By Lynn Rutherford
All photos Copyright 2006 by George S. Rossano
"I thought I skated perfectly well. I like the program very much; it's the first time I've used this kind of music. I was concerned about it, but I am happy I did that well," said Asada, who moved to Lake Arrowhead this summer to train with Rafael Arutunian, best known for coaching Michelle Kwan.
Asada – the main object of near feverish pursuit from some dozens of Japanese reporters and television crews staking out the Hartford Civic Center -- landed a strong triple Lutz, as well as a triple flip-triple loop combination. Her jumps flowed effortlessly into her footwork passages and spirals.
The Japanese teen, who was too young under ISU rules to compete at the Turin Olympics, earned a standing ovation as well as a personal best 68.84 points.
Two-time Japanese champion Miki Ando, written off by many after poor performances last season, returned to form with a powerful yet feminine performance to Rimsky-Korsakov’s "Scheherazade," choreographed by new coach Nikolai Morozov.
The 18 year-old, who also hails from Nagoya, opened with a spectacular triple Lutz-triple loop combination, followed by a strong triple flip. Her excellent footwork, featuring several difficult brackets, drew applause, as did her speedy closing combination spin.
Ando earned 66.74 points (38.70 TES + 28.04 PCS), shattering her personal best by nearly six points. She entered the free skate in second place, just 2.10 points behind her countrywoman.
"Last year, I made many errors. So I'm determined. People said Miki Ando is just a jumper. I want to dispute that," said Ando.
Skating to Georgi Sviridov’s "Snow Storm," World champion Kimmie Meissner touched down on her triple Lutz and was a bit wobbly in her spins. She placed third with 58.82 points, ten points off the lead.
"I made a mistake, but I don't think it's over. In my long program, there's a lot I'm going to try, and I still think it's anybody's game," said the 17 year-old Bel Air, Maryland native.
"It's always nice to get the first one under your belt. It felt so good to be back out in front of the crowd. I might have rushed it a little bit (on the Lutz). But getting out there today and feeling pretty calm is always a good sign."
Swiss champion Sarah Meier had an impressive short to Rodrigo’s "Concerto de Anranjuez," placing fourth after executing eight solid – if unspectacular -- elements.
"I think 60 points is my personal best and (this short) was 57. I think I lost three points in the components," said the 22 year-old Meier.
U.S. bronze medalist Emily Hughes was fifth after missing the triple Lutz-double toe combination in her "Carmen" short, choreographed by Mark Mitchell. Nevertheless, she earned a personal best 57.42 points.
"Well considering it was the first time with the short program I think it went really well. I got a personal best and I still messed something up so I’m going to get a lot of confidence with this," said the 17 year-old Hughes.
How many triple Axels would 16 year-old wunderkind Mao Asada try? Would World champion Kimmie Meissner produce her little-seen triple Axel? Could Miki Ando, so out of form last season, maintain the quality of her strong short?
The answer to the last question was a resounding "yes" as the 18 year-old Ando rebounded from a disappointing 15th place at the 2006 Olympics with her first Grand Prix Series title.
The two-time Japanese champion opened her free skate to a Mendelssohn violin concerto with a spectacular triple Lutz-triple loop combination, for which she received 12 points. She followed with an easy triple Salchow and triple flip, as well as a second triple Lutz; lovely triple toe-double loop-double loop combo; a triple flip-double loop; and a big double Axel in the second half of her program. Her biggest mistake was a stumble on some straight-line footwork.
Along with her regained jumps and powerful stroking, under coach Nikolai Morozov Ando has improved her arm movements, transitions and musicality, although she still lurches forward a bit on her spirals and crossovers.
Ando’s free skate earned a personal best 125.85 points (70.73 TES + 55.12 CPS), and she easily took gold with 192 points. She is the second Japanese lady to win a Skate America title; 1994 World champion Yuka Sato was the first.
"(The quad) wasn’t in today’s competition. My goal is to do clean jumps and a clean program. I practice (the quad) but the success ration is not that high yet. If I could do a clean program and on top of that add a quad with a high probability of success, I would," said the Nagoya native, who landed a quad Salchow at the 2002 Junior Grand Prix Final.
"Regarding March I would, of course, like to go and compete at the World Championships (in Tokyo). But right now I want to concentrate on the steps leading to that competition. In today’s program my speed at the end of the program was very slow and I made a mistake in my steps. My goal is to have the same speed throughout the program and not to drop in speed at the end of the program when I get to the World Championships."
Meissner, who trailed the leader, Asada, by ten points after the short program, did not attempt her triple Axel in her flamenco free skate, choreographed by Lori Nichol.
The 17 year-old from Bel Air, Maryland, who has had a slight ankle injury, elected not to try her triple Axel. She hit an opening triple Lutz-triple toe combination – worth 11 points – followed by a double Axel; a triple flip-double toe (reduced from a triple-triple); a nice Spanish-flavored straight-line footwork sequence; a solid triple Salchow; a lovely triple loop right out of spiral sequence; and a second triple Lutz. Her only flaw was a shaky double Axel at the end of the program. In addition, the music drizzles off a bit at the end.
Meissner told reporters that placing third after the short "made me more determined. I wanted to show I’m still here and could come back." She earned a new personal best 129.70 points (63.28 TES + 55.58 PCS) and 177.78 points overall to take second place.
"I’m happy with my result. Compared to last year’s Grand Prix (events) it’s a big improvement for me," said Meissner.
"I started (training) later this year but I had no sense of panic. I was later getting my program down and it took a bit longer but I feel in pretty good shape now. I look forward to a big season."
After a mesmerizing short program that had many prematurely anointing her the next World and Olympic champion, the 16 year-old Mao Asada had a lethargic outing to her free skate to Hungarian dance music ("Czardas"), choreographed by Nichol. The young Japanese landed just three of seven planned triple jumps, popping her planned opening triple Axel into a messy single and doubling several others.
Her lead over Meissner evaporated, and she placed fourth in the free skate and third overall. She earned 102.39 points (49.03 TES + 53.36 PCS), far off her personal best of 125.21.
"I don’t really understand what happened, I feel it just popped," said Asada about her Axel.
Swiss Sarah Meier, a veteran at 22 years of age who placed eighth at the Olympics and sixth at Worlds, had an impressive performance to a medley including "Pride and Prejudice." Looking slimmer than in previous seasons, Meier opened with solid triple Lutz-double toe-double loop, followed by a clean triple flip-double toe; a second triple flip; an elegant upright spin that ended a bit wobbly; and another lovely triple Lutz. She popped a double Axel after skidding off her take-off edge, but recovered with a triple Salchow and a closing double Axel-double toe
"It is a bit disappointing (not to medal), but I should have landed that double Axel," said Meier.
Despite a personal best 111.41 points (59.41 TES + 52.00 PCS) for third place in the free and 169.01 points overall, the Swiss champion ended up fourth, 1.22 points behind Mao Asada.
Entering the free skate in fifth place, U.S. bronze medalist Emily Hughes performed a sophisticated program to music from Delibes’ ballet "Sylvia," choreographed by David Wilson. The 17 year-old from Great Neck, NY opened with a lovely spread eagle into a double Axel, but completely missed the take-off of both a triple Lutz and triple flip, reducing her technical score substantially. Nevertheless, the program was notable for pleasing and unique spin positions, including a side position in the sit spin and spiral entrance into a layback. Hughes earned 89.92 points (39.92 TES + 50.00 PCS) for her free skate and 147.34 points overall, placing fifth.
"Going out there, I felt really confident. My double Axel was amazing, and then I kind of tripped a bit on the flip. I came back, but it wasn’t the same," said Hughes.
Mai Asada, at 18 the older of the two Asada sisters, performed elegantly to Tchaikovsky’s "Swan Lake," placing sixth. Lovely blonde Finn Kira Korpi, clad in sea foam green, was a stunning figure on the ice in her program to music from "Les Miserables." The 18 year-old placed seventh.
Canadian silver medalist Mira Leung skated an energetic program to "Freedom" but lacked the finesse of the top skaters. She earned 128.07 points overall, placing eighth.
Clad in black, Valentina Marchei of Italy performed elegantly to Piazzolla’s "Adios Nonino," but had difficulty with virtually all of her planned elements save a lovely closing layback spin. She earned 73.89 points in the free skate for a total of 116.81 points and ninth place.
Skating for Mexico, Michelle Cantu had trouble with her jumps but her light style suited her free skate to music from "My Fair Lady." She placed tenth. U.S. pewter medalist Katy Taylor, so impressive in winning the 2006 Four Continents, struggled with a new pair of skates and placed 11th overall.
2006 Skate America Ladies Medalists
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