Reuters - Thu, 11 Feb 01:23:00 2010
Investment in Asian skating a decade ago has paid off with more sponsorship and the rise of Olympic favourites, according to International Skating Union president Ottavio Cinquanta.
South Korea's Kim Yuna and Japanese duo Miki Ando (pictured) and Mao Asada are among the favourites for the women's figure skating medals at the Vancouver Games, while Asians won seven of the eight golds in short track speedskating at the 2006 Turin Olympics.
Cinquanta said it was his idea to hold more top-level competitions in Asia and the result was that the continent's skaters had raised their game.
"The conclusion was that I was right," the Italian told Reuters.
"Asia is improving technologically, now focussing on short track speed skating and figure skating.
"Countries have understood skating is a sport for Asian athletes, better than basketball or soccer.
"Any major event will be a very interesting fight between Europe, Asia and North America. And today Asia can win."
Asia's first Olympic figure skating gold came in 2006 when Japan's Shizuka Arakawa won the women's title. There had been steady progress in the run-up with Asians winning figure skating medals at every Games since 1992 when they won their first.
The good results have led to more sponsorship from the region.
"Geographically in terms of commercial negotiation (Asia) has a green future. There are more Asian sponsorship agreements than 10 to 15 years ago," Cinquanta said.
Cinquanta said the ISU was weathering the global economic downturn.
"With sponsors we are not that damaged. It is not a brilliant situation but we go on," he said.
"The recession is not affecting one branch or the other (of skating) more than the other particularly.
"At the end of the day we can't drink champagne but we don't cry."
Figure skaters have said they have noticed the effects of the global recession on their sport, pointing out that while they used to have their hotels paid for until the end of a competition they now have to leave after their event.
"You leave the next day. You used to stay right to the end," Israeli ice dancer Sasha Zaretsky said at last month's European championships.
At last year's Europeans the top 24 skaters in the men's and women's events progressed to the free skate after the short programme but this year the cut-off was changed to the top 20, with Zaretsky saying it was further evidence of cost-cutting.
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