Japan's Marin Honda, skating star since 11, revels in growing spotlight

Japan's Marin Honda, skating star since 11, revels in growing spotlight

SALT LAKE CITY -- When she was only 11 years old, Marin Honda was anointed by Japanese media as the worthy successor to Mao Asada, the most decorated figure skater in her country's history.

Since then, the hype around Honda has grown exponentially in her homeland, a country that has developed a boundless passion for figure skating over the past decade.

So, there were six Japanese TV networks and 10 Japanese newspapers in town to cover a second-tier event -- the 2017 U.S. International Figure Skating Classic in Salt Lake City -- because it was Honda's debut on the senior international circuit.

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Sixth quad in a free skate? Nathan Chen might try it

Sixth quad in a free skate?  Nathan Chen might try it

HELSINKI, Finland -- Nathan Chen felt out of sorts. He stressed over having slept badly Wednesday night. His skating boots were literally letting him down, no matter how much duct tape he used to hold them together. His warmup before Thursday's short program at the 2017 World Figure Skating Championships saw him fall on one quadruple jump attempt and a step out on the landing of another.

"I think the pressure got to me a little bit," he said.

Each issue made Chen a little more nervous about his world championships debut at the end of a season in which he had gone from a first-year senior with great promise to the cynosure of all eyes in the sport. He had become the U.S. champion, the Four Continents champion, and the first to land five quads in a free skate.

Now he faced 20 minutes between the end of his warmup and his start time, which he spent thinking about making sure the quads were secure and worrying about how the 11th-hour struggles might affect his performance.

"That kind of got me a little shook up," he said.

It would be more than a little ironic, though, that the last and best thing Chen did in the warmup was a very good triple axel -- the jump that has remained his nemesis as he leaped to the top of his sport with a dazzling number and variety of quads.

"Triples are hard," Chen would say with a laugh after the short program. "Quads are really my thing."

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At worlds, Ashley Wagner focused on next year's Olympics

At worlds, Ashley Wagner focused on next year's Olympics

HELSINKI, Finland -- Because they compete in a subjectively judged sport, figure skaters adopt a mantra of keeping their focus on what they can do rather than pay significant attention to what their competitors are doing.

Even as she says that, though, Ashley Wagner will carry a broader view at the 2017 World Figure Skating Championships, which will open Wednesday morning in Helsinki, Finland, with the ladies short program.

"This competition, my main goal is to see how I chalk up against these girls," Wagner said after finishing a strong practice, where she rattled off the planned jumps in her short program with power and sure-footedness.

"My focus is really next year (the Olympics), so this is just seeing what's going to happen," she continued. "This competition is kind of trying to gauge how far I have to go next year."

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Nathan Chen as Nureyev? It's really not a surprise

Nathan Chen as Nureyev?  It's really not a surprise

Search the internet for still pictures of ballet legend Rudolf Nureyev dancing Le Corsaire.

Then compare your findings to screenshots from the first 30 seconds of Nathan Chen skating his short program to music from that ballet.

In several instances -- especially in the time before Chen begins jumping -- the parallels between the skater and the dancer are striking. There are moments when Chen's arm carriage, known as port de bras in ballet, and the positions of his feet are virtually homage to Nureyev's performance.

That is not surprising, given that Chen and his choreographer-coach, Marina Zoueva, put together the program after spending hours looking at YouTube video of Nureyev in Le Corsaire, a mid-19th century ballet to the music of Adolphe Adam.

"We basically modeled it right after Nureyev and tried to make [it] as similar as possible," Chen said.

That Chen can reflect Nureyev seems surprising until you talk with people who taught him and danced with him during the 6 1/2 years he studied at Ballet West Academy in Salt Lake City. It surprises them that some figure skating judges apparently find it hard to recognize the artistic ability, musicality and dance skills they saw in Chen soon after he enrolled at the school as a 7-year-old.

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