Thursday, February 11, 2010

Ando rounds into top form for Vancouver

Miki Ando has learned how to deal with the pressure.

Friday, at a media day in Simsbury, Conn., she finishes up a 45-minute practice for a few U.S. media outlets, deals with the usual gaggle of television and internet photographers from Tokyo. While her legs feel fine, she's nursing a serious cramp in her writing hand.

"I just finished 300 cards for fans," Ando said. "Some of them are from Canada, from Europe -- I don't know where -- and mostly Japan."

Ando's fans, like those of other Olympic favorites Yu-Na Kim and Mao Asada, are fiercely loyal. They've seen the Nagoya native through early triumphs in the junior ranks to a disastrous 15th-place finish at the 2006 Olympics; from the 2007 world title to an injury-plagued collapse the next year and last season's rebound to world bronze.

"I love my fans," Ando said. "They kept me skating."

She also likes training in the peace and quiet of Simsbury, Conn., where her coach, Nikolai Morozov, has moved to take advantage of Olympic-sized ice in the weeks prior to Ando's departure for Vancouver on Feb. 14.

Morozov must hope the relocation brings his skater luck. He helped Tatiana Tarasova train 2002 Olympic champion Alexei Yagudin here, and also coached 2006 Olympic champion Shizuka Arakawa in Simsbury.

"I liked training here before," Ando said in rapidly improving English. "After [the 2006] Olympics and I started working with Nikolai, I came here first. So I feel comfortable training here.

"Of course I love Japan, and I like training in Japan too, but here it's [easier] for me to concentrate on the skating and show my feelings."

Many in Japan expect medals, perhaps gold, for Ando and her three-years-younger Japanese rival, Mao Asada, who recently defeated her at their nationals. Surprisingly, Ando said she's comfortable with the expectations.

"Four years ago it was more pressure," she said. "I was 18 years old, and it was my [first] Olympics. I didn't know what to do, and I didn't know why so many people came to me every day recording my practices, talking about me. Of course I [had done a] quad before [in 2002] and everybody asked about it."

Ando crumbled, dissolving in tears at a press conference when a reporter fired off a question about her late father. This time around, she said she's more mature, and has used her past experiences to build strength.

Full article.

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