Japanís Finest Thrive in New Jersey

By Liz Leamy

There are a handful of top Japanese skaters who seem to be quite happy with the prospect of living in Hackensack, New Jersey, an industrial New-York-City-area metropolis that serves as the geographical locale for the esteemed Ice House Rink.

Since it first opened, this state-of-the-art four-surface facility has attracted many first-rate Olympic and World level competitors. It is an upbeat and energetic place, with many highly accomplished coaches and skaters, which seems to be the primary reason as to why so many make this their main training base, including skaters from as far away as Japan.

"Itís great here," said Nobunari Oda of Japan, who is one of the top-seeded menís singles skaters in the world. Oda has been training at the Ice House since the beginning of the summer with Nikolai Morozov, the Olympic and World coach.

Oda said liked living in Hackensack right from the moment he first settled into his apartment near the arena several months ago. He said that it is big and modern, and that there are many things to do in the area, such as visit New York City.

Over the summer, he even managed to enjoy a few Broadway shows including "Hairspray" and "The Lion King." "They were great. So much work goes into these shows and it inspired me," he said.

Oda, who is 21, said he also likes living here in the United States so far. "This area is a lot like some of the big cities in Japan, like Tokyo, because there are so many people, shops and things to do," he continued.

Oda particularly seems to be thriving in his training environment. Since he first arrived at the Ice House, he has been working steadfastly on developing his new programs, and on the quality of his skating elements. Notably, he has been concentrating on making his jumps higher and on air position. "Nikolai wants straight legs," Oda said. "He wants everything to be the best I can make it."

Fumie Suguri, the renowned Japanese ladies singles contender, also seems to be happy training and living in Hackensack. Two weeks ago at the Moran Memorial event, she skated very well, and seemed to be pleased with her performance. "I felt good out there," Suguri said. "Iím going to keep working hard."

Daisuke Murakami of Japan, who is slated to compete at the Junior Grand Prix event in Mexico City, also likes living and training in this part of New Jersey.

"I like it here a lot. Itís so great to skate with so many of my friends," Murakami said. "We all help each other and we all do things together."

Murakami landed a quad toe in his free skate at the Moran Memorial several weeks ago, which certainly set the crowd abuzz. "I was happy to have landed it," Murakami said. "It was my first time doing it in a competition."

Meanwhile, Miki Ando, the 2007 World Champion, is also said to be doing extremely well in her training. According to Morozov, she has been landing her quad Salchow in the morning run of her free skate routine on a consistent basis and looks stronger than ever.

Although Ando chose not compete at the Moran Memorial this year, she was at the event busy watching and cheering on all of her friends. At its conclusion, she and the rest of the groupóOda, Murakami, and several other skaters, including Adam Rippon, the 2008 U.S. World Junior Champion, were seen just laughing and relaxing around the hallways of the arena, just having a good time, which was nice.

"This is a nice group of skaters," Morozov said. "Theyíre good people and very talented skaters. They help push each other."

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