TOKYO -- Japanese teenager Mao Asada played it safe and
attempted only one triple axel Saturday, but still easily beat
world champion Irina Slutskaya to win the women's title at the
Grand Prix Final.
It was Slutskaya's first loss since the 2004 world championship
Asada opened her routine with a triple Axel that earned more
credit than average because of a secure landing. She then bypassed
her second triple axel planned in combination.
She is one of just a handful of female skaters to do even one in
competition and was trying to become the first to do two in one
"I decided after warmup not to do another triple axel," Asada
said. "My coach said it was up to me but I didn't feel confident
"I remember in training in Nagoya I never did two triple axels
and then I got worried."
Asada breezed through five more triple jumps without a miss and
included seven triples and doubles in the final minute of her
routine to the "Nutcracker Suite" to take a healthy lead over
Slutskaya in the free skating portion, 125.24 to 122.58. Overall
she won 189.62 to 181.48.
"I am surprised I wasn't expecting to win a medal and so I am
very happy," Asada said.
Third went to Japan's Yukari Nakano.
Slutskaya put in six high and strong triples to Flamenco music.
But she was not as brilliant as she was in Moscow when she won the
world title with seven triples and a triple-triple.
"I felt so bad yesterday. Today I felt better, much more
comfortable. You could see it in the practice," Slutskaya said.
"For me this competition is not really important. It is just
another step in going to Turin."
The Russian will be favored for gold at the Turin Olympics
despite her loss.
Even though Asada won, she won't be showing off her skills at
Turin. She turned 15 in September, less than three months past the
July 1 deadline the International Skating Union requires to be
eligible for the Winter Games.
"Regardless of the fact that Mao Asada can perform the highest
level of element, the decision of the congress was made on medical
reasons and not technical ones," said ISU President Ottavio
Cinquanta, who is attending the event.
World champion Stephane Lambiel recovered from a fall on his
opening jump Saturday to land two quadruple jumps later and capture
the men's title.
Lambiel landed a quadruple-triple combination seconds after
falling hard on a triple axel. Then, in the second half of his
routine to "Four Seasons" by Vivaldi, he had another quad that
earned him bonus points under the new judging system that adds up
the score for jumps, spins and stepwork.
"I was confident going into the Axel even though it didn't work
so well in practice," Lambiel said. "When I fell I tried to tell
myself to just do the rest.
"I know I can go through my program after the triple axel
whether I do it or I don't."
He scored best in the free program and 230.10.overall to win
easily over Jeff Buttle of Canada. It was Buttle's second straight
silver medal at the Grand Prix finals.
But it didn't come without incident. Just before he was about to
skate, he noticed his blade was loose on his skate.
"I didn't realize how loose it was. My coach ran to get a
screwdriver. As to the placement of the blade, once I tightened it,
wasn't any different," Buttle said.
Third went to local Daisuke Takahashi, who is looking to impress
the Japanese Federation officials with just one Olympic men's spot.
He fell on a quad attempt.
Russian world champions Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov won
the ice dance for the third year in a row.
In a dramatic performance to the music of "Carmen," Navka and
Kostomarov earned top scores in the free dance and 165.72 overall.
With Navka in a dress reminiscent of Katarina Witt's red and
black costume at Calgary and Kostomarov in a matador's outfit, the
pair had the audience clapping in rhythm to the familiar tunes such
as the "Toreador Song."
Their routine had majestic gestures such as when Kostomarov
suddenly flipped Navka to his hip like a cape and twirled around
with her wrapped around him.
"It's powerful music and it's a powerful dance," said
Their performance put them far ahead of second-placed Elena
Grushina and Ruslan Goncharov with 154.53.
The Ukrainian pair barely held off Canadians Marie-France
Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, who won their first medal in six tries
at the Grand Prix finals.