Skaters from Asia paying off dividends

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Skaters from Asia paying off dividends

VANCOUVER - Investment in Asian skating a decade ago has paid off with more sponsorship and the rise of Olympic favorites such as Kim Yu-na, International Skating Union president Ottavio Cinquanta told Reuters.

South Korea’s Kim and Japanese duo Miki Ando and Mao Asada are among the favorites for women’s figure skating medals at the Vancouver Games, while Asians won seven of the eight golds in short-track speed skating at the 2006 Turin Olympics. Cinquanta said it was his idea to hold more top-level competitions in Asia, and that has led to the continent’s skaters raising their games.

“The conclusion was that I was right,” the Italian said in a telephone interview. “Asia is improving technologically, now focusing on short-track speed skating and figure skating. Countries have understood skating is a sport for Asian athletes, better than basketball or soccer. Any major event will be a very interesting fight between Europe, Asia and North America. And today Asia can win.”

Asia’s first Olympic figure skating gold came in 2006 when Japan’s Shizuka Arakawa won the women’s title. There had been steady progress in the run-up, with Asians winning medals at every Games since 1992. The results have led to more sponsorship from the region.

“In terms of commercial negotiation, [Asia] has a green future. There are more Asian sponsorship agreements than 10 to 15 years ago,” Cinquanta said.

Cinquanta said the ISU is weathering the global economic downturn.

“With sponsors we are not that damaged. It is not a brilliant situation but we go on,” he said. “The recession is not affecting one branch [of skating] more than another. At the end of the day we can’t drink champagne but we don’t cry.”

Figure skaters have said they have noticed the effects of the global recession on their sport, pointing out that while they used to have their hotels paid through the end of a competition, they now check out after their event.

“You leave the next day. You used to stay right to the end,” Israeli ice dancer Sasha Zaretsky said at last month’s European championships.

At last year’s Europeans, the top-24 skaters in the men’s and women’s events progressed to the free skate after the short program; this year only the top 20 were invited to move on. Zaretsky said it was further evidence of cost-cutting. Reuters

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