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Ando, Takahashi headline Japanese field

World champion Ando surrounded by uncertainty, doubt

Miki Ando's secret weapon at worlds will be a quad-Salchow.
Miki Ando's secret weapon at worlds will be a quad-Salchow. (Michelle Harvath)

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By Jack Gallagher, special to icenetwork.com
(12/24/2007) - All eyes will be on world champion Miki Ando later this week when she takes the ice at the Japanese Nationals in Osaka. Ando, who missed out on a trip to the Grand Prix Final after finishing fourth with a poor performance at the NHK Trophy earlier this month, will be trying to earn one of Japan's three berths at the World Championships in Sweden in March.

News out of the Ando camp has been very quiet since her collapse in Sendai, where she was a close second after the short program, but finished fourth with a terrible outing. Even more stunning were her post-competition comments, where she questioned why she was skating and cast doubt over her future in the sport.

"It is not that I want to quit, but my body and mind are not in unison," Ando said, raising eyebrows throughout the nation and especially in the Japanese skating community.

With uncertainty over Ando's readiness for competition, the door has opened for Nana Takeda, who finished third at the NHK Trophy, to have a shot at earning a trip to her first Worlds as a senior skater.

In the wake of her strong showing in Sendai, Takeda said she "had not even thought about the Worlds." However, observers certainly had based on her result and Ando's predicament.

Mao Asada, the defending national champion, and Yukari Nakano, second at Skate Canada and the Cup of Russia and fifth at the Grand Prix Final this season, are heavily favored to earn the first two berths on the team for the Worlds.

Asada, who beat Ando for the national title last season, finished second at the recent Grand Prix Final. She was narrowly edged for the world title in Tokyo last March by Ando.

Also scheduled to compete at Namihaya Dome are five-time national champion Fumie Suguri, who has struggled this season, Mai Asada and Aki Sawada.

Japan's top junior skater, Yuki Nishino, who won the Junior Grand Prix titles in both Estonia and England this season, will also be in the field.

Daisuke Takahashi is the overwhelming favorite to win his third straight national title in men's singles. Takahashi, who was second at the Grand Prix Final behind Switzerland's Stephane Lambiel, won both Skate America and the NHK Trophy this season.

Also competing in men's singles will be Yasuharu Nanri and Kensuke Nakaniwa.

Japanese-Americans Chris and Cathy Reed, who skate for Japan under their dual citizenship, will be head the field in ice dance.