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Ando defeats Asada to win Four Continents title

Nagasu skates clean free to overtake Flatt for bronze

Miki Ando won the gold medal in Taipei with 5.04 points to spare.
Miki Ando won the gold medal in Taipei with 5.04 points to spare. (Getty Images)

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By Alexandra Stevenson and Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(02/20/2011) - Japanese skaters dominated the ladies event, which brought the Four Continents Championships to a close on Sunday.

Miki Ando, who won Friday's short program with a brilliant showing despite complaining of dizziness, gave another masterful performance to win the free skate and her first Four Continents title with 201.34 points, defeating world champion Mao Asada by 5.04 points.

Mirai Nagasu skated her cleanest free of the season to take bronze.

"I did this event only once before, when I got bronze (2008)," Ando said.

"I felt much better today [than on Saturday] but I was really tired. I skated pretty well but my legs were shaking. I skated better at Japanese nationals [in December]. I had more speed there."

Ando's performance was a vindication. Although she was the 2007 world champion, she has been overshadowed by the younger Asada since then. But in Taipei City, every move was crafted to perfection.

There were none of the jump under-rotations that hurt her rivals, especially since Ando did not attempt any of the triple-triple combinations she was known for earlier in her career. Her jumps -- including a triple Lutz-double loop combination and double Axel-triple toe -- were crisp and clean, with five done in the second half of her free. In another strategic move, she did not include a triple flip, because she uses an incorrect take-off edge.

Ando -- who won her only world title in Tokyo -- talked about performing under the media glare in Japan next month.

"I don't feel nervous," she said. "I just won Four Continents and I feel relaxed. I don't have any injury right now and I feel much calmer. I also think that I became a better skater than I was in 2007. I just want to try my best again in Tokyo and hopefully I'll win a medal."

Ando dethroned defending champion Asada even though the 20-year-old soared successfully through a triple Axel.

For this move alone, Asada banked 9.79 points. But she was saddled with a wrong takeoff call on her triple Lutz, and two of her jumps were penalized for a slight under-rotation.

Asada did get more points for program components, but Ando earned more for her straight-backed, high jumps and gained the maximum Level for all three spins.

Asada admitted she was disappointed with silver.

"This was one of the best triple Axels for this season," she said. "I'm pretty happy. I think I got the momentum for worlds [in Tokyo next month]. I was disappointed with the short program yesterday."

Nagasu, at 17 the youngest of the top competitors, was lying fourth after the initial round but decisively pushed her teammate, Rachael Flatt, out of bronze medal spot with her best free skate of the season. She hit six clean triples, including two opening combinations, and her spins -- a trouble spot at both the U.S. Championships and Trophee Eric Bompard -- all gained Level 4, and she earned 129.68 points.

"I'm proud of my free skate, especially since it's known to be my nemesis," she said. "After the U.S. Championships, I went home and worked on it."

At the 2011 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro, N.C., Nagasu finished third behind Alissa Czisny and Flatt. The U.S. is entitled to send only two ladies to the upcoming worlds.

"I didn't want to train anymore," Nagasu said. "I was ready to go back to the drawing board and start a new season. Coming here was good for me because I didn't like the way I ended nationals."

Here in Taipei City, Nagasu finished 9.15 points ahead of Flatt, despite the Colorado Springs-based 18-year-old earning her personal best international score for the free skate.

Flatt debuted a new layout to her free to "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue," but her new opening combination of double Axel-triple loop had an under rotation call. The rest of the program, including five triple jumps, was solid, although her steps rated only Level 2. She earned 118.08 for the free and ended with 180.31.

"For this being the first time I've tried [the new layout] and practicing it for two weeks, I'd say it went very well," Flatt said. "It was a huge stepping stone for me to stay on my feet the whole time. It was a little slow in spots but overall I think it was a great effort."

"For worlds, I would like to get my triple flip-triple toe combination in both of my programs so that's a huge goal as well as continually improving my components scores."

Czisny had a free skate she would like to forget, falling on her second element, a triple flip, and messing up her second triple Lutz.

The 23-year-old U.S. champion finished fifth, some 11.50 points behind Flatt.

"Today wasn't so good," she said. "I wasn't happy with some of my jumps. They weren't good take offs so they weren't good jumps.

"I was a little upset about the fact that I couldn't get my feet underneath me. There were jumps that happened and jumps that didn't happen, but I kept fighting through. I have a lot of things that I want to work on considering I didn't come to this competition as well prepared as I wanted to be since it was so close to the U.S. Championships. I have a month to prepare for worlds."