Let's start with the ladies and the fairly triumphant return of Mao Asada. She won the short program in Nagano and posted her best free skate this season by far. While she only captured the silver, it was the perfect medal at the perfect time for her. She seemed content...solid skate under her belt but not forced to be the perfectionist...having come to Nagano and completed her goal, two solid skates,; something she had yet accomplished this season. Kanako Murakami has been turning heads all season and she continued to do so by turning in a near perfect free skate to nab the bronze. That effort bumped her ahead of Akiko Suzuki...and likely bumped her on to the World Team. Top honors, however, went to Miki Ando who, if you ask me, turned in her finest performance ever. There was a definite sense of sophistication in that program that has been absent all season. Everything seemed under perfect control and she paid great attention to detail. If she turns in a program like that in Tokyo in March, she'll be tough to beat. Trivia: When did Miki Ando last win the World Title? Answer: 2007 in Tokyo. They do say "What goes around comes around..."
For the men, going in most people would have put the good money on a Nobunari Oda/Daisuke Takahashi showdown for gold...I would have. Instead, Takahashi had to get scrappy and fight his way back onto the podium. He pulled off a barn-burner, opening with that "almost trademarked" quad flip and never looking back. He was so in tune with the choreography it was ridiculous. His effort paid off with a bronze medal. The other co-favorite coming in, Nobunari Oda, did not skate his best. Despite taking the polar plunge on his opening quad and second axel, he managed to keep ahead of Takahashi and grab the silver. In the end, it was Kozuka who stepped away from the dust with a gold medal around his neck. Like Oda, he wasn't perfect, taking a spill on a quad and a salchow, but what he did do was delivered so well it made up for the other mistakes. Takahiko has shown a tendency to skate better in the front half of the season as opposed to the back half. Perhaps this win at Japanese Nationals will propel him forward to success in the upcoming ISU Championships.
Tomorrow: A rundown of the upcoming European Championships