Mao Asada finished first in the women’s short programme of the Japan national figure skating championships on Saturday to strengthen her chances of securing a berth for the Vancouver Olympics.
Asada’s opening triple axel in the combination was downgraded to a double axel but she completed the rest of her routine without error to receive 69.12 points.
Yukari Nakano, who is also bidding for one of two places remaining for Vancouver, was second with 68.90 points while Miki Ando was third with 68.68.
Asada has struggled this season but said Saturday’s performance was a big step forward.
“I came here with the intention of booking a ticket to the Olympics,” Asada said. “I feel like I’ve cleared one hurdle and hope to carry this momentum into the free skate.”
The 19—year—old Asada finished a disappointing fifth at the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow in October and second at the season—opening Trophee Bompard, won by South Korea’s Kim Yu—na. Asada failed to qualify for the Grand Prix finals in Tokyo earlier this month, another event won by Kim.
Asada’s last win was at the 2008 Japan nationals.
“I got a lot of support from the fans today,” Asada said. “It’s been a while since I got a standing ovation.”
Ando has already earned a place in Vancouver by finishing second at the GP finals. She had planned a triple lutz, triple loop to open her routine but went with a triple, double instead.
“My goal here is to enjoy this event,” Ando said. “I wanted to do the triple, triple to open today and was a bit disappointed I couldn’t do that.”
Assuming Asada earns a place in the Olympics, the third and final spot will likely come down to a race between Nakano and Akiko Suzuki, who was fourth in the short programmeith 67.84 points.
The 2010 Olympic team will be named on Sunday following the women’s free skate.