MAO ASADA AND HER UPS AND DOWNS

MAO ASADA

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Mao Asada
In March 2008, at the age of 19, Asada won the World Figure Skating Championship in Gothenburg, Sweden. She was second after the short program and fell trying a triple axle at the beginning of her long program but rebounded with a huge triple flip-triple, toe-loop combination and finished strong enough to take the gold medal, finishing ahead of Carolina Kostner of Italy and Kim Yu Na of South Korea.

In 2005, Mao Asada won the Grand Prix final and the junior world championships. Going into the 2006 Olympics she seemed like the best female skater in the world but was too young to compete in the Olympics. She turned 15 in September 2005, less than thee months past the July 1 deadline set by the International Skating Union for eligibility in the Winter Olympics. An appeal to International Olympic Committee to have the rules changed was turned down,

Asada has landed a triple axel---a jump that requires 3½ revolutions---in a competition. At 12, she became the first female to land a triple-triple-triple combination in a competition. She aspires to be the first to do a double triple axel in competition. On winning the Grand prix final in December 2005 she did six triples, including seven triple and double jumps without a miss in the last minute of her routine to the Nutcracker Suite,

Asaso was second to Ando at the World Figure Skating Championship in 2007. A series of errors left her in fifth after the short program. She performed a strong long program and moved up four places to second. On her relationship with Ando she has said they rarely see each other because they practice in different place “but when we see each other, it’s friendly.”

Asada is from Nagoya and developed as a skater in Nagoya. In 2006, she began practicing in Los Angeles under Rafael Arutunian, known for developing Michele Kwan. She broke with her long-time Nagoya-based coach Machiko Yamada. In 2008, Asada returned home to train at a new rink in Toyota, Aichi Prefecture near her hometown. She switched coaches again, this time to Tatiana Tarasova, Arakawa’s coach the year she won the gold medal in the Turin Olympics, with the aim of getting a gold in Vancouver in 2010.

Mao Asada in the 2008- 2009 Season

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Asada and her coach
(the woman in the middle)
In March 2009, Asada said that she would enroll in Chukyo University in Nagoya. Among the courses she planned to study was Russian so she could communicate better with Russian coach Tatiana Trasova,

In December 2008, Asada Asada won her third straight Japan national and won the ISU Grand Prix Final, after coming from behind to defeat rival Kim Yu Na from South Korea in a competition in Goyang, South Korea. Second behind Kim after the short program, Asada dazzled the audience with her long program, skated to Arama Khachaturian’s Masquerade, in which she became the first woman to land two triple axels in an international competition. The difficult 3.5 revolution jump is normally only done by men skaters.

At the Four Continents championship, Asada finished third. South Korea’s Kim Yu Na was first. Asada came back again with the best long program after finishing 6th in the short program. Kim had the best short program and easily scored enough points in the free sake to win.

Asada finished a disappointed forth at the World Figure Skating Championship in 2008. South Korea’s Kim Yu Na was first. A Canadian was second.

In 2010, Asada was selected as the 3rd most popular athlete in Japan behind baseball player Ichiro Suzuki and teen gold sensation Ryo Ishikawa in a Yomiuri Shimbun poll.

In January 2010, in her last warm up before the Olympics Asada come through with a strong long program, nailing two triple axels, to win the Four Continents title.

In the duel between Asada and Kim at the Trophee Bompard in Paris in October 2009, Kim came out on top by blowing away the competition in the short program and skating flawlessly in the long program while Asada missed a triple axel in the short program but skating well enough in the long program to move up to second overall.

Mao Asada at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010

Mao Asada won a silver medal in women’s figure skating at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. She skated well but finished a distant second place to South Korea’s Yuna Kim, who emerged as one of the big stars at Vancouver. In the long program, skating to Rachamaninov’s Bells of Moscow , Asada became the first woman to successfully completed two triple axels, including a triple-axel-double toe loop combination, and didn’t fall but botched the first jump of triple axel-double-double combination stumbled before a triple toe loop, managing only a single rotation. After the event was over she burst into tears of frustration. She scored 131.72 in the long program for a total score of 205.50. A personal best, but was well behind Kim’s long program score of 105.06 and total score of 228.65, both world’s records.

On the eve of the competition Asada said her aim was to win the gold medal and she said she was in good enough form to beat Kim. In the short program Asada skated well to Masquerade by Aram Khachaturian, landed all her jumps including a triple axel-double toe loop combination, followed by a triple flip, and didn’t make any major mistakes but Kim stole the show with her Bond girl routine. For Asada it had been a difficult season. She didn’t even make the Grand Prix and only managed to win a place to the Olympics with her performance at the Japanese nationals. In the long program she had to skate after Kim who received a huge ovation when her skate was finished,

Asada’s Russian coach Tatiana Tarasova chose the Bells of Moscow as Asada’s battle music. Written during the czarist period, the piece is said to express the desire of the Russian people to be free but it did not seem like a good match for Asada, who said, “I feel very confident [skating to] “Bells.” Some people think it doesn’t suit mem but I had no desire to change it.”

On her long program skate, a Yomiuri Shimbun reporter wrote, “For the four minutes of her long program...Asada went beyond performance. She showed everyone her personal battles this season...She was a skater struggling with signature moves that did not go as she wanted, an athlete fighting uncertainty within...Her fiercely determined expression, usually unimaginable on Asada, unintentionally matched the theme of her Russian music...Ultimately Asada could not gain the thing she wanted most--- the gold medal. Yet the silver shine just as brightly. The silver medal she overcame such trials to win.”

The television audience for the women’s figure skating reached 40 percent in some markets and was higher than the 36 percent for Nagano in 1998 and 32 percent for Turin in 2006. Miki Ando was forth after the short program and finished in fifth. Training in Hackensack New Jersey with Russian coach Nikolao Morozov, she had a good season before the Olympics and finished second at the Grand Prix final. After the Olympics Ando moved with her coach from New Jersey to Moscow. The third member of the Japanese women’s figure skating team at Vancouver was Akiko Suzuki, who made a comeback at the age of 24 after having a successful teenage skating career undone by an eating disorder. She finished in eighth. Japanese-American skater Mirai Nagasu was forth.

Mao Asada After the Vancouver Olympics in 2010

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Asada was the flag bearer for Japan in the Closing Ceremonies at Vancouver. Around the same time she was named the most popualr athlete or celbelrity by a large margin in a Yomiuri Shimbun survey with a 42 percent of those surveyed saying she was their favorite. Miki Ando and Ichiro Suzuki were in second with 18 percent votes.

After returning to Japan Asada said she aimed to get a gold medal at the next Olympics in Sochi Russia. At a press conference she said, “When I returned to Japan from Vancouver so many people congratulated me. At that point, I thought that it’s good thing that I could win a medal. However, I feel half happy, half sad about my performance. I believe winning the silver medal is a step in the right direction. So I will make more effort towards the Sochi Olympics four years from now.”

To succeed at Sochi Asada said she needed to be more stable in her skating and perform different types of jumps. “I believe I need to be a more consistent skater throughout a whole season,” she said. “Now I perform the most technically difficult jumps I can. But I believe I can increase the types of jumps and add a triple-triple combination in my program.”

Asada Wins the 2010 World Championship

In March 2010, Asada won the gold medal in the world figure skating championship in Turin, Italy, completing three triple axels in the long program. Kim skated poorly, pulling up to second after being in seventh places after the short program, saying she was exhausted after the Olympics and a long season and had a foot problem in the short program. Shortly after that event Asada was given a certificate by the Guinness Book of Records for being the first woman to complete three triple axels in a competition. Asada is one of the few women to try let alone make a triple axel

Asada, who also won the title in 2008, finished with 197.58 points, almost 7 more than South Korea’s Kim Yuna. Kim won the free skate, but she could not overcome a sloppy short program to edge Mao Asada. Kim had dominated the last two seasons, losing just one competition. That was to Asada. [Source: AP, March 27, 2010]

“I didn’t think I would be sitting here,” Asada said, noting that she had had trouble all season with her triple axel. “I had to continue and challenge and push myself. And I guess that is what led to today’s results...I am just really happy Japan was able to get the gold in both the women’s and the men’s competition,” Asada told the crowd, saying she was motivated by Daisuke Takahashi’s victory in the men’s competition.

AP reported: “Asada’s free program was the cleanest of the day---no falls, and just an under-rotated triple axel---but it was not the best. That belonged to Kim, who rebounded after an uncharacteristically bad showing in the short program left her in seventh place...Despite two errors, Kim edged Asada on difficulty, landing an effortless triple-triple combination and a soaring triple flip that earned extra execution points. But the exhaustion from the Olympic season was clear as Kim fell on a triple salchow and popped her final double axel. She scored 130.49 points, 1 more than Asada in the free program but nearly 20 points behind her Olympic performance.

“I am just really happy that I didn’t make a mistake like that in the Olympics,” Kim said. “This competition, I just wanted to enjoy it.” The world championships after an Olympics are always tough even for the best skaters---and especially so for the champions, who are so in demand. Evan Lysacek, the men’s Olympic champion, skipped the worlds, but Kim said she wanted to defend her world title.

Mao Asada in 2010-2011

Asada had a miserable season in 2010-2011. She had a hard a hard time completing her jumps and failed to reach the podium in any international event and didn’t make it the Grand Prix final. In her first competition of the season, the Japan Open, she fell twice and under-rotated her triple axel and finished fifth out of six skaters, At the NHK Trophy in Tokyo she finished a career-worst eighth and placed fifth at the Trophee Eric Bompard in Paris. In December she performed well at the Japan nationals but finished second to Miki Ando.

At the world championships in Moscow in April 2011 she finished sixth, Asada under-rotated her signature triple axel in the long program, as she did in the short program, and finished with 172.79. "It wasn't 100 percent, but I did the best I could," Asada said. "I've been working on my triple axel for a long time, so I wanted to nail it, though."

Asada and Tarasova parted after the 2009-2010 season. For the 2010-11 season Asada worked under Japanese coach Nobuo Sato. Asada decided to have Tarasova choreograph her short program and hired Lori Nichols to choreograph her long program. Asada had worked with Nichols two years earlier and wanted “music which is mainly slow.” Nichols had choreographed programs for Olympic medalist Michele Kwan and Sasha Cohen.

In June 2010, Asada hired Arakawa’s sump coach, Hiroshi Nagakubo, to help here improve the technique of her jumps.

Mao Asada Win the NHK Trophy

Mao Asada won the the NHK Trophy in Sendai in November 2012. Jack Gallagher wrote in the Japan Times, “Mao Asada narrowly edged out Akiko Suzuki for the women's title. Mao tallied 185.27 to Suzuki's 185.22. Suzuki was done in by her fifth-place finish in the short program on Friday. American Mirai Nagasu took third with 176.68. Mao skated to "Swan Lake" and had a calamitous outing, botching several jumps. She doubled her opening triple loop, then later doubled a triple lutz and compounded it by singling a triple salchow, but her big lead over Suzuki from the short program was enough put her atop the podium. [Source: Jack Gallagher, Japan Times, November 25, 2012]

Suzuki (185.22) assured herself a spot in the GP Final with a tremendous performance to "O" from Cirque du Soleil. The world bronze medalist landed six triple jumps and truly moved the audience with her program. With Mao and Suzuki booking their tickets to the GP Final along with the quartet of Japanese men, half of the field of 12 in the singles in Sochi will be from Japan. [Ibid]

"I feel a lot of disappointment," said Mao. "I couldn't execute any of my jumps. I can't be satisfied with the way I performed." Despite finishing second, Suzuki's outlook was much brighter. "I was able to give it my all," she stated. "I was really happy, so I pumped my fists with joy (at the end of the program)."

Asada Scores Emotional Victory at National Championships

In December 2012, Asada won the Japanese National Championship not long after her mother died. Kyodo reported: “Grief-stricken Mao Asada rode a Christmas Day wave of emotion to come from behind and capture the women's title at the national championships, securing a berth at the world championships in Nice, France in the process. Courageously competing here in Osaka just weeks after the death of her mother Kyoko, the 21-year-old delivered a graceful, if not perfect skate, to beat Akiko Suzuki with a winning total of 184.07 points. [Source: Kyodo, December 26, 2011]

"I felt like this was the closest I have been to my mother so there is no need for me to report anything to her as I think she already knows (how hard I tried)," said Asada in her first comments about her mother since the championships began. "I was skating in a different situation to normal and I wondered how things would turn out but I managed to stay focused and I believed in myself," she said about her fifth overall national crown. [Ibid]

"I think I was able to control myself better than yesterday and I am really pleased to end the year with this title," added the former two-time world champion. Grand Prix Final silver medalist Suzuki moved up from third to second with 179.27, while short program winner Kanako Murakami made a series of errors and placed third with 172.69. Suzuki and Murakami were also selected to take part in the worlds. [Ibid]

"I'm really happy to be going to the world championships. Last year I wasn't skating well but I have gradually been improving from the start of this season and I will practice hard so I can deliver a perfect skate," Asada said. Asada opted out of her trademark triple axel and opened with a double axel before cleanly landing a triple flip-double toeloop and following up with a triple lutz. She popped out of a triple salchow and the only other blemish came when she botched a triple loop and two-footed the jump. "I was a bit disappointed about my jump at the end but reminded myself to keep smiling until the end," she said. [Ibid]

A resurgent Asada had been set to compete at her first Grand Prix Final in three years in Quebec earlier this month but made a frantic dash back to Japan from Canada on the eve of the women's short program after learning that her mother was in a critical condition in the hospital. Kyoko died before Mao could reach her bedside. Kyoko, 48, passed away on Dec. 9 after a long battle with liver cirrhosis. [Ibid]

Asada Takes 6th National Championship in 2012

In late December 2012, The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “After finishing her performance, there was a shadow of disappointment on Mao Asada's face. The cheers of the crowd helped to disperse the gloom and bring back the smile that has so endeared her to her fans. Asada put in a solid enough performance to win the women's title at the All-Japan figure skating championships for the second straight year and sixth time overall on Sunday at Makomanai Ice Arena. [Ibid]

Asada, who started the free program in second place behind Akiko Suzuki, scored the day's high of 130.76 points to finish with 193.56 overall."I see what I need to work on from here and it will make me try harder in my next competition," said Asada, who has now won titles in four consecutive events, including the Grand Prix Final two weeks ago. Kanako Murakami turned in a flawless performance to move from fifth place to second with a personal-best 183.67 points, followed by 14-year-old Satoko Miyahara with 180.55. Suzuki plunged from the lead to fourth place. [Ibid]

Skating to "Swan Lake," Asada, who trailed Suzuki by 2.28 points after the short program, avoided the problems she had Saturday with the takeoff on her jumps and landed all of them cleanly. A small wobble near the end, when a triple jump became a double, accounted for the dissatisfaction. "It's a place where I usually don't make a mistake, so I'm a little disappointed," Asada said. [Ibid]

There was no hiding Murakami's joy over her performance, after which she beamed with delight--in contrast to the tears that flowed after a subpar short program. "I performed well," the 18-year-old Murakami said. "It's really been a long time since I could be so happy seeing my score.” [Ibid]

Asada Claim Golds at the 2012 Gran Prix Final

In early December 2012 Asada blew away her rivals in Sochi, Russia to claim her third ISU figure skating Grand Prix Final. AFP reported: “The 22-year-old Olympic silver medallist received a season's best 129.84 points for her "Swan Lake" free skate for an overall 196.80 points to take the gold by a comfortable 14.87 margin on US champion Ashley Wagner. [Source: AFP, December 9, 2012]

"I am happy that I was able to skate everything," said Asada, a former two-time world champion, after reclaiming the title she previously won in 2005 and 2008 on the ice which will host the 2014 Winter Games figure skating event. "I'm relieved because I had some problems during the season, having not enough speed for my long programme and other things that needed to improve. "Today I was able to get proper elements I was looking for. I will work hard for my next competition.” [Ibid]

Mistakes cost Wagner, who was just 0.52 behind Asada after short programme, as she scored just fourth highest for her free skate, but managed to keep her runner-up spot collecting 181.93 overall. Another Japanese skater Akiko Suzuki, the world bronze medallist, finished third with 180.77 to take bronze. "Today was definitely not my best performance, but overall I'm happy that I was able to keep it together," said Wagner. "The axel was a bit of a freak fall, but to have such a hard fall and then go and do a triple flip of that quality is definitely something that I can take away from this competition.” [Ibid]

Image Sources: Wikipedia, Japan Figure Skating Association, Olympic.org

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated January 2013

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