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Nobunari Oda of Japan skates in the Exhibition Gala during 2010 Skate Canada International at the K-Rock Centre October 31, 2010 in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.(Photo By Dave Sandford/Getty Images) (Dave Sandford/2010 Getty Images)
Nobunari Oda of Japan skates in the Exhibition Gala during 2010 Skate Canada International at the K-Rock Centre October 31, 2010 in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.(Photo By Dave Sandford/Getty Images) (Dave Sandford/2010 Getty Images)

Beverley Smith

Japanese skater Oda watches and waits in Canada Add to ...

In the wake of Friday's devastating earthquakes and tsunami in Japan, Nobunari Oda says he's nervous about returning home for the world figure skating championships.

Oda, who trains in Barrie, Ont., with coach Lee Barkell, is scheduled to fly into Narita International Airport in Tokyo on Saturday, but he's not so sure he's going to make it. Narita was closed to commercial flights Friday and had allowed only nine flights to leave by the end of the day.

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Oda, a four-time national silver medalist and one of the prime contenders in the 2011 men's world event, intends to go home to Osaka, where his young wife, Mayu, and his five-month-old son, Shintaro, live. Away from his family for most of the year, he wanted to see them for a week before he competed. (The worlds are scheduled to begin March 21 in Tokyo.)

He said they are safe in an inland city that was largely unaffected by the earthquake and flooding that ravaged the nation's northeastern coast, although he said they felt slight tremors in Osaka.

Oda saw the news of the earthquake on TV Friday morning in Barrie.

"I think my friends in Tokyo are very afraid," he said, adding they are staying close to home because of persistent aftershocks.

A second earthquake struck the Nagano prefecture in the country's northwest later Friday. The world championships had originally been assigned to Nagano, host city of the 1996 Winter Olympics, but was moved to the capital some time ago.

Ottavio Cinquanta, president of the International Skating Union, said Friday that officials of the Japanese Skating Federation have told him Yoyogi National Gymnasium is "in order" and they will be ready to stage the event. Cinquanta said the ISU will continue to monitor the situation.

Figure skaters from around the world were already heading to Japan when the disaster struck.

Russian pairs team Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov arrived in Tokyo just three hours before the first earthquake hit, and for a few hours their national skating federation lost contact with them. However, Russian federation president Alexander Gorshkov said the pair had arrived safely at their training site in Fukuoka, in southern Japan. French skater Florent Amodio arrived in Tokyo last Thursday, but he, too, is in Fukuoka, and safe.

The 2006 Olympic women's champion, Shizuka Arakawa, posted on Twitter.com that she is safe, as has Fumie Suguri, a former world silver medalist.

Takeshi Honda, a retired Japanese skater, is from Sendai, a coastal city struck hard Friday, but he is reported safe. Rising young Japanese star Yuzuru Hanyu was in a classroom in Sendai at the time of the initial incident, but he, too, is okay.

Reigning world champions Daisuke Takahashi and Mao Asada both train in Nagoya, Japan, which was largely unaffected.

Oda has chalked up a lot of frequent flier points between Japan and Canada. He comes to Canada three or four times a year, for 1½ months at a time, to train.

Oda, who will turn 24 during the week of the world championships, last saw his family three weeks ago. He said it was tough being away from his family. Mayu was a school classmate and never a skater.

He says he almost quit skating after troubled efforts late last season. He had won both of his Grand Prix events, and took the silver medal at the Grand Prix Final behind eventual 2010 Olympic champion Evan Lysacek of the United States.

In the free skate at the Vancouver Games, Oda fell because of a broken boot lace and finished seventh overall. Later, at the world championships, he unravelled in the short program, landing only single jumps and didn't even qualify for the free skate.

He was in despair. But he decided to skate again when he found that his wife was pregnant with their son. He left Morozov and returned to the calm supportive Barkell in Barrie and "I've been having a wonderful time," he said.

This season, under Barkell's watch, Oda stunned everyone by landing a quad-triple combination in the short program at Skate Canada - something he'd never attempted before. He took the silver medal there behind Patrick Chan of Toronto, but his efforts make him a strong candidate to give Chan trouble - should the world championships take place.

 

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