(AFP) – Nov 19, 2009
KITCHENER, Canada — Japan's 2006 Olympic champion Shizuka Arakawa telephoned Akiko Suzuki to offer some advice after the unheralded Japanese woman posted a surprise win at the ISU Grand Prix in China last month.
On Thursday as Suzuki cooled down following a successful practice session here at Skate Canada International, she shared Arakawa's message with a throng of Japanese and international journalists.
Arakawa told her countrywoman not to feel pressure, but to focus on the chance this last of six events in the Grand Prix series presents to qualify for the prestigious Grand Prix final. Arakawa told Suzuki that from pressure can come power.
At 24, Suzuki is a late-comer to the elite ranks of international figure skating competition. She held much promise as a junior competitor but her ambitions were derailed by an eating disorder that materialized on her move away from home at 18 to attend university.
"I lost 15 kilograms (33 pounds) in two months. I weighed 32 kilograms," Suzuki, who is now 48 kilograms, said through an interpreter.
"It took a year to gain the weight back. I could skate but I could not jump for a year."
As a result of her illness and the depth of the Japanese women's team, Suzuki, who had placed eighth at the ISU Four Continents Championships in 2002, was sidelined from high-level competition until last season when she ranked second at the Grand Prix NHK Trophy in Japan. She also finished eighth at Four Continents held in the 2010 Olympic venue in Vancouver.
"I really want to go back there (in February) as an Olympian," Suzuki said. "After getting first place in China, I am eager to get another good placement so I am training harder and harder."
The Japanese federation has held out a carrot to its men's and women's contenders who qualify for the final in Tokyo in December. Whoever posts the highest results in a medal-winning performance there will be named automatically to the three-man, three-woman Olympic team.
Miki Ando and Nobunari Oda, with two wins each on the Grand Prix circuit, have already qualified for the final, while expected frontrunner Mao Asada faltered and squandered her chances.
This weekend, Suzuki and her male counterpart Daisuke Takahashi hope to add their names to the elite six-woman and six-man rosters for the final.
World silver medallist Joannie Rochette, 23, should challenge Suzuki for top spot here, although the Canadian's subpar performance at Cup of China relegated her to third behind Suzuki.
Takahashi, 23, who missed all of last season after surgery to repair knee ligament damage, also practised Thursday, showing less of the rust that was so apparent in his return to Grand Prix competition in Nagano, Japan, two weeks ago, where he ranked fourth.
A gold medal here would qualify the 2007 world silver medallist and 2008 Four Continents champion for the final. A silver would bring tie-breaking rules into play.
Takahashi's toughest challenger at Skate Canada should be Canadian Patrick Chan, 18, who won his own world silver medal last March with Takahashi absent.
With the Japanese, who still hold the record for highest point total earned, back in the game -- along with 2006 Olympic champ Evgeni Plushenko and twice world champion Stephane Lambiel -- Chan said Thursday he welcomes the chance to test himself against the sport's biggest names.
"It's cool to have these guys back and finally have the opportunity to see how my points will match up against theirs," Chan said.
The men and women compete in the short programmes on Friday.
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