Japan's Oda, figure skating, steps closer to Olympic berth

Nobunari Oda finished first in the men's short program at the Japanese national figure skating championships on Friday, moving a step closer to securing a ticket to the Turin Winter Olympics. Oda, who won the NHK Trophy earlier this month and is the current world junior men's champion, received 79.90 points after cleanly landing all his jumps at Yoyogi Arena.

"I was able to complete all my jumps including the triple axel," said Oda. "I'm very relieved and feel confident that I can secure a place at the Olympics." The 18-year-old Oda and Daisuke Takahashi are vying for Japan's lone spot in men's figure skating at the Turin Olympics. Takahashi was second with 74.52 points after failing to execute a triple axel in his routine.

"I was disappointed that I couldn't do the triple axel," said Takahashi. "I had trouble doing it in practice and overcompensated in today's program." Takahashi, who gave himself 50 points out of 100 for his short program, said he was planning a tough free skate on Saturday that will include a quad toeloop and a triple axel. Takeshi Honda, who was fourth at the Salt Lake City Olympics, finished seventh in the short program. Honda, who is recovering from ankle injuries, fell on his opening jump and touched down on his second element.

The women's short program begins on Saturday. With three places open for Turin, Miki Ando, Shizuka Arakawa, Fumie Suguri, Yoshie Onda and Yukari Nakano will be vying to nail down a spot. Japanese teen sensation Mao Asada, who won the Grand Prix Final last week, will take part in the national championships but is ineligible for the Olympics. Asada turned 15 in September, less than three months past the July 1 deadline the International Skating Union set for eligibility for the Winter Olympics. The ISU made the rule change in 1996 on medical advice.

Ando, 18, is coming off a fourth-place finish at the Grand Prix meet and is still the only woman skater to perform a quadruple jump in competition. Japanese skating officials are expected to make a final decision on the Olympic squad after the competition ends on Sunday, reports the AP. N.U.

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