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Kostner feels for Asada, searches for triple Lutz

Ladies prepare with Japanese skater's mother on their minds

Carolina Kostner skates with a heavy heart, as Mao Asada grieves for her mother.
Carolina Kostner skates with a heavy heart, as Mao Asada grieves for her mother. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(12/09/2011) - Unknown to the skaters who were interviewed Thursday, Japanese news sources report Mao Asada's mother has died at the young age of 48 of cirrhosis to the liver. Mao Asada did not arrive in Japan in time to say goodbye.

Carolina Kostner entered the mixed zone with tears in her eyes.

The three-time Italian European champion, one of the favorites for gold at the Grand Prix Final, had just heard of longtime rival Asada's return home to Japan to be with her mother, who had fallen critically ill.

"Mr. Carmichael [a Canadian photographer] told me," she said. "I would have done the same thing.

"I just hope everything is okay. To skate against her here is not so important. I was pleased to see her again and I am sad she had to leave."

With Asada's withdrawal, her country's hopes for a ladies' title at the Grand Prix Final rest on Akiko Suzuki, who has impressed in practices thus far.

"I don't know the details about Mao, but I am praying for her mother," Suzuki said. "The only thing I can do is skate my best for the Japanese team."

Alissa Czisny, too, sent her best wishes.

"I'm so sorry," the two-time U.S. champion said. "Mao is a good friend."

Still, the show must go on, and the skaters' second thoughts were of which jumps they would try here.

The 24-year-old Kostner, who said she is well rested and recovered from last season's knee troubles, has yet to include a triple Lutz in her programs this season. She did not include the Lutz, or a triple flip, in her programs in 2010/2011, but did both jumps regularly in previous seasons.

"I've been working since I started competing this season [at Skate America]," said Kostner, who took six weeks rest and relaxation after winning her third world medal in Moscow in April. "I have not been able to train the Lutz so much. I have just worked to keep what I have.

"My [silver medal] in Paris [at Trophée Eric Bompard] motivated me to work on the Lutz and a triple-triple, but I have not had the time. I have to be realistic and take things step-by-step and wait until I am able to add [the Lutz] solidly."

Kostner's long-time coach, Michael Huth, to whom she returned after a brief sojourn to Frank Carroll and Krista Fassi last season, hopes the Lutz will return soon.

"By worlds, we may be able to add more [jumps]," he said. Until then, Kostner is focusing on performing her two Lori Nichol programs -- a short to Shostakovich and free skate to Mozart -- to their fullest.

"I want to do well, with what I can do," she said. "I don't think I have [set] the standard yet. I love my programs and always feel sad if I mess up, and I don't want to make bigger mistakes. Lori knows me so well what fits me."

At age 26, Suzuki is proving "older" ladies can still make their mark.

The 2011 NHK Trophy champion, who suffered a well-documented battle with nerves and anorexia early in her career, is making her second appearance at the Grand Prix Final, having won bronze in 2009. This season's results are especially impressive, considering she briefly contemplated retirement after failing to qualify for Japan's 2011 world team.

"At the end of last season, I couldn't do worlds, and I started to reconsider my skating," she said through an interpreter. "I decided to go back to the basics."

Suzuki -- who credits much of her renaissance to devoted practice of yoga -- traveled this summer to Detroit, where Pasquale Camerlengo choreographed her sparkling free skate to Die Fledermaus. While she didn't participate in many stroking classes with Camerlengo, she was inspired by the sessions held with Detroit's many skaters and their coaches, including Anjelika Krylova, Massimo Scali, Liz Punsalan and Natalia Annenko-Deller.

"This is my favorite music, and I also love the choreography Pasquale made," Suzuki said. "I love to do it and that is why everyone likes it and it is so special."

Suzuki also continued working on two triple-triple combinations: a triple toe-triple toe, which she has used to good effect this season, and a triple flip-triple toe, which she has yet to do in competition but has hit in practices here.

"I just started [triple flip-triple toe] this summer," she said. "I might do it in my short program here. It will depend on how I feel."

Czisny, who lived up to her vow to try a triple-triple and triple Salchow -- seven triples in all -- in her free skate at Skate America, backed off a bit from that daunting task at Trophee Eric Bompard, where she did not try a triple-triple. Here, she plans to stick with that plan, but will still include a double Axel-triple toe in her free skate to "Valse Triste."

"I'm doing the same jumps I did in Paris here, and then we will see," Czisny said.

All three of these veteran ladies, plus Russia's iconoclastic Alena Leonova, will have to rely on their maturity, skate relatively clean and rack up high program component scores to stay ahead of Russia's teen sensation Elizaveta Tuktamisheva, who has landed her triple Lutz-triple toe combination and everything else she has tried with aplomb this season. The mighty mite, who turns 15 on Dec. 17, is too young to compete at the 2012 World Figure Skating Championships but won both Skate Canada and Trophée Eric Bompard.