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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Figure skating: Japan's Suzuki leads women at Four Continents


By JEAN H. LEE
Associated Press Writer

JEONJU, South Korea Japan's Akiko Suzuki took the lead Wednesday at the Four Continents championship while favorite Mao Asada was third after a flawed performance in the women's short program.

Asada, the 2008 world champion, underrotated her trademark triple axel and also popped a triple flip.

The surprise contender was Amanda Dobbs, who was second despite the quick turnaround from the U.S. championships, where she finished sixth Saturday. Dobbs attacked her opening jumps a triple-double combination followed by a triple salchow and then glided over the ice with a fawnlike delicacy.

The Four Continents, being held in the ancient city of Jeonju, is a last chance for Asada, Suzuki and others to test their Olympics programs in competition before Vancouver.

Earlier Wednesday, world pairs silver medalists Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao of China seized an early lead with a solid, if restrained, short program. Their spins showed off their technique and inventiveness, and a final death spiral displayed a flair for drama.

"Preparations for the Olympics are going very good, and we are glad we are here for the short program to prepare for it," Zhang Dan said.

For others, the event offered a chance at redemption. Two-time American champs Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker, still hurting from a fifth-place finish at the U.S. nationals that knocked them out of Vancouver, were in second place going into the free skate. Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Craig Buntin, who narrowly missed an Olympic berth, were close behind.

However, all eyes are on Asada and her triple axel, a jump few women have dared to execute in competition and one she hopes will put her atop the Olympic podium.

Asada has struggled recently, ceding the world title to South Korea's Kim Yu-na in March and failing to qualify for last month's Grand Prix final. She turned things around with a dazzling performance at the Japanese nationals last month, renewing talk of a showdown between her and Kim.

Kim, meanwhile, chose to stay behind in Canada, where she trains, to prepare for the Olympics.

"This is going to be the first Olympics for me and Kim Yu-na," Asada said. "We have been competing as rivals since juniors, but for the Olympics I just want to concentrate on my program and enjoy it."

Without Kim to contend with and fresh off her nationals win, Asada appeared confident going into the competition. But she underrotated the triple axel and singled a triple flip. She also was docked for skating one second longer than allowed.

Asada said she was "not satisfied" with her performance, but said it was a good experience.

"After this competition, I will go back to Japan and make sure all of my contents, my entire program, is good for the Olympics," she said.

Suzuki, meanwhile, skated with speed and energy to the click of castanets. Though she missed her triple toe loop, she didn't have any other mistakes.

"I missed the triple loop and changed it to a single loop, so I wasn't satisfied with the performance," Suzuki said. She hinted that she would rework the program for the Olympics.

In ice dancing, Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Canada led the field after the compulsories, with Huang Xintong and Zheng Xun of China in second. Canada's Allie Hann-McCurdy and Michael Coreno were in third.

The competition continues Thursday with the pairs' free skate, the second round of the ice dancing competition and the men's short program.

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Associated Press writer Esther Hong contributed to this report.