashi blew away his competition, winning by a staggering 30 points (264.41 to 234.02) over Canada's Jeffrey Buttle.

Takahashi, who landed two quads during his free skate, also commented on the pulse of the crowd following his dominating performance.

"The fans were really enthusiastic," he noted. "That really spurred me on when I got tired."

With Asada and Takahashi clearly at the top of their games, and South Korea's Kim ailing with a hip injury (she withdrew from the Four Continents), the stage seems to be set for some historic results for Japan in Sweden.

In fact, the trio of Asada, Ando and Yukari Nakano has a legitimate shot at sweeping the medals on the women's side. This prospect has Japanese skating fans eagerly anticipating worlds.

There is a high sense of pride here whenever a Japanese athlete excels on the international stage, be it in baseball, soccer or skating. One can only imagine the reception the skaters, who always pull in huge ratings on television, will receive if the aforementioned happens.

Miki Madness: Despite her consistently inconsistent performances, reigning world champion Miki Ando remains a popular figure in Japan. The nation has a fascination with those who do something notable at a young age, and when Ando, who is nicknamed "Mikitty" by the media, became the first female to land a quadruple (Salchow) in competition at the 2002 Junior GP Final, they had a new favorite.

The Miki fever reached a new level a couple of years later, when she was voted by Japanese men as the person they would most like to receive a Valentine present from in a survey done by a confectionery company.

In Japan, it is tradition for women to give their sweetheart a gift on Valentine's Day, while the men reciprocate one month later on "White Day."

Just to show that some things never change, when Miki wore a pair of black leather hot pants during her exhibition performance at Four Continents, the Mainichi Daily News website ran a photo pictorial of her outfit.

Sure enough, it was the second most popular story on the site the day it debuted.

Nagano Redux: With this month marking the 10th anniversary of the Nagano Winter Games, two special shows will be held at the Big Hat Arena, on March 1 and 2, to commemorate the event.

Shizuka Arakawa, the 2006 gold medalist in Turin, is one of the scheduled performers. She finished 13th in Nagano as a 16-year-old high school student.

Takeshi Honda, who was fourth at the 2002 Salt Lake Games, will also skate. He placed 15th in Nagano, also at the age of 16.

Arakawa and Honda will be joined by Russian ice dance gold medalists Oksana Grishuk and Evgeni Platov (who successfully defended their title from Lillehammer in Nagano), and Russian pairs gold medalists Oksana Kazakova and Artur Dmitiev.

Ice Queen: Shizuka Arakawa has a new honor to add to her resume. She was named the inaugural "Best of Ms. Cool 2007" by the Absolut Icebar Tokyo. The bar, located in the Nishi-azabu area of the capital, is comprised of chairs, tables, art and glasses all made of ice and room temperature is 25 degrees.

Arakawa was selected for the honor for her "intellect and beauty," and awarded a "Medal of Ice" by the organizers of the event.