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With family safe, Dungjen and Sato deal with their skaters' uncertainty

March 14, 2011 |  3:26 pm


No U.S. figure skating coaches are more sensitive to the situation in Japan than Yuka Sato and her husband, Jason Dungjen.

Sato was a world champion for Japan. Her father, Nobuo, and mother, Kumiko, coach some of Japan's leading skaters, including reigning world champion Mao Asada

First things first: Dungjen said by telephone Monday afternoon that his wife's parents are fine, as are all the members of Sato's family, although some of their friends had to be evacuated from the areas near Sendai where there is a risk of radiation from a damaged nuclear plant.

Sato told the Detroit Free Press that her mother was in Toyota City, about 300 miles from the earthquake epicenter, and her father was in Tokyo when the quake hit.

Now that they are sure their loved ones are safe, Dungjen and his wife can deal with their other concern: What kind of training program to devise for the skaters they coach who were headed to Japan for upcoming competitions?

"The worst thing right now is the uncertainty,'' Dungjen said.

Alissa Czisny, the reigning U.S. woman's champion, was headed for the world championships next week in Tokyo. Jeremy Abbott, the 2009-2010 U.S. men's champion, was going to the World Team Trophy competition April 14-17 in Yokohama.

The International Skating Union announced Monday that the world championships would not take place next week, and both events could be postponed or cancelled.

International Skating Union President Ottavio Cinquanta told me by telephone earlier Monday that the federation needs to decide within three or four days if the competitions would be held, and if so, when and where to hold them.

"Alissa told me [Monday], 'I don't care when and where, let's just have it,' " Dungjen said.

Dungjen said he will adjust the skaters' training based on whatever decision is made.

If there is a delay of more than two weeks before the world championships, Dungjen said he would give Czisny a few days off before returning to a normal training schedule.

"We've put her in a holding pattern,'' Dungjen said.  "Today, she just came in and skated lightly. If they keep us in limbo, she will keep training but try not to overwork anything.''

Dungjen and Sato had planned to scale back Czisny's training at the end of this week to have her fresh for the World Championships.  She was scheduled to leave for Japan next Monday.

U.S. Figure Skating spokesperson Scottie Bibb said in an e-mail that the group's high-performance director, Mitch Moyer, has been in contact with the coaches of all 15 U.S. athletes on the world team.

"They are being encouraged to keep training for worlds, and no coaches have expressed any concern with the event being postponed for a short time,'' Bibb wrote.

The International Skating Union "understands they can't expect the athletes to stay at this level of training/preparation indefinitely and have that in mind during their efforts to reschedule the event.''

Dungjen said there is another factor in the rescheduling equation: International Skating Union coaching seminars begin April 23, so the world events would need to be finished before then.

While the International Skating Union has not ruled out moving the events to a different site, one of its leading officials thinks logistical considerations make an 11th-hour change impossible.

International Skating Union Vice President David Dore of Canada told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.: "In my view it is not possible to change it to another venue as the amount of work to be done could not possibly happen in this time. ... In my opinion, it takes a good three years to advance plan a worlds.''

-- Philip Hersh

Photo: Yuka Sato, left, and Jason Dungjen, right, join a happy Alissa Czisny as she awaits her scores at January's U.S. Championships. Credit: Reuters / U.S. Figure Skating