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September 23, 2017

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Late bloomer Akiko Suzuki looks to future

NICE, France -- Veteran Japanese figure skater Akiko Suzuki has high hopes for the future after making her international breakthrough on the world stage at the age of 27 years with a bronze.

Days after turning 27, Suzuki saved what would have been a disappointing world championship week on the French Riveria for the Japanese women, who had won four of the five titles prior to Nice.

Two-time world champion Mao Asada slumped to sixth and 17-year-old Kanako Murakami dropped from second after the short programme to fifth overall.

But up stepped Suzuki skating to "Die Fledermaus" to surge unexpectly from fifth onto the podium behind winner Carolina Kostner of Italy and Russia's Alena Leonova.

"I want to put this medal on my coach's neck," said Suzuki, whose early career had been blighted with her struggle with anorexia.

Suzuki had been one of the rising stars of Japanese women's figure skating before her battle with the eating disorder almost ended her promising career at the age of just 16. She missed the entire 2003-2004 season.

The skater from Aichi, who trains in Nagoya, finished just 11th in her only previous world appearance in 2010, after making her Olympic debut earlier that year with an eighth place in Vancouver.

She now hopes to focus on next season and her bid to compete in the 2014 Sochi Games.

"I think missing last year's world team gave a lot of motivation to train harder. This is my first world medal and I am 27 years old.

"So after one year I have my first medal. This is the first present I got after turning 27," said Suzuki.

She added: "I am very, very happy to have won a medal. But I wanted to give a clean performance and get a medal with it. So I have a few regrets about that.

"In my free skating the last triple Lutz is something I always work on. I really wanted to nail it, but couldn't. I still need to work on it."

The medal capped a successful season for Suzuki who beat Olympic silver medalist Asada to win the NHK Trophy and finished runner-up to the 2008 and 2010 world champion at nationals and second to Kostner at the Grand Prix final.

Her bronze brought Japan's final tally to four medals with Daisuke Takahashi and Yuzuru Hanyu winning silver and bronze in the men's event and Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran Japan's first pairs medal with bronze.

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