(AFP) – Dec 29, 2008
TOKYO (AFP) — Japan's world figure skating champion Mao Asada is looking to crown her pre-Olympic season with a "supreme smile" as she counts on her inimitable jumps to overcome South Korean rival Kim Yu-Na's artistry.
The hot rivalry between the two 18-year-olds, both 164 centimetres (5 feet 5 inches) tall, is heading into a New Year break after Asada regained the Grand Prix final title from two-time winner Kim in December.
A cut above the rest of the world, they will clash again in the Four Continents championships from February 2 to 8 at Pacific Coliseum, the figure skating venue for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.
In late March, the pair are expected to make the world championships in Los Angeles a preview of their Olympic gold-medal contention after missing the 2006 Turin Games for being too young to enter.
"I want to win a second straight (world) title and I want to do it without mistakes," Asada said after lifting her third straight national championship last weekend, despite jumping errors in her highly demanding programmes.
"I want to score my personal best by giving my best performance. I want to finish with a supreme smile," said pony-tailed Asada, who has switched to Russian coach Tatiana Tarasova for the season.
She holds the world's highest combined score of 199.52 points in women's singles under the International Skating Union (ISU) judging system, against Kim's personal best of 197.20.
In free skating at the Grand Prix final to the tune of Aram Khachaturian's "Masquerade," Asada became the first woman to nail a triple axel twice at an international competition.
The difficult 3.5-revolution jump has been executed by only a handful of female skaters.
In contrast, Kim places more emphasis on artistic expression.
"I will try to wrap up my programmes beautifully without making mistakes and to score high points," Kim told reporters Sunday before leaving for Toronto to resume training under Canadian coach Brian Orser.
"I may have to worry about the 2010 Winter Olympics but I think I can cope if I sufficiently prepare myself," she told the daily JoongAng Ilbo.
The Grand Prix final in Goyang, outside Seoul, was a chance for redemption for Kim who, hampered by a hip injury, finished third at the world champions last March, behind Asada and Italy's Carolina Kostner.
But before cheering home crowds, Kim gave up her lead from the short programme as she managed only a single on her triple lutz attempt and fell on a triple salchow in free skating.
She finished second with 186.35 points against 188.55 for Asada with Kostner and Canadian Joannie Rochette third and fourth on 168.01 and 166.36.
Kim still bested Asada in skating skills, transition, choreography and interpretation.
Dubbed "little sister of the nation" at home, Kim later admitted she had cracked under a "psychological burden".
Asada's compatriot Midori Ito, who in 1989 became the first Asian to win a world figure skating title, said: "Kim has an awesome speed and drive. She is dynamic."
In 1988, Ito became the first woman to land a triple axel in competition. In her attempt at two triple axels at the 1992 Albertville Olympics, she failed in the second jump but still won the silver.
"It is even difficult for men to do it twice. But Mao did it just like that," Ito said. "She has the skills. What she needs is to avoid injury."
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