Asada targets Yuna on free skate

It was only two months ago when it seemed that a misfiring Mao Asada was about to miss the Olympic party.


Luckily, the Japanese figure skater famed for her soaring triple Axels found her landing legs in the nick of time and showed her biggest rival, South Korea's Kim Yuna, that it was game on at the Vancouver Olympics.

"(The battle) is very familiar and it's great for the sport and will be great for the viewers as it will keep everyone on the edge of their seats," said Yuna's coach Brian Orser, who himself was involved in the "Battle of the Brians" in the 1988 Games against American rival Brian Boitano.

The two 19-year-olds' Olympic debut brought traffic to a standstill in South Korea and Japan on Tuesday for 20 spell-binding minutes.

First Asada marked her territory on the ice with a stupendous performance that earned her a personal best 73.78 for her short programme.

However, her name stayed on the top of the leaderboard for less than 10 minutes as Yuna blew away the judges with her classy "Bond Girl" routine to earn a record 78.50 points.

"Mao came out and skated the best short I've seen her do all year. Then Yuna came out and one upped her. It's great for skating and great for the Olympics," said Skate Canada's high performance director Mike Slipchuk.

On Thursday the two will return for Act II of their riveting Olympic saga and will no doubt have 177 million Asians across South Korea and Japan tuning in.

Despite Yuna's 4.72-point cushion, Asada could make up the deficit as she has two triple Axels planned in the free skate.

Yuna and Asada, born 20 days apart, have been rivals since the moment they first laced up their skates and after missing out on a trip to Turin four years ago for being too young, they were expected to provide the ultimate showdown in Vancouver.

Toronto-based Yuna will turn up for the free skate as the world champion and the winner of all but one competition over the last two years.

For much of this season, however, it appeared as if the Olympics could turn out to be a one-horse race as Asada failed to land the jumps that made her the world champion in 2008.

Two weeks before the Games, the triple Axels finally clicked together on the ice as Asada won the Four Continents, giving Yuna a timely reminder of what she is capable of.

"Even with the season Mao had been having, she seemed like a feisty competitor and I was never ever underestimating what she was capable of," said Orser.

"I knew she would show up here in top form. I was ready for her and never counted her out. Yuna's a fierce competitor too so being in top form here at the Olympics is what really counts."

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