Suzuki wins Japan's national title, earns spot on Olympic team
SAITAMA, Japan (AP)
Akiko Suzuki earned a spot on the Japanese Olympic team by winning her first national title at the All-Japan figure skating championships on Monday.
Suzuki won the free skate to overtake two-time world champion Mao Asada and clinch the automatic spot on the Olympic squad with 215.18 points.
She finished nearly 13 points ahead of Kanako Murakami, who had 202.52. Asada finished third with 199.50 points and will join Suzuki and Kanako Murakami on the Japanese team in Russia.
Suzuki and Asada will be making their second straight trip to the Olympics. Asada was the silver medalist behind Kim Yu-na in Vancouver, where Suzuki finished eighth.
Asada had a nearly three-point advantage heading into the free skate, and was in position to win her seventh Japan title, but made several errors.
The 28-year-old Suzuki, who will retire at the end of the season, skated to ''Phantom of the Opera.'' She made seven triple jumps at Saitama Super Arena.
Murakami, the 2010 world junior champion, will be making her first trip to the Olympics.
Knowing the trip to Sochi was in her grasp, Murakami was cool under pressure to ''Papa, Can You Hear Me?'' while cleanly hitting six triple jumps. Her lone mistake was landing on the wrong edge on a triple lutz.
Asada under-rotated on her first triple axel at the outset of her program, to ''Piano Concerto No. 2,'' and then singled the second and touched the ice to prevent herself from falling.
Two-time world champion Miki Ando failed in her bid to make her third Olympic team, finishing seventh with 171.12 points.
Ando, who is 26 and gave birth to a daughter in April, announced she was retiring earlier in the day on Twitter.
''Today will be my last skating as a competitor. I want to fly today!!! And I want to skate with all my heart,'' Ando wrote on Twitter.
The only woman to ever land a quadruple jump in competition finished fifth at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and 15th at the 2006 Turin Games.
Yuzuru Hanyu, who won his second straight national title on Sunday, will lead the men's squad for Sochi. Joining Hanyu on the team will be Tatsuki Machida, who was second to Hanyu and won his two Grand Prix assignments this season, and 2010 world champion Daisuke Takahashi.
Takahashi, the bronze medalist at the Vancouver Games, was selected despite finishing fifth on Sunday following an error-filled free skate.
Hanyu beat three-time defending champion Patrick Chan of Canada to win the Grand Prix Final in Fukuoka, Japan, two weeks ago and is expected to duel with him again for the gold in Sochi.
Narumi Takahashi and Ryuichi Kihara will represent Japan in pairs, while Cathy and Chris Reed will skate in ice dance.