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Asada prepares for Olympic showdown at GP Final

December 4, 2013

FUKUOKA, Japan (AP) — Japanese skater Mao Asada will be sharpening her free program at the Grand Prix Final starting Thursday as she prepares for a potential gold-medal showdown with South Korean rival Kim Yu-na at the Sochi Olympics.

Asada, who has won two Grand Prix events this season, plans to include the triple axel in her program at the Dec. 5-8 GP Final in Fukuoka, Japan.

“I feel I’ve been in good form this season so the timing is right for the triple axel,” said Asada. “I am always trying to challenge myself and exceed my expectations.”

In practice sessions leading up to the GP Final, Asada has performed the triple axel and followed it up with a triple axel, triple toeloop combination.

The 23-year-old became the first woman to land three triple axels in one competition at the Vancouver Olympics where she finished runner-up to gold medalist Kim.

Since then, she has had mixed results with the difficult high-risk, high-reward jump, at times opting to remove it from her routine altogether.

Asada’s competition in Fukuoka will come from Ashley Wagner of the United States and four young Russians eager to showcase their talents ahead of Sochi.

Kim sat out the Grand Prix season because of injury and will be making her season debut at the second-tier event Golden Spin in Zagreb, Croatia, which coincides with the Fukuoka event.

Three of the four Russian skaters competing — Julia Lipnitskaia, Anna Pogorilaya and Adelina Sotnikova — are eligible for Sochi. The fourth is Elena Radionova, a 14-year-old who won the world junior title this year.

The GP Final is the first and only event where most of the world’s top skaters will meet before the Sochi Olympics. A total of 36 skaters from eight countries will compete.

Three-time world champion Patrick Chan of Canada will be the focus of the men’s event in Fukuoka where he will be aiming for his fourth GP title.

Chan dominatedt the Trophee Bompard last month where he set new highest scores with 98.52 points in the short program, 196.75 points in the free skating and 295.27 points overall.

Chan finished a disappointing fifth at the Vancouver Olympics but will be a more mature and experienced 23-year-old in Sochi, where he is aiming to become the first Canadian to win gold in the men’s event.

Defending GP Final champion and local favorite Daisuke Takahashi was forced to pull out with an injured right leg. Reserve Nobunari Oda will replace Takahashi in the six-man field.

Also competing in the men’s event are Japanese skaters Yuzuru Hanyu, Tatsuki Machida, who won Skate America and Rostelecom Cup, while Yan Han of China and Maxim Kovtun of Russia round out the field.

The ice dance event will feature a showdown between Sochi gold medal contenders Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the United States and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada.

Reigning world champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov of Russia headline the pairs event. They will be challenged by world silver medalists Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany