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Japan Suffers Setback Before Turin Games
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Japan suffers a setback before the Turin Winter Olympics as one of its most medal hopefuls was prevented from the Games.

Mao Asada, who turned 15 in September, is three months too young to be eligible for the Turin Games. Asada toppled world number-one Irina Slutskaya of Russia to win the women's title at the figure skating Grand Prix series final.

Thus Japan pins its hope solely on male speed skater Joji Kato to end its gold-medal drought.

Kato, a 20-year-old, set the world record of 34.30 seconds last November on his way to win three 500-meter World Cup events this season.

"We can only count on Kato for a gold medal but there are many competitors who have medals within their reach," said Japan's delegation chief Kenichi Chizuka.

He hoped for a total of eight medals -- three in speed skating, two in snowboard and one each in figure skating, ski jumping and freestyle moguls skiing.

At the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, Japan collected just one silver and one bronze while China and South Korea each pocketed two short-track golds.

Earlier at the 1998 Nagano Games, the hosts had their best-ever haul of 10 medals, including five golds.

(Xinhua News Agency Feb.1, 2006)

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