Japan figure skaters set to dominate Four Continents
2/8/2013 2:33:26 AM
Former world champions Mao Asada and Daisuke Takahashi will lead Japan's medal hunt at the Four Continents figure skating championships on home ice this week in the absence of their arch-rivals.
The three-day event for skaters from non-European countries, opening in Osaka on Friday, will serve as a testing ground before next month's world championships that will crown the pre-Olympic season.
Asada has swept all four events she took part in so far this season, including the Grand Prix Final, without taking the risk of attempting her trademark triple axel.
The 2008 and 2010 world champion was out of form in the previous two seasons and frequently bungled the highly demanding 3.5-revolution jump.
But Asada said she was eager to try the triple axel again as she revs up for a showdown with South Korea's Olympic champion Kim Yu-Na at the worlds in the Canadian city of London.
"Even if I perform well, I can't feel really happy unless I regain all the skills which I used to have," Asada said.
Kim, who beat Asada into second spot at the 2010 Vancouver Games, made a competitive comeback in a second-tier event in December but is skipping the Four Continents.
Asada faces challenges from compatriot Akiko Suzuki, the 2012 World bronze medallist, and two 17-year-olds -- Canadian champion Kaetlyn Osmond and American Gracie Gold, the runner-up to Ashley Wagner at the nationals.
Wagner is absent from Osaka.
The Japanese men, who have won four out of the six GP men's titles this season, are raring to dominate the podium. Takahashi, the 2010 world champion, is at the vanguard.
In the absence of title-holder and reigning two-time world champion Patrick Chan of Canada, veteran Takahashi will resume his domestic rivalry with 18-year-old Yuzuru Hanyu.
Hanyu, who improved his own world short programme record to 95.32 points at the home Grand Prix NHK Trophy, upset Takahashi, 26, at the nationals in December.
They will be joined in medal contention by new US champion Max Aaron and runner-up Ross Miner as well as Japan's Takahito Mura, who won the Grand Prix in Paris, the Trophee Bompard.
A stirring duel in the ice dance is expected between reigning Olympic and world champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada and their American rivals Meryl Davis and Charlie White.
Davis and White, the runners-up at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and the 2012 worlds, beat the Canadian couple at the Grand Prix Final in December.
Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, who finished second at the 2011 edition, lead a pairs field lacking medallists from the last worlds.
China's Zhang Hao, who won Olympic and world silver medals with his former partner Zhang Dan, is bidding for his third Four Continents title in a team with Peng Cheng.
Schedule (all times in GMT)
Friday, February 8
0420: Ice dance - short dance
0700: Pairs - short programme
0930: Men - short programme
Saturday, February 9
0440: Women - short programme
0855: Men - free skating
Sunday, February 10
0350: Pairs - free skating
0630: Women - free skating
1115: Ice dance - free dance
Monday, February 11
0600: Exhibition gala