I watched the other day on ESPN the finals of the 2007 International Skating Union Ladies Figure Skating World Championships held in Tokyo, Japan from March 19- 25 and narrowly won by hometown gal Miki Ando over her more popular teammate and crowd- favorite Mao Asada by the narrowest margin of 195.09 to 194.45.
I always love watching those pretty ballerinas on ice since way, way back. I love their elegant movements and their grace under pressure. I guess I like watching all kinds of sports from mixed martial arts to basketball to car racing and of course, figure skating.
The competition for this year’s edition is not that deep name- wise. Gone were the likes of Shizuka Arakawa, Michelle Kwan, Irina Slutskaya and Sasha Cohen who never fails to electrify the skating world with their showmanship and grace on the ice rink.
But their absences were made up by the presence of the young and talented skaters eager to prove their mettle as worthy successors to the Rink Goddesses that once ruled the Magical Ice Kingdom and surely they did not disappoint.
These young skaters I tell you will surpass if not equal the talents, feats, acclaims and popularities enjoyed by their predecessors. The future of Figure Skating is in good hands err triple axels, lutz' and salchows of these youngsters on the ice skating rink.
This year’s World Championships also saw the rise of Asia in the ladies figure skating scene as well as marks the passing of the torch from the once dominant West to the now powerful East--
The traditional powerhouses like Russia, Germany and other European countries were nowhere to be found. There is no new, Katarina Witt, Oksana Baiul or Irina Slutskaya on the horizon. Their best bet which was Italy’s 2005 Bronze Medalist Carolina Kostner only landed 6th way below the new skaters on the block. They need to re- invent and reform their programs to regain their once lofty status.
The United States’ Kimmie Meissner, the defending world champion could only do no better than fourth which doesn’t bode well for the country that was so used to winning and produced the likes of Michelle Kwan, Tara Lipinski, Sarah Hughes, Kristi Yamaguchi and even Sasha Cohen, all accomplished and acknowledged ice princesses. I still think Meisnner was just plain lucky last year that the field was there for the taking with the absence of the big guns while the young guns were deemed too young and thus were not allowed to participate because of this technicality. Also what with Miki Ando fumbling her way into the most embarrassing performance of her career. But Ando obviously came back with a vengeance and proved that there is truth in the age- old adage that “if at first …try, try again.”
It marks the first time that the US women were shut out from the podium since 1994. But there is hope for the woeful US Figure Skating Association in Caroline Zhang and Mirai Nagasu who had a 1-2 finish at the junior level and incidentally both are also of Asian descents but they are just 13- years old and will take a little bit more time to mature. And with Mao Asada of Japan and Kim Yu-Na of Korea both former Junior World Champions maturing gracefully on ice, the rest of the world would be hard- pressed to catch up and beat them for years to come.
Japan has gone a long way since Midori Ito’s stunning performance in 1989 that was followed by Yuka Sato in 1994 and Shizuka Arakawa’s subsequent gold- medal triumphs in the 2004 “Worlds” and the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics. It shows that their figure skating program is in synch at the moment. They have a lot of talented young figure skaters in their fold that Fumie Suguri the runner- up in the last 2006 World Championships did not even make the team this year.
Miki Ando’s gold medal performance and 16 -year old phenom Mao Asada‘s silver further strengthened the beliefs of many that Japan is the consensus number one figure skating country now and of the future with Korea looming close behind because of Kim Yu-Na provided she remains healthy and injury- free.
I was rooting for Mao Asada to win the big one this year for her first major win while competing as a senior but luck was not on her side as the former “Heartbreak Kid” Miki Ando finally emerged the winner after years of trying and finally shed the ghost of her past disappointments in major international competitions. And she did not even have to do her much publicized “quadruple jump” which she was able to do in practice that made headlines in the nation's major papers and networks but she relied more on the technical aspects in her performance, safely skating her way to the gold medal finish. For the record she's the only female figure skater who can succesfully do the "quads" although there were reports that Asada was able to do it in practice and is now working on it.
I still believe though that among the participants in this year’s edition, Mao Asada is the most graceful ice skater which reminds me of Sasha Cohen and Kristi Yamaguchi, two great stars who can combine artistry and skill with ease. It will be just a matter of time though before she will be crowned World and Olympic champion if she proves true to her promise and worth. That is my fearless prediction for this sweet prodigious talent.
By the way, did I tell you that my late grandmother Riki’s surname is Ando and she’s also from Aichi Prefecture, same place with Miki Ando as well as Mao Asada’s listed hometown?
Maybe, we’re relatives after all.
How’s that for shamelessly jumping on the bandwagon err the ice rink in this case?
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