Ando wins gold at 2011 Four Continents

Japan's Miki Ando won the ladies gold at the 2011 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships.

Miki Ando of Japan earned her first title at the Four Continents Championships at the conclusion of the event in Taipei on Sunday. Teammate Mao Asada rebounded from a tough start to the season to claim the silver medal, while USA’s Mirai Nagasu took the bronze in her debut.

Ando kept her record of clean long programs this season straight with a flawless performance to  Edvard Grieg’s powerful Piano Concerto in A Minor. She upped the difficulty, pulling off six triple jumps including a double Axel-triple toeloop combination and two triple Lutzes. Her spins were all graded a level four. The 2007 World Champion picked up a season’s best of 134.76 points, which added up to 201.34 points overall. She now seems in a good position for the upcoming World Championships in Tokyo.

“I was a little tired, so it was not perfect, but I think I did a good job,” Ando told the press. “This is good for Worlds and gives me confidence. Actually, I’ve done only clean free programs this season. The short program was more of a problem.”

Ando explained that she felt much better than yesterday in the short program, but the performance wasn’t perfect yet for her.

“I want to work on it to have more speed,” the 23-year-old explained, as Worlds will take place in Tokyo where she won her title in 2007. “In 2007 I was just happy to have the chance to skate at Worlds in Tokyo, and also this year I’m really excited about it. In 2007 I had an injury to my heel because I changed my skates before Worlds. I couldn’t skate like two weeks before and I started jumping at Worlds in Tokyo.”

“I don’t feel nervous,” Ando concluded. “I just won Four Continents and I feel relaxed. I don’t have any injury right now and I feel much calmer. I also think that I became a better skater than I was in 2007. I just want to try my best again in Tokyo and hopefully I’ll win a medal.”

Asada opened her program to Liebestraum by Franz Liszt with a triple Axel followed by five triples. Only the triple toe in combination with a double Axel was underrotated. With 132.89 points, the reigning World Champion improved her seasons best by more than 30 points. She remained in second place at 196.30 points.

“I was disappointed with the short program yesterday, but today I think I’ve done everything I could do for now,” Asada told the press. “I’m pretty happy. It (the triple Axel) felt so good. This was one of the best triple Axels for this season. I think I got the momentum for Worlds and I have a good feeling for Worlds. At this competition, I found so many things I still can improve. There is so much room to grow. I’ll try to work on it and I want to show my best at Worlds.”

Nagasu gave an excellent performance of her routine to Memoirs of a Geisha dressed in a    Japanese-style costume. It was a perfect performance for the 17-year-old. She hit six clean triples, none of them underrotated, and her beautiful spins were all a level four. It was no wonder that Nagasu improved her seasons best by 20 points. She posted 129.68 points and totaled 189.46 to pull up from fourth to third.

“I’m really happy I went out there and gave the best performance I could have,” said Nagasu. “Even in practice, I haven’t been skating that well because I keep missing the double Axel-triple toe or my triple Lutz. But here I was able to do everything I wanted to. I’m glad I was able to pull out a good performance for my last competition (of the season).”

Nagasu is now ready to focus on next season.

“I’m going to change my mental personality,” she explained. “I need to go out there believing I’m the best and that I have what it takes. Sometimes when I get out there, I think about a lot of negative things. It’s hard to stop those thoughts and I will fall under those thoughts. During the summer, I will talk to my coach and reevaluate my mental strength.” 

USA’s Rachael Flatt produced a season’s best performance as well, landing five triples in her routine to Slaughter on 10th Avenue, however, some landings were tight and she underrotated the ambitious double Axel-triple loop combination. She slipped to fourth with 180.31 points, but is still was pleased with what she did in Taipei.

“I’m very happy with the way I skated because this is the first time I have tried the double Axel-triple loop combination in a program,” Flatt noted. “For this being the first time I’ve tried it (the new layout of her free program) and practicing it for two weeks, I’d say it went very well. It was a huge stepping stone for me to stay on my feet the whole time. It was a little slow in spots, but overall I think it was a great effort.”

For the World Championships, Flatt hopes to bring back her triple flip-triple toe combination in both programs.

Teammate Alissa Czisny unfortunately didn’t skate her best today again. She fell on a downgraded  triple flip and also landed forward on the second Lutz . Plus the triple toe was underrotated. As a result, the U.S. Champion was unable to move up and finished fifth (168.81 points). However, her program to Winter and Spring by George Winston is lovely and suits her perfectly.

“Today wasn’t so good,” admitted Czisny. “I wasn’t happy with some of my jumps. They weren’t good take offs, so they weren’t good jumps. I was a little upset about the fact that I couldn’t get my feet underneath me. There were jumps that happened and jumps that didn’t happen, but I kept fighting through. I have a lot of things that I want to work on considering I didn’t come to this competition as well prepared as I wanted to be since it was so close to the U.S. Championships. I have a month to prepare for Worlds.”

Cynthia Phaneuf singled her first Lutz as well, but nailed the second one plus three more triples. She moved up one spot to come in sixth.

“It has not been an easy week,” stated the Canadian Champion. “I was very nervous today, because I didn’t want to go back home and not be proud of myself with a bad skate. After the short program, my goal was to do at least one Lutz in this program, and after I popped the first one, I told myself, ok, you  have to do the rest.”

Phaneuf felt that the Four Continents were a good test for her in her preparation for Worlds.

“We were trying for the first time to put two (triple) Lutzes into the long program,” she explained. “It shows that this is the right thing to do, because even if I pop the first one, I still have the second one. This is so much points in the bank and it’s giving me some confidence that I don’t have to worry as there is a second one that I can land. We’re going to keep that strategy for Worlds and try to get the long program more consistent.”

Akiko Suzuki hoped for a better ending of the season than what happened in Taipei. The Japanese skater popped her opening Lutz and stumbled on a few other jumps to drop to seventh (162.69).

“I messed up so many jumps and I’m not happy,” a disappointed Suzuki said. “I felt the support of the audience during the last step sequence, so that felt good. Overall, it was a tough program. I like to start over again and try to become positive for the next season.”

Min-Jeong Kwak of Korea and Canada’s Amelie Lacoste made several errors to finish eighth and ninth, respectively.

Australia’s Cheltzie Lee came 10th. She made no major mistakes, but only includes two  toes and two Salchows as triple jumps in her routine.

Myriane Samson of Canada skated in spite of suffering from tendonitis in her right knee and popped some jumps. She remained in 11th place.

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