Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Showdown in Osaka

My title sounds like a Quentin Tarantino movie!

So this week brings about one of the most highly anticipated National Championships of the season. Of course I'm talking about Japanese Nationals.

I predict that Reed and Reed will win the Ice Dance competition and Takahashi and Tran will win the Pairs competition. But that's the easy part...

What isn't easy to predict is arguably the deepest singles fields in the world. A Clash of Titans, if you will, are set to do battle in Osaka. Here's who to look out for:

Fumie Suguri - She hasn't had the best season this far but she is a veteran and she's won this event before. Also, aside from Ando, she's the only other competitor in the field that has Olympic experience. It's worth noting that she has a track record of skating very well at the Olympics; 5th in Salt Lake City and 4th in Torino. I think to make the Olympic Team she'll assuredly HAVE to win and even then she may yet have to prove herself at the Four Continents Cup. Don't count her out...her experience may serve her well.

Yukari Nakano - She's kind of been the ugly step child of Japanese women's skating (figuratively...not literally). She tends to be consistent enough to always place decently in competition but never seems to breakthrough and be the shining star (except at the 2008 Worlds where I feel she was positively robbed!). Her jump technique gets her in trouble often. Last season at this competition she won the short program only to fall apart in the free. Like Suguri, I think a win is a MUST in order to even be considered for the Olympic Team.

Akiko Suzuki - She's been the surprise this season. A win in Beijing put her on the map. She squeaked into the Grand Prix Final and then did it again with a show stopping performance at the Grand Prix Final landing her on the podium there with the bronze medal. She's proven this season she can be a contender but we are all still wondering if she can keep this up? She seems to be the sentimental favorite this season and most people are pulling for her. I think if she hits the podium at Japanese Nationals she will have made a strong case for herself.

Mao Asada - The other surprise this season...but unfortunately the exact opposite of Suzuki. By her standards, a disastrous finish in Moscow coupled with a failure to make the Grand Prix Final all have us scratching our heads. She's had an extended period of time to train and get her head together. I have a sneaky suspicion she's is going to come out like gang-buster's at National's and be back on form. If she falters, however, her disastrous season may continue. She needs to prove that this fall was a fluke and it's all behind her.

Miki Ando - She doesn't have the Olympic pressure the other ladies have as she already has a guaranteed ticket to Vancouver but she does have the pressure of expectation as the top Japanese woman this season. Miki, I think mostly for herself, needs to win this competition to bolster her self confidence in being the top Japanese woman this season. If she gets beat here, especially a bad beat, it might crumble her confidence and we could see a Torino repeat where she went to pieces. She has the goods...she's a World Champion, she was very close to Kim at the Grand Prix Final, she beat Asada at the World Championships to make the podium. She needs to own this and I think the sky is the limit...a failure could prove costly.

The men seem less dramatic with most believing that Kozuka, Oda, and Takahashi will assuredly make up the Olympic Team. But the order of their finish at Nationals seems up for grabs...

Nobunari Oda - He needs to just keep doing what he's been doing. His program is charming and it works. If he manages to get that tricky 3-jump Quad Combo in and skates clean, I get the feeling he wins. If he struggles at all, the others will have an opportunity to capitalize.

Takahiko Kozuka - He hasn't had the season like he had last year but he's still a threat. He has those solid basics that make him formidabble. "A skater's skater" as Scott Hamilton would say. Quad has eluded him to this point but he often gives it a valiant try. If he can just stay steady and consistent he'll be just fine. I love his music choice this season, it's one of the most imaginative and original picks.

Daisuke Takahashi - Hot and cold this season. He was cold at NHK Trophy, hot at Skate Canada, and both at the Grand Prix Final (won the short...lost the free). Stamina would appear to be an issue this season. Coming back from an entire season off due to injury can't be easy and the rust has shown. But, he is one of the most gifted skaters on the scene and has every ability to lay down stunning performances. If his conditioning is good I believe Takahashi is the one to beat. May come down to the quad...if he hits it he's in good shape. Missing it could be the deal breaker.

I'm not as up on the Japanese 'B-Listers' but I'm sure, as with any national championship, there is the opportunity for a spoiler or two.

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