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Regal Ando leads disappointed Asada

Flatt, Nagasu and Czisny sit third, fourth and fifth

Miki Ando won the ladies short program honors at Four Continents.
Miki Ando won the ladies short program honors at Four Continents. (Getty Images)

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By Alexandra Stevenson and Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(02/19/2011) - Miki Ando gave a regal showing of her short program on Saturday, setting a standard no other lady could match.

The Japanese champion is 3.17-points ahead of rival Mao Asada going into Sunday's free skate. The Japanese world champion made a major error: On the landing of her triple Axel, her foot buckled and she was forced to put the other foot on the ice to keep from falling.

The American trio of Rachael Flatt, Mirai Nagasu and Alissa Czisny are third, fourth and fifth.

Ando, who reclaimed the Japanese national title this season, looked like skating royalty on the ice. Skating in a white outfit with many silver sparkles and a pink rose in her hair, she opened her routine with an extremely sure triple Lutz-double loop combination. Her second move, a triple loop, was landed with an arm flourish, and she earned 66.58 points.

"My body didn't feel so good since this morning, I was a little dizzy and shaky," Ando said. "I don't remember much about the performance, but I think I did pretty well as I can see from the points. I got all the levels for the spins and the footwork and I think it is a big improvement.

"I was working so hard to get the levels for this competition after [Japanese] nationals. I feel good with the music [from The Mission, better than at nationals."

The 23-year-old Ando was twice Japanese champion way back in 2003 and 2004 but was dismissed by some when she finished 15th in the 2006 Olympic Games.

She rebounded to win the 2007 world title, but faltered the following season, withdrawing from worlds during her free skate. Another comeback in 2009 yielded a world bronze medal.

Some expected her to retire after her fifth-place finish at the Vancouver Games and fourth place at the 2010 worlds, but she appears to be back at the top of her game.

"Before I wasn't enjoying to skate," Ando, who trains with Nikolai Morozov in various locales including Latvia, said. "It's kind of difficult to skate in Japan because of the media and all the people. It's too exciting, I guess. I felt not like a skater, more like a star.

"I just realized that it doesn't matter what they show on the TV and how they talk about me. I found that skating is the most important thing in my life. Now I just want to show how I enjoy performing for the audience and how I enjoy myself with [fans] from all over the world. I changed my mind to more enjoy figure skating."

Asada earned a season's best 63.43 for her short, but was disappointed nonetheless.

"I don't think about the points so much," she said. "The points are not my first priority. I am disappointed, because my triple Axel wasn't great. I knew it was under rotated. But I feel better than [I did] at Nationals. I learned that it's very difficult to achieve in the competition what I've been practicing all the time."

Often, the world champion seems to live and die by the Axel.

"In the six minute warm-up I tried the triple Axel twice," she said. "The first time I over rotated, made a mistake and fell. The second time it was good, but in real time, in the competition I wasn't calm enough, maybe that's why. I knew I didn't rotate well, but I don't know exactly how it happened."

For Flatt, bright yellow was an inspiration for a performance that was 8.54-points better than any international short program this season. The U.S. silver medalist gained positive Grades of Execution for all seven of her required elements. Two of her three spins were the maximum Level 4.

"I have skated in yellow before, but this is much more vibrant. I love skating in it," the 18-year-old said of her choice of costume to interpret her music from East of Eden.

"I'm trying a new layout of my free skate tomorrow, with a double Axel-triple loop and a triple flip-triple toe combination. Hopefully it will go pretty well. This is my second week of trying it. It's kind of an experiment at this point, but I'm looking to gain experience. I'm very excited."

Flatt is 2.45 points ahead of Nagasu, who drew to skate her short last, while Nagasu is less than a point ahead of Czisny.

Skating to music from The Witches of Eastwick Nagasu was penalized for a slight under-rotation of her triple Lutz combination (with a double toe loop). She also lost marks for an incorrect outside edge takeoff on her triple flip. All of her spins, however, were the maximum Level 4.

"The Lutz was a little unfortunate; I was worried about it and it showed because I hesitated going into it. I'm glad I was to land it," Nagasu said.

"I'm unhappy with myself because I told myself that I would just go for it, and in the beginning I didn't. But after that I slapped myself back together to where I needed to be. Since it's the short program, you have to be perfect the whole way through. Usually I'm stronger at the short so tomorrow hopefully I will be able to pull myself back together."

Czisny, the U.S. champion, fell on her opening move, a triple Lutz, which was meant to be her combination. Thinking quickly, she added a double toe to her second element, the triple flip, which was saddled with a deduction for incorrect takeoff. Her spins were glorious as ever, gaining many +3 grades of execution from the judges, and she earned 58.94 points.

"This competition for me is a tune-up for worlds," she said. "It's difficult coming in after the U.S. championships. I haven't been able to prepare how I would prepare for the world championships.

"Tomorrow, I want to go out and stay with my technique and not rush my jumps. I'm a bit disappointed with my performance out there tonight. After the first mistake, I was glad I stayed on my feet. I forgot about the fall and focused on what I had to do to make the rest of my elements happen."