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The Star Online: Sports


Figure skating worlds starting after month delay

Posted: 26 Apr 2011 05:22 AM PDT

MOSCOW (AP): Figure skating's top athletes take to the ice for the world championships a month later than they'd expected and in a different country.

The championships' hasty relocation to Moscow from Tokyo after Japan's catastrophic earthquake has been a challenge to every skater's training schedule. But for some, it's also brought an additional jolt of motivation.

"I feel like, OK, I can do it and I have to do something for the people who are living ... in Japan," says Miki Ando, a top contender for women's gold. "So many people can't have a normal life any more, and so many people died, or they don't know where they are still, so I feel like I couldn't be like normal. But after so many people were telling me and so many people were sending (messages) to me 'go forward' ... they push me to feel better to skate." After two days of qualification rounds, the championships open Wednesday at the Megasport Arena with the men's short program.

"I don't want to think about what happened in Japan. But to show everything I can do here is the best thing I can do for everybody," said defending men's champion Daisuke Takahashi of Japan. "I'd like to give joy and hope to the people with my skating."

The championships originally were to have started March 21 in Tokyo, and the ensuing uncertainty and rescheduling left most skaters wobbling with doubt and anxiety about how to train.

"When we knew about Tokyo and Russia I was very tired, and it was very difficult to come back on the ice again to get ready for the world championship," said Brian Joubert of France, a bronze medalist at the last two worlds.

But most appear to have adjusted. "I think we're all in the same boat, on the same playing field," said Canada's Patrick Chan, the reigning silver medalist. "It feels like a world championship, like it always does."

Japanese fans seeking consolation through the beauty and power of skating will have much to watch in this championships. Mao Asada is defending her title and Ando, the 2007 world champion, aims for another gold.

Ando recently has appeared to be resurgent, defeating Asada in the Four Continents and in the Japanese national championships.

Both, meanwhile, face the challenge of South Korea's Kim Yu-na, the Olympic gold medalist; the worlds is Kim's first competition of this season.

American Alissa Czisny, who won this season's Grand Prix Final, is also in the mix, along with countrywoman Rachel Flatt and three-time European champion Carolina Kostner.

Takahashi is joined by two other strong Japanese in the men's competition, Nobunari Oda and Takahiko Kozuka, who took silver and bronze respectively at the Grand Prix Final. The U.S. entries are national champion Ryan Bradley, Ross Miner and Richard Dornbush.

The pairs competition features defending champions Pang Qing and Tong Jian of China, challenged by world silver medalist Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany.

In ice dancing, Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White, the reigning silver medalists, are in strong position to take the country's first-ever world gold in the discipline. They face Olympic and world champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada, but Virtue has been troubled since surgery last fall and the couple withdrew in the Four Continents, their only competition of the season.

Russia, a longtime figure skating power, offers a comparatively underwhelming field for these championships. Its top medal contenders are Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov, the defending world bronze pair.

Home-country fans also will be closely watching several young skaters who hold promise for Russian glory when the country hosts the 2014 Olympics: Artur Gachinski, whose technique is often likened to Evgeni Plushenko's, and Ksenia Makarova and Alena Leonova.

But if Russia's medal prospects are a bit dim this year, the country effectively has already won a gold for its swift organization of the championships, putting it all together in 31 days.

"I think its unbelievable that any country, any federation in four weeks can turn everything around so quickly; have hotels available with volunteers, a beautiful stadium, it's really unbelievable," said Alan Seabrook, chairman of Britain's National Ice Skating Association.

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Westwood first No 1 to play in South Korea

Posted: 26 Apr 2011 05:19 AM PDT

SEOUL, South Korea (AP): Lee Westwood hopes to put on a show in the Ballantine's Championship this week as the first No. 1-ranked golfer to play in South Korea.

Westwood reclaimed the top ranking from Martin Kaymer when he won the Indonesian Masters by three strokes in Jakarta on Sunday, his 38th birthday. Fellow Englishman Luke Donald could have overtaken Westwood hours later at the Heritage, but lost the U.S. PGA Tour event in a playoff.

"It's nice to get back to No. 1. I played well last week and my confidence is high," Westwood said on Tuesday.

"I've great expectations of myself and I hope to do well and win this championship on Sunday afternoon. I'm very much looking forward to the tournament and hopefully I'll give the galleries plenty to cheer about in the coming days."

Westwood shot 68-66-66-69 on Royale Jakarta for his seventh win in Asia, and was keen to pull off consecutive wins.

"The world rankings are all about consistency and playing well week-in and week-out, which I tend to do," he said. "The secret to being world No. 1 is having the consistency, and all parts of your game have to be good to do that."

The Ballantine's, co-sanctioned by the Asian and European Tours and the Korean PGA, has moved from Jeju Island to Blackstone Golf Club in Icheon, outside Seoul but will feature its strongest field yet.

Local hopes for a first Korean winner are carried mainly by Y.E. Yang, the 2009 U.S. PGA champion.

"My message to my Korean fans is this: I don't play that often in Korea," said Yang, who hails from Jeju.

"I come maybe every six months, in spring and autumn, and I think the best way to reward them is a win. I always try to do my best whenever I compete and I'll do the same again this week."

Also entered are Ernie Els, Ian Poulter, Miguel Angel Jimenez, 2009 winner Thongchai Jaidee, and highly rated Korean Noh Seung-yul, 19, who finished fourth in 2010 and went on to become the youngest winner of the Asian Tour's Order of Merit.

Els has finished in the top 10 in the past two Ballantine's.

"They get a number of really good players, so if you can win, you've beaten a really good field," Els said. "I would love to win, especially on a new course."

The defending champion was Marcus Fraser of Australia.

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