Golden Skate

Highs and Lows for Ando

Japan’s Miki Ando, 20, performs to Handcuffs by Claudette Ortiz during the Gala at the 2008 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships.

Japan’s Miki Ando has had a career filled with highs and lows. The high point so far for Ando was her win at the 2007 World Figure Skating Championships in Japan, where she beat out favorites Mao Asada and Kim Yu-Na as well as defending champion Kimmie Meissner.

“No one expected anything from me,” Ando said “I just did my job and tried to enjoy skating. I was so happy because I didn’t make any mistakes in the short or the long.”

Ando noted that the 2007-08 season, however, was much more difficult due to the changing rules. “There are more penalties for errors on jump takeoffs. I had to change the entry to jumps that I have done for seven or eight years in the same way and it is so hard to change. The judges said that my sit spin was too high so I had to get lower on it and practice it more and more.”

From 2002 to 2004, Ando was rolling up an impressive record in juniors, winning five Junior Grand Prix events. She won the ISU Junior Grand Prix Final twice in 2003 and 2005, and took the bronze in 2004. At the World Junior Figure Skating Championships, she went from bronze in 2002 to silver in 2003, and finally gold in 2004. The next three seasons, she qualified for the senior Grand Prix Final, but never reached the podium, finishing fourth in 2005 and 2006.

The student from Nagoya City was off to a good start in the beginning of the 2006-07 season, capturing the title at Skate America and the silver at Trophee Eric Bompard. Ando’s run was short-lived, however, as she placed fifth at the ISU Grand Prix Final in December after falling ill to a stomach virus in Moscow. A few days later, she placed second at Japanese Nationals.

Ando began the 2007-08 season with a silver medal at Skate America, but only finished fourth at the NHK Trophy in Japan, failing to make the Grand Prix Final for the first time. Complicating things for Ando was a shoulder injury she received from a fall at the Japan Open in the summer.

“My shoulder was badly sprained and it’s possible I may need surgery if the muscle is torn,” she said. “But that would take three months to recover. It hurts me when I try to spin or jump and even on footwork. I’ve had to switch to my other shoulder for the Biellmann position on my spiral and that was hard. I have to do special exercises and tape it every day, then ice down after practice and at night.”

Ando’s injury woes continued at the Four Continents Championships, where she finished third despite a bandaged thigh. “I cut my leg into the muscle with my skate at the NHK Trophy,” Ando explained.

The following month at the Worlds, Ando, who stood in eighth after the short program, had to withdraw less than a minute into the free skate with more leg problems. “I had an injury to my calf muscle during the morning practice when I was warming up,” she said. “But I decided to continue because it was the Worlds and it’s important to me. But when I started the free skate, I had a cramp in my leg and couldn’t feel my muscle, so Nikolai told me I should withdraw.”

Nikolai Morozov has coached Ando for about two years. She trains during the summer at the Ice House in Hackensack, New Jersey and as often during the season as possible. Her workout schedule includes three to four hours on ice, six days a week, but limited off ice work, only stretching before she goes on ice.

When she is Japan, Ando trains at the Nagoya University ice rink, working with Yuko Monna. She is studying about sports at the university. “I’m in the second year of a four-year program, ” she said. “We do all of the different sports and learn about the training and conditioning for each one.”

“It’s very hard to train in Japan,” Ando explained. “I have to travel about 40 minutes to the ice rink and I can only get ice [time] between six and eight in the morning and between ten and twelve at night. All the sessions are public, because there is no private ice in Japan. All the Japanese people love me now and little kids are always coming up to me on the ice to take photos and ask for autographs. And all the television and radio and newspaper people are always following me around. So it is difficult to train. But I am getting smarter about using my time.”

Ando’s short program for this season included a triple Lutz-double loop, triple flip and double Axel. Her long contained a triple Lutz-double loop, triple toe-double loop-double loop, triple Lutz, triple flip, triple Salchow, triple loop, and double Axel. She is no longer trying the triple Axel although she has landed them in practice as far back as 2003.

“I’ll try to add a double Axel-triple toe to my program because it’s the same level as a triple Axel,” she said. “I don’t know what else I might try. Right now it’s enough for me. I had a triple Salchow-triple loop and I’ve done a triple Lutz-triple loop-triple loop in practice just for fun. I like the loop and the Salchow, but I hate the triple toe. And I don’t like the double Axel because mine is kind of bad right now.”

Ando did not begin to skate until she was nine. “I did many, many things before skating,” she said. “I tried swimming, cycling, playing the piano, calligraphy and many more things. I didn’t start skating until after I went to the rink with some friends from school.” But she was a quick learner, landing triples by the age of eleven.

The 20-year-old was the first woman to land a quadruple jump in competition in 2002, when she landed a quad Salchow at a Junior Grand Prix event. She first landed the jump in practice two years earlier and has since done the quad loop and quad toe loop in practice. “We wanted to add the quad Salchow for Worlds in Sweden because Salchow was Swedish,” Morozov added. “Last year, we didn’t need it, but this year it was important.”

Ando is using Samson and Delilah by Camille Saint-Saens for her short program and Carmen by George Bizet for the long, both new this season. Morozov choreographs all of her programs. “I went to Nikolai because I liked the first program that he did for me so much,” Ando said. “I did not have high level choreography before that.”

“It’s always very hard to find the right music for her,” Morozov said. “I wanted to push her to a higher level and create something that’s new to her. Samson and Delilah suits her because she looks sort of Arabian. Carmen is very powerful music and many skaters have done it. I thought she was ready to do something like this. She’s growing into herself. She’s a lady now.”

“I wanted to make a more emotional, womanly, sexy program,” Ando stated. “And Carmen is famous, especially for skaters. I’m so shy that it’s hard for me to be expressive on the ice. I couldn’t move my hips or my eyes to be sexy. But I have been watching Katarina Witt doing Carmen on television. She was so exciting. I have been learning from her.”

Early in the season, Ando skated to Time to Say Goodbye by Christina Aguilera. “It’s a famous piece about a performer in the circus who cannot say goodbye to her father,” Morozov said.” But at the Four Continents Championships, Ando debuted a new program to Handcuffs by Claudette Ortiz. “I wanted to do something different for a gala program,” Ando said. “I let my hair down because I had a headache before the gala. I bought the clothes at a store in Tokyo.”

“I like competitions more than shows,” Ando said. “When I was a novice and won the first time, there was a show just for winners. I didn’t know that I had to do a show and I had no show program so I was crying and crying. That’s probably why I don’t like show programs as much.”

Ando has worn gold skates for the past five years. “Gold is the color of champions,” she said. “I wanted to be the champion so I changed to gold.” She hopes to win the gold at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, then finish her schooling and begin coaching. “I think I’ll compete for only two or three more years,” she said. “My dream is to be a coach for little kids.”

Off ice, Ando enjoys talking with friends, shopping, dancing and cooking. “I can even make borsch now,” she said. “Sometimes I go in to New York City to see the Broadway shows. I’ve already seen Cats and Chicago and I want to see more. But the city is too big for me. I like quiet areas.” Ando also enjoys taking photographs and collecting videotapes from Disney films and Japanese anime. She has two pets at home, a dog and a parakeet.

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