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Ando's future in skating a question mark

Skater says "heart and mind" not in unison anymore

Miki Ando is one of the top skaters expected to perform on Sunday at the Ice House in New Jersey.
Miki Ando is one of the top skaters expected to perform on Sunday at the Ice House in New Jersey. (Getty Images)

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By Jack Gallagher, special to icenetwork.com
(12/07/2007) - Japanese skating fans were again left wondering what to think after world champion Miki Ando's disastrous outing at the NHK Trophy last weekend in Sendai. Ando, who has made a habit of up and down performances, outdid herself at the last of this season's six Grand Prix events.

Trailing Italy's Carolina Kostner by less than a point going into the free skate, Ando put on a performance that resembled her disastrous outing at the Turin Olympics, falling twice, touching the ice another time and botching a triple combination jump, on the way to a fourth-place finish.

The result cost Ando a trip to the Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy, next week. Japanese newspapers the following day featured prominent photos of Ando sprawled on the ice and there was intense coverage of her on television.

With an incredible amount of natural ability, excellent presentation skills, and one of the top coaches in the world in Nikolai Morozov, Ando would seem to have everything she needs for consistent success. But old habits die hard, and the fragile nature of the Nagoya native seems to be rising to the surface again.

Immediately following her free skate, Ando sounded conflicted when she spoke to the media, "I was questioning myself during the summer on why I was doing all of these competitions and practice. It is not that I want to quit, but my body and mind are not in unison."

It is obvious to seasoned observers that she needs some kind of boost. One Japan Skating Federation member told icenetwork.com: "It didn't look like she (Ando) had any confidence out there on the ice."

Keep in mind that this is the reigning world champion we are talking about. The morning after her latest calamity, icenetwork.com asked the JSF if they were considering having Ando consult with a sports psychologist.

"No. Because this result was only one time," came back the response from JSF director Hidehito Ito.

But those who saw her finish sixth at the Japan nationals in 2005 - yet still make the Olympic team - and the fiasco in free skate in Turin, know that it was not a one-time occurrence.

Japan is a place where things change slowly, if at all. Counseling, of any kind, is still a rare thing and never one to be acknowledged. As the JSF's stance shows, in Japan people are reluctant to seek help for those with problems. The position generally seems to be that by ignoring the issue, hopefully it will just go away.

It is sad that the JSF won't even consider helping Ando - who has been telling people in the Japanese skating community since the summer she is "burned out" - in a real time of need.

Hometown hero

Turin Olympic champion Shizuka Arakawa was prominently featured during the NHK Trophy in her hometown of Sendai. Arakawa, who was born in Tokyo but moved to the northern city in Miyagi Prefecture at the age of two, was a rinkside commentator for Japanese television throughout the competition.

Sendai, which is considered the birth of Japanese figure skating after an American introduced the sport to local residents on a pond back in the late 19th century, has enjoyed a renaissance in interest since Arakawa's glorious victory last year.

The rink where Arakawa skated as a youngster, Konami Sports Club Izumi, closed down several years ago, but in the wake of her winning the gold medal re-opened this year as Ice Rink Sendai.

New image

Nobunari Oda, Japan's second-ranked male skater last season, who was arrested for drunk driving in late July and subsequently banned from the Grand Prix campaign by the Japan Skating Federation, has made the first move of his comeback.

Earlier this week Oda, who finished 7th at the world championships in Tokyo last March, announced that he had retained the services of AK Global Agent to represent him in all domestic matters. The announcement was faxed out to media accompanied with a picture of a smiling Oda and brief biography of the Osaka native.

Oda, the 2005 world junior champion, is scheduled to make his return to competition later this month in the Japan nationals at Osaka's Namihaya Dome.

In tune

Sisters Mao and Mai Asada have released a two-set CD with selections of their favorite skating music. EMI produced the CD, which retails for ¥3,000 ($27.00) and is available at major retail outlets in Japan. There are 32 selections in all, including numbers from Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Chopin.

Mao, who finished second at the 2007 Worlds, has qualified as the second seed for next week's Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy.

Older sister, Mai, struggled through her short program last week at the NHK Trophy while battling a high fever and cold, and was forced to withdraw before Saturday's free skate.

Three in a row

The Foreign Sportswriters Association of Japan, which honored Japanese baseball legend Sadaharu Oh with a Lifetime Achievement Award earlier this week, recognizes one foreign and Japanese sports figure each year for their accomplishments.

Mao Asada, the world junior champion and Grand Prix Final winner two years ago, was honored with the award in 2005, while the FSAJ recognized Arakawa for becoming the first Asian female to win a gold medal in figure skating in 2006.

Both Asada and Arakawa accepted the award in person at a dinner in Tokyo. Asada was only 15 when she won and brought her mother Kyoko along with her.

Until her meltdown in Sendai, Ando was considered one of the front-runners for the honor this year. Now it will be up to Daisuke Takahashi, winner of Skate America and the NHK Trophy this season, and the favorite at the GP Final, to try and stretch the streak of skaters winning to three.

Winners of the awards for 2007 will be announced in late January.