Saturday, October 2, 2010

Happy Belated Birthday, Mao-chan!!

Last week Saturday, September 25, was Mao's 20th birthday!!
She's officially an adult in Japan!

Here she is celebrating at Chuukyou University ice rink with her new coach, Nobuo Sato, her sister Mai, and Takahiko Kozuka (another of Sato-sensei's pupils and a fellow Chuukyo Univ. student)!

Champagne!  Yummy! ^_^

As with many members of the Mao Asada Fan Forum, I wrote a short message for Mao to be included on a DVD for her.

You can watch the English version here:

And here is the Japanese version:

Here is the text of my messages to Mao:

Dear Mao,

Happy Birthday!

It has been almost 5 years since I first saw you skate at the 2005 Grand Prix Final on TV and became your fan.

I was impressed by the beauty of your skating, and the lightness of your jumps, but most of all, I was enchanted by the joy you brought to your skating and your smile. I know that you "don't like to lose," but to me, you have always been a skater who skates not for medals, but because you love it.

Please don't forget your love of skating. I think you are the best skater in the world, and I would be so happy if you won every competition, but most of all, I want to see your beautiful smile.

Surely there will be more challenges and hard times in the seasons to come, but in the end, I believe you will triumph. Because in the end, you always overcome.

I’m looking forward to seeing you smile at the World Championships in Japan next year.

Good luck!

-Your loyal fan

And the Japanese version (which I translated myself, so it might not be 100% accurate)...



真央ちゃんの2005 Grand Prix Finalの演技を見て、大ファンになってからもう五年間たちました。






Here's to a happy, healthy year!  GOO MAO!!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ballerina on Ice

As I’m sure many of you know, Mao Asada announced her music choices for the 2010-11 season a few weeks ago.  I was thrilled to learn that Mao would finally be skating to Liszt’s “Liebestraum,” a song that seems to fit her perfectly, and I was very excited to see what she does with one of Alfred Schnittke’s tangos.

But what nearly caused me to fall out of my chair, was Mao’s choice for her exhibition: Chopin’s “Ballade No. 1 in G Minor.” 

Because I have been obsessing over that song ever since I saw it used in the ballet “Lady of the Camellias” a month ago.  John Neumeier, the choreographer, uses it for the final, passion-filled pas de deux, and with the phenomenal Diana Vishneva and Marcelo Gomes playing the leads, it was absolutely devastating.

(Click here to see part of the pas de deux, as danced by the legendary Alessandra Ferri and the “Italian stallion,” Roberto Bolle.)

This past weekend, we got to see Mao Asada perform her new exhibition for the first time, at the 2010 Dreams on Ice show.  She revealed that the story for the exhibition is that of a ballerina practicing, and everything, from the simple white dress and her slicked-back hair, was chosen to give that image.

Ballerina on Ice

I have always thought of Mao as a ballerina on ice, and it has been a dream of mine to see her skate in a white costume.  So to see her portray a ballerina all in white AND skate to my favorite Chopin piece of all time was like three dreams come true for me.

Mao Asada’s 2010-11 Exhibition
“Ballade No. 1 in G Minor” by Frederick Chopin

(Click on the YouTube icon to watch it in HD--it's worth it!)

After seeing Mao skate, though, I had to wonder, has Tatiana Tarasova, the choreographer, seen the ballet “Lady of the Camellias”?!!  Could it be that she saw the Act III pas de deux and was just as moved as I was?!!  Was that her inspiration?!

Here’s a picture of Lucia Lacarra in the final scene of the ballet:
(From the Teatro Alla Scala website)

The costume looks awfully similar to Mao’s, don’t you think? Hmmm...

Mao’s new exhibition is already a dream come true for me.  But if it turns out that it was indeed inspired by the “Lady of the Camellias” ballet, it would be even more incredible, because it would be the perfect intersection of all the things I love.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Musings on artistry (Part 3)—Being “in the moment”

When reflecting on artistry and expression, I recall a lesson I learned in ballet class about a month ago.  My ballet teacher—who once worked with legendary choreographers, danced in the original Broadway production of “West Side Story,” and rubbed shoulders with movie stars—was emphasizing the importance of being “in the moment.”

She had us do a simple port de bras: with the arms rounded and held down in front of the hips (like a pair of parentheses), you raise them up, preserving the roundness, to mid-torso level, and then open the arms wide.  While you do this, you are supposed to follow the movement of your hand with your eyes and head.

Now, in my less-than-humble opinion, I do lovely port de bras, with flowy wrists and soft fingers.  However, my teacher took one look at me, and said, “No, no no. You’re not seeing your hand.”  And it was true; I was inclining my eyes in the direction of my hands, but I was really half-admiring my reflection in the mirror.

“You have to see your hands!” she commanded.  So I did it again, but this time I actually focused on my hands.  I genuinely watched them move through space. 

My teacher’s response: “There, that’s so much better!”


This experience was a sort of epiphany for me.  Because “looking” without “seeing” is precisely what I see when I watch Yu-Na Kim perform.

In my opinion, Yu-Na Kim does all the choreographed movements perfectly; she gets all the facial expressions correct, but I feel like she is merely “doing” it without “feeling” it.  It doesn’t seem genuine to me. 

Akiko Suzuki, on the other hand, is also called an expressive skater, but everything she does seems genuine to me.  That’s real fire in her tango, and real joy in her “West Side Story” routine.

And this, I realize, is why I can love both gentle Mao Asada and fiery Diana Vishneva—because both seem to be honest in their performances, no matter how wildly different they may be.

Personally, I’d rather see Mao Asada genuinely caught up in her own performance, completely forgetting about the audience, than the “Look! I'm emoting!!” style favored by Yu-Na Kim.

The same goes for ballerinas—I love Vishneva and all her over-the-top drama because I’m convinced that she’s absolutely crazy—about ballet.  This is the artist who rehearsed the mere act of opening the door in “Giselle” five-hundred times (five hundred!) to make it perfect.  This is the performer who crashed into a scenery piece while exiting the stage but returned to finish the ballet, bloody knee and all.  This is the ballerina I can see dancing until she drops dead onstage.  So while other people may find Vishneva too wild, too passionate, I love it—she’s 100% convincing to me.

In contrast, Natalia Osipova, the Bolshoi ballerina known for her gravity-defying leaps and speedy turns, left me cold when I saw her perform in “La Sylphide” last summer.  Like the people sitting around me, I was amazed by her technique, but while they swooned, I cringed at every artificial expression that seemed to say, “here’s my cute face,” and “here’s my sad face,” and “Look-now I’m dying!”

Unsurprisingly, honesty in performance is another quality dancers admire about my other favorite ballerina, Julie Kent.  ABT soloist Cory Stearns said, “I feel when Julie Kent dances, she finds something so deep inside of herself and brings it out.”  Miami City Ballet principal Jennifer Carylnn Korneberg echoes, “I'd have to say that the ballerina I admire most from this generation though is Julie Kent. She has such an honesty, purity and selflessness about her dancing that takes my breath away.

So it seems that the quality of “being in the moment” rather than “showing me the moment”—the ability to not only portray a certain emotion but also to find something inside oneself to make it true—THIS is what I value most in terms of performing.

Truth and beauty.  That’s all I ask for.

Musings on artistry (Part 2)—“Beauty in motion”

After considerable self-reflection, I have realized that there are three things I look for in terms of artistry: beauty, musicality, and expression. 

“Beauty” stems from the skater or dancer’s technical prowess/physical ability—does she have beautiful lines and positions?  Does she carry herself gracefully?  Is she flexible; does she turn out?  If I took a snapshot of this position, would it be beautiful?  Is her execution flawless? Does she make the steps seem effortless? 

I love both Mao and Vishneva because they are—to borrow the title of Vishneva’s solo show—“beauty in motion.”  Vishneva herself said, “When you turn your technique into lightness, that’s what is worthwhile.”

And that is what I see when I see both Mao and Vishneva perform—an uncanny ability to appear lighter than air, like impossibly ethereal beings.  They make even the most difficult, complex steps look effortless and beautiful.

These qualities appear to be the very ones that ballet dancers themselves admire.  Two of the ABT corps de ballet members picked my other favorite, Julie Kent, as the dancer they most admire for these reasons.  Melanie Hamrick said, “She is the essence of a ballerina and beauty; even if she’s doing something that is so hard, she looks weightless and effortless.”  And Hee Seo echoed, “I think the most important thing—and it took me years to come to this conclusion—is that you have to be beautiful. Julie Kent is the most beautiful dancer in ABT. She’s not doing large, big pirouettes, but she is so beautiful.”

Julie Kent and Roberto Bolle in MacMillan’s “Romeo and Juliet”

Perhaps it is because of my ballet training, and perhaps because of my extreme attention to detail, but I value beauty in dancing and in skating very highly.  And since I am very flexible despite sitting in an office all day long, I am extremely critical of the lady skaters who lack flexibility (which seem to be the majority).  I instinctively look for beautiful body lines and extension, and I can’t help but cringe when I see awkward, ungainly positions. 

And this is why I can be perfectly content watching top-class dancers or skaters practice even the simplest steps.  There might be no music, they might be completely unaware of my presence and making no effort to perform, but the sheer beauty and apparent effortlessness of their movement is enough to keep me fascinated.


Beyond the exceptionally pretty technique, there is the innate musicality of Mao and Vishneva that I admire.  Other dancers and skaters may seem to respond well to the music, they may seem to express it well, but in the case of Mao and Vishneva, I feel as if the music is flowing through them. 

A friend of Rudolf Nureyev once exclaimed, “You are a Stradivarius,” while watching him dance on the grass without any music other than the beat of his own heart. “Inside you are singing, and the steps are coming.”  This is what I feel when I watch Vishneva and Mao: their bodies seem to be the very instruments producing the sound.

To me, they are able to do this because they use their entire bodies—not just the arms and the face, but the entire torso and back—to express the music.  I am used to watching ballet from the back of the balcony.  I can barely see the performer’s face, but if she carries the music in her body—in the curve of her back, the tension her shoulder blades—then I can feel the emotion.  Expression through the body is extremely important to me.

Mao Asada dancing to the music in her heart

(This is from the 'making of' video for Mao's 2009 Asience CM.)

But what about “performing”?

Musings on artistry (Part 1)—My conundrum

I know I haven't posted about Mao's journey for awhile, and I do intend to get back to that eventually, but in the meantime, here are some of my thoughts on artistry--this is something I've thought a lot about recently...


For me, summer means ballet, and last year’s season gave me fresh fodder for determining what exactly I consider to be superior “artistry” and “expression.”

And after 2009 Worlds, when everyone was raving incessantly about Yu-Na Kim, I felt a need to analyze and articulate why I disliked her style so much.  Although I had never been a fan of hers, I could readily acknowledge that she was very good: she has huge, powerful jumps, great speed and a discernable polish to her performances.  Starting in the 2008-09 season, however, her style and expression really began to annoy me.

As I mentioned in one of my early posts, comparing Mao Asada and Yu-Na Kim is quite tricky.  They lack the obvious physical differences that separate, say, gymnasts Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson.  So by analyzing and articulating why I like Mao and why I don’t like Yu-Na, I have learned a lot about what I personally value in terms of aesthetics, expression and artistry. 


I freely acknowledge (and have often seen) that other people will disagree with my opinions.  I took ballet lessons from a very young age and played the violin; those experiences have definitely shaped my views on artistry.  But I think that most people haven’t had the classical training I received, so they don’t look for ballet lines, and they focus primarily on facial expression instead of full-body expression.

Ballerina on ice

I had long known that I loved Mao because she is a ballerina on ice—such flexibility, such gorgeous lines, such graceful lightness.  On the other hand, Yu-Na lacks flexibility (though not as badly as others), and although she might be “dramatic,” she generally is not that graceful, and she does not emote through her whole body.

And up until summer 2009, I figured that I favored Mao, who was sometimes accused of lacking expression in her face, because facial expression doesn’t really matter to me. 

Indeed, I had a clear history of picking the graceful, beautiful, subtle performers as my favorites—even though others called them “cold,” “expressionless,” or “boring.”  During the 2008 Summer Olympics, I was a big fan of Nastia Liukin, with her gorgeous lines and balletic grace, but others called her “bitchy-looking” compared to the “effervescent” Shawn Johnson.  And it was not until I saw the willowy, ethereal Julie Kent that I became obsessed with ballet, even though others found her “cold.”  Even my favorite violinist, Julia Fischer, is notoriously anti-flashy, anti-celebrity; she uses her superlative technical talent to let the beauty of the music speak for itself.

Last summer, however, the legendary ballerina Diana Vishneva turned my world upside down.  Here was a performer who is known as much for her force-of-nature on-stage persona as for her “exceptionally pretty technique.”

Here was an artist who demands attention and so fully captivates viewers that the New York Times dance critic Alastair Macauley once wrote, “The sheer luster of her presence is often startling; I know of no dancer today who so gloriously seems a source of light.

Diana Vishneva in Don Quixote

After the Opening Night Gala where I saw her dance live for the first time, she became my absolute, uncontestable favorite.

But this development created quite a conundrum for me.  How could I reconcile my adoration of the soft, subtle Mao Asada and my love for the fiery Vishneva?  And how could I so turned off by Yu-Na Kim’s diva-ish performances but awed by Vishneva’s ability to own the stage?  How could I make sense of these seemingly contradictory preferences?


Sunday, April 4, 2010

World Championships 2010—So like 2008, and so unlike (2)

Going into the free program, I didn’t know what to expect.  Would Yu-Na be able to pull herself together?  If so, how would the judges score her?  What about Mirai Nagasu?  It’s clear the judges favor her; if she skates clean, would she win?  And what about Mao herself—would she be able to pull off that perfect program she’d been aiming for?

I could have woken up early to watch the competition live, but since I was somewhat dreading the results, I decided to watch the free program a few hours after it was broadcast. 

As with the short program, the Universal Sports broadcast started with the second-to-last group.  Miki Ando went out and skated a clean program.  She may have lacked some confidence and emotion in the beginning, but by the end, Miki really got into the music.  Her coach, Nikolai Morozov, looked very pleased.  But I agreed with what Tara Lipinski said—Miki has the potential to be on the podium at every competition, but she just looks a little scared.  I wonder why?

Right after Miki, Yu-Na Kim took the ice.  Since the beginning of the season, I had thought her long program was rather boring; I much preferred her 2008-09 “Scheherazade” program.  But I freely admit that she skated it perfectly at the Olympics, out-of-place Bond girl poses and all.  Here at Worlds, however, when Yu-Na was struggling, the program was simply a snooze for me.  Yu-Na looked shaken up when she fell on her triple salchow (a problematic jump for her), she popped the final double axel, and she generally seemed flat throughout her program.

But of course, with Yu-Na being the Olympic champion and undeniable judges’ favorite, she received a whopping 130.49 for her mess of a program.  It was a ridiculous score, but it did leave the door open for Mao and Mirai.  Given their leads after the short program, they only had to score about 122 or 120 to beat her, and those scores were definitely within their capabilities.


In the final group, home favorite Carolina Kostner skated first.  In the long program at the 2009 World Championships, I was there in the Staples Center when she had a meltdown on the ice, turning almost all her jumps into singles.  This year, however, she put out a generally clean performance, and the crowd rewarded her with a huge applause.  When her score of 115.11 came out, however, they booed.

As Mao took the ice, I worried, thinking, “I hope the unruly crowd doesn’t ruin Mao’s focus!”

2010 World Championships FS (British EuroSport commentary)
“Prelude in C sharp minor, Op. 3, No. 2” by Sergei Rachmaninoff

When the ominous opening phrase of “Bells” played, I felt my throat constrict.  Unlike the day before, I had no idea what would happen.  Visions of Mao’s terrifying slip before her opening triple axel in her 2008 long program flashed before my eyes.  Here it comes!  And landed!!  Not as huge as at the Olympics, and with a slight off-balance moment on the landing, but otherwise clean.

Now it was time for the triple axel/double toe loop combo—beautiful!  Clean so far!  I started to relax as Mao nailed the triple flip/double loop combo and then the triple loop. 

But then it was time for the jumps that Mao missed at the Olympics.  I tensed up as she launched the triple flip/double loop/double loop combo—but it was perfect.  And then the triple toe loop (gulp!)—landed with determination.  Finally, the double axel from the outside spread eagle.  She did it!!  Perfectly clean!!!

Now she could go out and KILL the step sequence!!  I got a little worried when I saw some debris on the ice, but Mao easily avoided it, and at the very end, when she thrust her hands into the air, she could not hold back a smile.  Yes!  I did it, she thought, swinging her arms in front of her.

THAT was the program I wanted to see.  And THAT was the joy and relief I had wanted to see on Mao’s face.

But then it was time for the scores.  Mao looked so nervous—later she even said she was afraid to look at the scores.

The judges HAVE to give her a better score than Yu-Na Kim, I thought.  That was perfect!  It would be a travesty to score that below Kim, I thought!

Mao’s score—129.50.  I couldn’t believe it.  Or rather, I could believe it; I mean, I had known all along that the scoring would be hugely biased toward Yu-Na.  But I didn’t think that the judging would be so egregiously unfair. 

What kind of system is this, that the girl who falls on a jump, pops another one, and is generally lackluster, outscores the girl who went clean (to the naked eye), did TWO triple axels, and got the whole crowd on its feet?

What kind of system is this, that Mao can look so satisfied after she finished skating, knowing in her heart that she had done everything perfectly—but still have to sit in the kiss ‘n’ cry and worry about how low the judges will score her?

It was simply disgusting.  For me, it no longer mattered if Mao went on to win the competition.  The score was a clear slap in the face, in my opinion.  And you could see it in Mao’s reaction.  There were no tears of joy as there had been at 2008 Worlds.  She looked disappointed.


Near the end of the competition, I found myself in the distinctly uncomfortable competition of having to root against Mirai Nagasu, whom I do really like.  She had a clear shot at the gold, but she made mistakes on both of her triple lutzes and then fell on a double axel.

The gold was officially Mao’s, for the second time.  She had become the first Japanese person to ever win two World golds, and she had helped bring Japan its first men’s/ladies’ duo gold.  But I still felt hugely dissatisfied.

How could I go on watching skating if the judging is like this?


The following day, I started to feel better.  Seeing Mao smile always makes me smile.

(That’s Daisuke’s signature!)

A gold, is a gold, after all, and I certainly hadn’t been expecting it.  And Mao had gotten her wish—to beat Yu-Na Kim properly, one last time.

2010 World Championships podium: Yu-Na Kim (Silver), Mao Asada (Gold), Laura Lepisto (Bronze)


21-year old pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii, who won the prestigious Van Cliburn piano competition in 2009 despite being blind from birth, once said that he admires Mao Asada because “even if her condition is not good in the beginning, she always makes a comeback and wins.”

That is exactly what Mao had done here.  She could walk away knowing that she had skated perfectly (to the naked eye); she done everything she could, and she won that gold medal fair and square.

And that is why I will go on watching figure skating.  Because deep down inside, I do believe that Mao Asada can win back the judge’s favor, even if Yu-Na Kim were to continue competing.

Because no one else has that ethereal quality and lightness on the ice like Mao Asada.  No other skater is so like a ballerina.  No one else embodies the music—yes, not expresses but BECOMES the music—like Mao. 

If Mao plays to those strengths, or if Mao brought out her sparkling personality in her programs like she does in her exhibition programs, then I believe that the judges and the fans will fall in love with her all over again.

Tracy Wilson, one of Yu-Na’s advisors, was critical of Mao’s programs during the competition, but even she could not help but be completely charmed by Mao’s “Caprice.”

2010 World Championship Exhibition Gala
“Caprice” by Niccolo Paganini

So I believe that if Mao does choose audience-pleasing music and programs, she WILL regain the judge’s favor and get those high scores she deserves.

But even if she doesn’t—even if Mao decides to use difficult music because she likes it, even if she chooses absurdly difficult programs because she wants to challenge herself, and even if the judges continue to bash her—I will forever be a fan. 

Because behind that brilliant smile and sweet countenance, I can see the adamantine soul of a TRUE athlete, a TRUE champion—one who aims not to win, but to test the utmost limits of her potential, and that of her sport.

World Championships 2010—So like 2008, and so unlike (1)

On first glance, Mao’s second World Championship win was strikingly similar to the first: not only did it take place in Europe, but it also occurred right after parted ways with her coach.  And just like in 2008, Mao was second after the short program, and placed second in the long program behind Yu-Na Kim, but she did enough to win.

However, unlike 2008 Worlds, which left me with a feeling of triumphant euphoria, the 2010 World Championships left me with a bitter taste in my mouth.  One of my friends, equally disgusted, asked me, “How can you go on watching figure skating when the judging is like this?”


My own thinking before 2010 Worlds was similar to my thinking before 2008 Worlds—back then, after seeing how the judges had scored a flawed Yu-Na Kim so closely to a nearly-perfect Mao in the 2007 GPF LP, I didn’t feel like watching Worlds.  If Mao could not win, then I had little interest in skating. 

The same thing happened to be before the 2010 Worlds.  After seeing the ludicrous scores the judges gave to Yu-Na Kim at the Olympics, the message was clear to me: as long as Yu-Na Kim shows up, they’ll give her the gold.  Heck, she doesn’t even have to jump!

Sure, there was a possibility that Yu-Na Kim would make mistakes.  She probably had lost motivation after the Olympics and probably didn’t practice as hard.  On the other hand, the judges were clearly behind her, and she must have been very aware of that—so there was absolutely no need for her to be nervous; she could go in being 100% confident that the judges would boost her scores.

As for Mao, well, I knew that she’d be motivated because she wanted to make up for those mistakes that she made in her long program at the Olympics.  That’s all I really wanted for her—to do two programs that she could be completely satisfied with.  But honestly, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to seeing her programs again; although Mao managed to do the best she could with them, they were not my favorite programs of hers.  And moreover, I thought, what’s the point?  Yu-Na will win anyway.

Mao in practice (March 25)


On the day of the Ladies’ short program, I tried hard to avoid seeing the results before I could watch the competition myself.  But despite my best efforts, four of my friends partially gave away the results by sending me messages like, “Did you see the headline, ‘Mirai Nagasu shines while Queen Kim struggles’?”

So when I finally sat down to watch the competition later that night, I had some idea what had happened, but not the whole story.

The Universal Sports broadcast started right in the middle of Carolina Kostner’s performance, which was right before Mao’s. 

Although I had tried to distance myself from the competition, my heart inevitably began to race as Mao took the ice.  Here we go!!

The all-important opening triple axel—she nailed it!  The flip—clean as a whistle!! Oh boy, Mao is on tonight!  She didn’t quite have that spontaneous, genuine joy that she did at the Olympics, but she seemed much faster in the SP than she did there.

2010 World Championships SP (British Eurosport commentary)
“Waltz” from “Masquerade Suite” by Aram Khatchaturian

At the end of the program, Mao looked quite satisfied. 

The only question was, how would the judges score it?

I knew Mao had scored 73.78 at the Olympics, so I was very disappointed when a mere 68.08 flashed on the screen.  The triple axel must have gotten downgraded, I thought.  Poor Mao!  However, Mao herself did not look too disappointed.

Mao and Shanetta Folle in the kiss 'n' cry

So cute!
(I wonder who she's looking at!)

A few skaters later, Miki Ando took the ice.  She seemed to hesitate for a long time before her opening triple lutz combo, and as a result, she fell on the lutz, missing the combo completely.  Not good!  (She eventually ended up 11th after the short).

Then Laura Lepisto skated.  She nearly fell on the double axel, and yet her score was barely 4 points below Mao’s.  Then I really began to feel mad about Mao’s score.

In the final group, Mirai Nagasu was the first to skate.  Now, she is my second favorite skater.  I love her bubbly personality, her lightning speed, and her amazing spins and flexibility.  But she doesn’t even come close to Mao for me.  So I felt strangely torn when I saw her score higher than Mao: 70.40.

Truthfully, I probably enjoyed Mirai’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” program more than I enjoyed Mao’s “Masquerade Waltz.”  I could easily see why your average skating fan, as well as a judge, would enjoy it more.  (Mao, please, please get a new costume designer!)  But that didn’t mean I thought Mirai was the better skater.  I mean, Mao did a friggin’ triple axel!

The underlying message from the judges was loud and clear:  we don’t want to see triple axels; we will downgrade your triple axels; don’t use heavy music, choose something bubbly and pretty.

On the Universal Sports broadcast, Johnny Weir remarked that he thought Mao’s triple axels were sometimes downgraded even though they were clean.  It was gratifying to hear Johnny criticize the judging like this, but it did not make the situation any less frustrating.

I had thought that the change in the rules to prevent the judges from seeing the underrotation calls would help Mao, because the judges wouldn’t see the underrotation in real-time, and therefore would give her the positive GOE’s she deserved.  However, it seemed like the opposite was occurring; the judges weren’t sure if her triple axel was fully rotated, so they proactively assumed that it was downgraded and assigned negative GOE’s.  Not a good situation for Mao.


After Mirai’s sparkling short, it was finally time for “The Queen.”  And at first, it seemed like business as usual.  Perfect triple lutz/triple toe loop combination.  A bit of a two-foot/funny landing on the triple flip, but she always struggles with that jump.  Then the weird stuff started to happen.  I’ve always thought Yu-Na Kim’s spins and spirals were very weak, and now, she finally botched them.  She nearly fell out of a spin, and she had to stop her spiral sequence midway to avoid falling.

Still, despite those bizarre mistakes, she pretty much landed all her jumps, so I was expecting a huge score.  For once, however, the judges gave me a pleasant surprise—only 60.30 for her messy performance, which seemed quite fair given it was about 18 points below her record score at the Olympics.  (Though of course I knew that if Mao did something like that, she’d barely make 50 points.)

Yu-Na Kim ended up 7th after the short program.  She wouldn’t even skate in the final group.  Shocking.  Truly shocking.

But the competition was not over yet.  If Yu-Na skated perfectly in the long program and the judges gave her another 150 score, she would be extremely difficult to beat...

1) Press conference after the short 

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Mao Asada’s journey and my evolution as a Mao fan: Part 19

Part 19: 2008-09 season—“It’s a secret” [秘密です。]

On New Year’s Day 2009, Mao Asada and her father visited Atsuda Jingu [Atsuda Shrine] in Nagoya.  It was very crowded, so they didn’t make it to the heart of the shrine, but Mao enjoyed stopping at all the stalls and eating food from the street vendors.

Throughout the rest of January, Mao Asada performed in a number of ice shows—Stars on Ice, the Japan Super Challenge, the Nagoya Figure Skating Festival, etc.  Some of the fans on the Mao Asada Fan Forum expressed concern that Mao was overextending herself; in fact, some of them thought she should skip the upcoming Four Continents Championship altogether.

Stars on Ice (January 2009)

Although I agreed that there was a risk of injury/exhaustion, I wasn’t worried.  After all, Mao had done all those shows in 2008 AND gone to Four Continents, and she had done just fine at Worlds (even with the ankle injury beforehand!).  And since 4CC was the test competition for the Olympics, I thought it would be a good chance for Mao to become familiar with the Olympic arena, as well as the logistics of getting there, adjusting to the time difference, etc.

But as I wrote last year, the 2009 Four Continents Championship did not go as expected.  (Please see here for my detailed writeup.)  There were all sorts of unexpected problems.  The rink in the Pacific Coliseum was an NHL-sized one instead of an Olympic-sized one, her coach, Tatiana Tarasova, inexplicably was not there, and Mao seemed to be having problems with her jumps.

In the short program, Mao made multiple mistakes, leaving the door way open for Yu-Na Kim.  And Yu-Na Kim, perhaps still feeling the sting of losing to Mao at home in Korea, charged right through it.  She skated right after Mao and laid down a perfect program, garnering a huge applause and a new record score.

Mao in her blue ‘Clair de Lune’ costume 
(This was the only time she used it.)

Mao ended up 6th after the short, almost 15 points behind the leader (Yu-Na Kim).  And I was crushed.


I feebly tried to assure myself that Mao could fight her way back from this; I thought of similar situations at 2007 Worlds and the 2008 Grand Prix Final, but I was really demoralized.

Thankfully, Mao Asada is a skater that never leaves you in despair for too long.  Perhaps that’s why I’ve managed to stay a fan for so long: because every time she stumbles or fails, she does something to give you hope again.

And so it went in the long program.  It was one of Mao’s weaker performances—she popped the opening triple axel, and she doubled a triple toe loop, but the amazing part was that by the end of the night, it was the winning free program.

Yes, after Mao skated, skater after skater proceeded to make all kinds of mistakes, and somehow, despite her dumbed-down program and a few misses, she still won the long program.  It was not nearly enough to win the competition, but it was enough for a medal.

Mao Asada and Shanetta Folle in the kiss ‘n’ cry

And more importantly, it made me think, “Wow, a struggling Mao Asada with two visible errors is still better than Joannie and Yu-Na with one visible mistake each!”

After the short program, I had been devastated, but after the long program, I was elated.  “Getting bronze here will definitely push Mao to get gold at Worlds!” I thought.


But what exactly had happened to Mao Asada?

A number of media sources speculated that the reason for Mao’s poor condition and her decision to lower the difficulty of her program were due to an injury.  But when Mao was questioned, she completely denied having an injury, and instead said, “I know what the problem is.  It’s a secret.”

Not until Mao Asada, Brilliant Eighteen was released, did I find out what that secret was.

It was not an injury; it had nothing to do with Tarasova not being there; it was simply a lack of motivation, and some burnout.  Something Mao had never experienced before.

Before Four Continents, when Mao was debating whether she should even go to 4CC, Tarasova sent her this message [translated from the Japanese, as printed on pg 78 in the Mao Asada first photo book]

To my beloved Mao:

If you ask me why I want skaters to go to competitions even when they're going through a tough time, it's because if they can give a wonderful and strong performance at that kind of time, then their rivals will grow to fear them.
I even ordered Yagudin to work hard to win every competition.
No matter if he was going through a tough time.
This desire to try your best not to lose—you have to have it not just for yourself, but for your rivals too.
This feeling will become a powerful psychological weapon against your rivals, and it will translate into confidence for you.

I know you’re a strong person.

The moment that you skate, can you focus and do those things that you haven’t been able to do up to now?
That is my question for you.
You may think that you’re not very good at the short program, but I don’t want you to feel doubts about it.
I believe that your decision will be the right decision.

Tarasova may have wanted Mao to win to “strike fear into the hearts” of the other skaters, but that is not how Mao Asada thinks.  She says that she “hates to lose,” but I think that more than winning, she wants to be the best skater that she can be.  Making her rivals afraid, destroying them, is not her goal.  Every competition is a chance to battle with herself, a chance to test her limits, a chance to fulfill the challenging goals she has set.

So at this point in time, I’m not surprised that Mao Asada found herself lacking motivation.  After all, she had accomplished all of her goals for the season.  Salchow reintroduced?  Check.  Lutz edge fixed?  Check.  Two triple axels rotated in the free program?  Check.  Third straight National Championships title?  Check.  What more was left for her to do?

But Mao learned her lesson.

In Mao Asada, Brilliant Eighteen, Mao reflected on her 2009 4CC experience and said:

(pg 93)

I couldn't believe it myself, but for the first time in my life, I didn't want to go to the competition. I wasn't skating well at all, and I had a problem with motivation. At any rate, I couldn't control my emotions/thoughts. Tatiana-sensei scolded me. 'Don't think about anything other than going to the competition, and pull yourself together.'

She also added (pg 94):

I realized that I couldn't let my motivation fall like that. This is something that Tatiana-sensei pointed out later.
The truth is, before 4CC, Sensei and I weren't seeing eye-to-eye. I couldn't communicate my thoughts at all. And I guess, because of that, I wasn't able to pull myself together.
One more thing--I think the fact that Worlds was coming up soon also had an influence...The competition was coming closer and closer, but I couldn't improve my skating condition, and I became a little nervous. 4CC became a good learning experience for me. In the end, you have to overcome everything by yourself.
You have to do the things you are supposed to do. I think that is a really important thing.

So in the end, Mao's difficult experience leading up to 4CC became a lesson for her.  And I think this is another reason why I am a Mao fan.  Although it can be heartbreaking to watch her make mistakes or fail to meet her goals, I also see her learning from mistakes and growing.  Before my eyes, I feel that she is evolving from that sweet, innocent, adorable girl into a mature, strong, and wise young woman.  And that certainly has been rewarding to watch!


Soon after Four Continents, Chuukyou University opened a new sub-rink, the Rainbow Rink,  which was nicknamed "Miki and Mao" in honor of the two World champions.  Mao, Miki Ando and Takahiko Kozuka (among others) performed in the opening ceremony.  Mao’s former coach (but ever-faithful mentor), Machiko Yamada, acted as MC.

Rainbow Rink opening ceremony/performance

(See more news vids from the opening ceremony on this page.)

When Coach Machiko interviewed Mao, she said, “Before the Four Continents Championship, you said, ‘I can’t get motivated!  Sensei, what should I do?’  You’ve never suffered like that before, have you?  But, you were able to get (good) scores, so from now on, I think that you’ll be able to try your best any time.  Do your best!”

Mao said, “My performance at Four Continents was not my best, so I really felt strongly that I want to try my best for the World Championships.  I absolutely want to give a good performance at Worlds.”

So as I had expected, Mao's poor showing at 4CC had given her the motivation to work hard for Worlds.  She had found that fighting spirit again and would take Worlds by storm!

Or so I hoped...

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Analyzing Mao Asada as a Miller tragic heroine

I will be resuming my posts on Mao Asada's journey soon, but in the meantime, I couldn't help but indulge my inner literary theorist. ^_^;; Sometimes I think I really should have been a Literature major!

In the midst of my depression after watching Mao Asada compete at the Olympics and fail to win her desired gold medal, I found myself reflecting on Arthur Miller’s classic essay on tragedy, “Tragedy and the Common Man.”

On tragedy, Miller writes:
“As a general rule, to which there may be exceptions unknown to me, I think the tragic feeling is evoked in us when we are in the presence of a character who is ready to lay down his life, if need be, to secure one thing-his sense of personal dignity. From Orestes to Hamlet, Medea to Macbeth, the underlying struggle is that of the individual attempting to gain his ‘rightful’ position in his society…Tragedy, then, is the consequence of a man’s total compulsion to evaluate himself justly.”

“In the sense of having been initiated by the hero himself, the tale always reveals what has been called his ‘tragic flaw,’ a failing that is not peculiar to grand or elevated characters. Nor is it necessarily a weakness. The flaw, or crack in the characters, is really nothing-and need be nothing, but his inherent unwillingness to remain passive in the face of what he conceives to be a challenge to his dignity, his image of his rightful status.”

In other words, a story is considered “tragic” when you have a protagonist who will do anything, perhaps even give up his life, in order to defend what he believes in, in order to defend his dignity.  The “tragic flaw,” which leads to the protagonist’s downfall, is really a failure to compromise, an absolute belief in one’s self and one’s ideas.

For example, in Arthur Miller’s play “The Crucible,” which is based on the Salem witch trials, protagonist John Proctor is executed because he refuses to lie; he refuses to falsely confess to witchcraft even though it would save his life.  In Shakespeare's “Romeo and Juliet,” the protagonists sacrifice their lives because of their steadfast belief that their love should trump any earthly opposition, any trivial family feud.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Welcome home, Mao-chan!

Mao arrived in Tokyo from Vancouver!

Congratulations on making world and Olympic history by landing three triple axels for the first time EVER!!

And congratulations on winning a splendid silver medal!

As a fan, I went through a whirlwind of emotions while watching the Olympics, but I think I can’t properly explain myself without first explaining what happened in 2009.  So please look for my full post on the Olympics in the near future.

Most of all, thanks for this smile!

Monday, February 22, 2010

NO安全策 [No safety strategy]

Mao Asada finally arrived in Vancouver last Saturday!  And she looked so excited!!

Yesterday she had her first official practice. So nice to see Mama Tarasova there again!

Mao looked so happy and relaxed!

And I LOVE her pants!


Well, I had hoped to finish my series on Mao’s journey before the ladies’ competition, but it doesn’t look like I’m going to make it, so I’m going to post this now.  It consists of my final thoughts before the competition.


There was once a young girl with a beaming smile and sparkling eyes, and all she knew was that she loved to skate and that her dream was to go to the Olympics and win the gold medal. Her name was Mao Asada.

All her life, she had been chasing after her older sister, Mai, and her older sisters at the rink—Miki Ando and Yukari Nakano. “One day I’ll be better than them,” she told herself; “one day I’ll be the best skater in the world!”

At age 14, she set off on the junior circuit, easily surpassing the competition. But back then, there was no pressure; it was only fun.

For the shy girl who placed a distant second, however, it was a major blow to her pride. “Why did she have to be born at the same time as me?” she lamented. “How can I ever beat her?”

The next year, she watched jealously as Mao Asada charmed the judges, the audiences and the world on the senior circuit and defeated the World champion to win gold at the Grand Prix Final. (Rumor has it that she even wished Mao Asada would fall.) But jealousy also gave her strong motivation. “One day, I’ll beat Mao,” the girl thought. Her name was Yu-Na Kim.


Over the next few seasons, the joyful girl began to fade away.  The girl who knew no fear and no pressure now suddenly found herself at the top, and she started to worry about winning.  Sometimes she’d be weak-hearted, and sometimes she’d be unbelievably strong. But all through this period, one theme guided her: “challenge.”

What does it mean to be the best skater in the world if you’re not the best skater you can possibly be?

So the little girl who vowed to master the triple axel now tried to push the technical barriers in every aspect of her programs—the most complex step sequences, the most difficult spiral positions, the most body-contorting spins. But her path was risky—sometimes it led to stunning success, and sometimes to devastating defeat.

The little boat that once coasted across a calm sea dared to test itself in treacherous waters, and it encountered increasingly tumultuous waves, each swell larger than the last.

The other girl took the opposite path; she chose “safety.” Every year, she chose to do basically the same programs, but every year she’d do them better; she perfected them. She emphasized her strengths and downplayed her weaknesses, and she learned how to play to the judges. Slowly she gained confidence and emerged from her shell. And slowly and steadily, she climbed to the top.


Now that once painfully shy girl is the reigning world champion and the heavy favorite for the Olympic gold medal. Her fans call her “Queen Yu-Na,” and her behavior has been queen-like indeed. A year ago, she complained that other skaters were obstructing her during warm-up; this year she told her fans to tone down their cheers. And when she heard that Mao Asada didn’t make the 2009 Grand Prix Final, she couldn’t suppress a smirk.

At the Olympics, she has set herself apart from the other competitors; she has eschewed the athlete village for a hotel room where she can have easy access to her staff, and she has refused to do any interviews until after the short program.

She will undoubtedly stand on the ice as if she is the ruler of the rink, but I wonder: behind that self-assured, regal façade, how much is left of that shy girl who once bitterly thought, “How can I ever beat Mao?”


On the other side, there is a girl with a beaming smile and sparkling eyes savoring every moment of the Olympics as she aims for a gold medal.

Once she was a little girl who knew nothing of fear; now she is a young woman who knows there is nothing to fear. Because in this season, Mao Asada fell into her deepest slump yet; she hit a wave she could not weather, and plunged into a sea of self-doubt and despair.

But she was not alone. All her life, she had been loved and supported by her coaches, family and friends, and with their help, she was able to find that girl who loved to skate, the one who vowed to be the best skater in the world.

And as fire tempers the strongest sword, her suffering has forged a steely soul.

So I think she will face her biggest challenge without fear. Buoyed by love—love from her supporters and love for skating—she will conquer that monumental wave, and soar above the others to take the gold medal.


GO MAO!!!  頑張れ、真央ちゃん!!!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Mao Asada’s journey and my evolution as a Mao fan: Part 18

Part 18: 2008-09 season—“With a fighting spirit” [攻める気持ちで]

After the NHK Trophy, Mao Asada said in her interviews that she had rediscovered her fighting spirit.  At TEB, they had decided to leave out the second triple axel, but since she had been practicing with two triple axels all along, deciding to take the conservative route made her feel slightly weak-hearted.  At the NHK Trophy, however, Mao was aggressive; she went for it, and she nearly succeeded.  She vowed to carry that fighting spirit, that 攻める気持ち [semeru kimochi] with her to her next competition—the Grand Prix Final.  It would be held in “enemy territory”—Goyang, Korea.

At this point, I had only been following Mao very closely for about 8 months, but it seemed like the hype surrounding this competition was unprecedented.  Mao Asada and Yu-Na Kim face off in Yu-Na’s home country!  In the Japanese media, there was practically no mention of the other 4 competitors; all eyes were focused on the ‘battle’ between the two 18-year olds. 

Popular opinion said that the Grand Prix Final was Yu-Na’s to lose—she was the two-time reigning Grand Prix Final champ, she had put up the highest scores so far that season, and she was competing in her home country, where she would have the roaring support of the crowd.

But after seeing Mao win NHK Trophy the way that she did, I had a good feeling that she might just snatch that GPF title from Yu-Na’s hands.


Well, Mao Asada’s story is ever exciting and ever unpredictable, and in this case she caused me a bit of nervousness when she had a bit of a mishap on her way to the Korea.  Mao always likes to arrive right before a competition, but this time, her plane was delayed due to bad weather and she arrived in Korea a few hours late.  So late, in fact, that she missed the first half of morning practice!  But in typical Mao fashion, she didn’t let this little incident faze her. 

In the short program, Mao skated 4th.  Before she took the ice, she looked so nervous.  Oh no! I thought.  She looks so nervous, this is bad!

My heart was racing as she set up for her problematic combo—but she landed it!  Then it was time for the triple lutz—beautiful!  Phew!  Now I could relax and enjoy the program.  And how beautiful it had become after that disastrous first performance in Paris!

2008 Grand Prix Final SP
“Clair de Lune” by Claude Debussy

(She received the highest score for a spiral in the SP!)

Shanetta Folle, Mao and Tatiana Tarasova in the kiss ‘n’ cry

Mao scored 65.38, slightly higher than what she scored at the NHK Trophy. 

The 5th skater, Joannie Rochette, who looked so strong in her GP events, faltered here and was 4th with one skater left.

And that skater was Yu-Na Kim.  As she opened up with her triple-flip/triple-toe loop combo and hit it clean, I thought, well, I guess she’s on tonight.  But then on the next jump, the triple lutz, she popped it!  Shocking!  But great for Mao, I thought.  Mao went clean! She should lead after the short!

Regardless of Yu-Na’s mistake, the crowd went wild.  Absolutely bonkers.

And when the score came out, 65.94, the crowd roared, and I thought, “What the hell?!  How did she make a glaring mistake and still end up ahead of Mao?  Oh wait, I forgot, this is in KOREA!  Duh! What was I thinking?  Did I really think it would be a FAIR competition in Korea?  Of course not.”

I looked at the protocols, and I saw what had happened.  Mao’s triple loop in her combo had gotten downgraded again.

You see, in the 2008-09 season, ISU decided to judge rotations more strictly, and as a result Mao kept receiving downgrades for her combo.  She wasn’t the only one; Miki Ando, who typically did the triple-lutz/triple-loop combo, also started getting downgrades.  I thought this was upsetting not just because I wanted my favorite skaters to get credit for their jumps, but because I love the loop combos with their quick pop-pop timing, and I hate that the strict judging system has rendered them all but extinct.

At any rate, with one popped jump from Yu-Na and one downgraded combo from Mao, they ended up about even.

It would all come down to the free program.


I debated about staying up late and watching the competition live, since it would be held in the afternoon Korea time, which would translate to about 2:00a.m. here.  But I decided to go to sleep.  As I later realized, I really should have stayed up, because I ended up not being able to sleep; I just tossed and turned and felt nervous about the competition.

That afternoon, I set myself in front of my computer and prepared to watch.  Mao Asada skated would be skating second-to-last, right before Yu-Na.

2008 Grand Prix Final LP
“Waltz” from “Masquerade Suite” by Aram Khachaturian

See also this video for the British Eurosport commentary.
See this video for a widescreen version with no commentary.

Mao opened up with her first triple axel, and this time she was able to tack on the double toe loop.  Then, the second axel—she landed it! Huge!  She did it!  The rest should be fine now!

And it was, until the triple flip-triple loop combo—Mao uncharacteristically fell on the flip.  Oh no!  I thought, there goes her shot at the gold!   I thought she might pop the salchow, her weakness, but she landed it, and she skated the rest of her program cleanly.

Big hug from Tarasova

I was happy that Mao landed her triple axels and I thought they were clean, but I couldn’t quite celebrate yet because I knew she left the door open for Yu-Na Kim with that one fall.

Still, I couldn’t help but be charmed by Mao and TAT blowing kisses at the crowd.


Yu-Na Kim started her program in typical Yu-Na fashion—flawlessly.  She reeled off her triple flip/triple toe combo, her triple lutz, and a big three jump combo.  With every clean jump, my spirits started to wane.

But then, just as she had in the short program, she popped her second lutz.  Still, that’s not as bad as Mao’s fall I thought.  And then, on the next jump, the triple salchow, it happened—she fell.  Oh my god!! Mao might win!!  That’s two mistakes to Mao’s one!!

At the end of her program, Yu-Na looked like she knew she wasn’t going to win.  But the crowd went insane anyway.

I still remember, I thought it was so funny when Yu-Na’s scores came out.  Initially a big cheer and then a hush when they realized they weren’t high good enough.

Mao Asada had done it!  She successfully landed two triple axels in her long program, becoming the first woman to ever do so, and she won the Grand Prix Final!  And all in her rival’s home country!

She must have been so happy, and rightfully so.  I was elated.  As I headed to my birthday dinner that evening, I felt like I had already received the best present of all!


Two weeks later, Mao Asada went on to win her third straight Japan National Championships.  It wasn’t a particularly great competition for her; she had some errors in both the short and long programs, but it was enough to win.

Mao and Tarasova in the kiss ‘n’ cry after the FS

Mao with the Japan Nationals trophy

And so the year 2008 came to a brilliant end.  She had won every major competition, she had successfully landed a clean lutz, a salchow, and two triple axels, and she had won the Grand Prix Final in enemy territory.  What more could you ask for? 


1)  The 2008 Grand Prix Final was perhaps the last time I remember seeing Mao and Yu-Na look really friendly together.  The whole atmosphere was great, with all the skaters seeming to have a fun time preparing for the gala.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Mao Asada’s journey and my evolution as a Mao fan: Part 17

Part 17: 2008-09 season—“The me that is so strong that you can’t believe it” [信じられないぐらい強い自分]

Mao had two weeks before her next competition, the NHK Trophy in Japan.  Instead of going home to Nagoya to train, which had been the original plan, Mao headed to Russia for an “emergency” training session.

Then the media started to reveal what had happened.  Mao wasn’t quite used to Tarasova’s method yet.  While Mao preferred to spend about 7-8 hours on the ice everyday, jumping, jumping, jumping until she was satisfied, Tarasova preferred short, very focused sessions (2-hour sessions, twice a day).  Mao hadn’t yet gotten comfortable with cutting her on-ice practice time in half.  In addition, she was still going through a “getting to know you” period with Tarasova.  The failure at TEB taught Mao that she really had to communicate better with Tarasova and make sure that Tarasova understood what she was thinking and feeling.

Once I found that out, I felt relieved.  There were clear reasons for Mao’s poor performance at TEB.  There were tangible problems that Mao could fix.  I started to look forward to NHK Trophy.  Mao will surely rebound there, I thought.  I even thought, I think Mao’s going to win the Grand Prix Final.  Everyone’s calling Yu-Na the favorite, which means Mao can go out there with no pressure and beat Yu-Na in her own country!


At the NHK Trophy, Mao showed that “unbelievably strong” self.  In the short program, she landed the triple-flip/triple-loop combo (though the loop was judged underrotated), and she landed the triple lutz cleanly from the outside edge!

2008 NHK Trophy SP (age 17)
“Clair de Lune” by Claude Debussy

Tatiana Tarasova, Mao and Shanetta Folle in the kiss ‘n’ cry

In the free program, Mao landed the opening triple axel beautifully, but she didn’t do the combo as originally planned.  That meant she’d have to tack on a double toe loop at the end of her next axel attempt.  “Would she do it? Yes!  She did it!!  She landed two triple axels in the long program!!  A world first!!”, I thought.

Mao then completed jump after jump, including the triple salchow.  Her only “mistake” was making the triple-flip/triple-loop combo into a lone triple-flip.  She poured all her energy into the final, exhausting step sequence—“Do it full out even if it kills you,” Tarasova had said—and she capped off her program with a hilarious near-fall on her ending pose.  (That’s Mao Asada for you, always full of surprises!)

2008 NHK Trophy FS
"Waltz" from "Masquerade Suite" by Aram Khatchaturian
See it with British Eurosport commentary here.

In one competition, it seemed that Mao had accomplished all her jump goals—a clean lutz, a triple salchow, and two triple axels.  But the last proved elusive—her second triple axel was judged underrotated.

I didn’t care.  Mao had skated two clean (to the untrained eye) programs.  It had been the first time she had done that since the 2005 Grand Prix Final.  I was ecstatic. Even though Mao hadn’t gotten credit for her second triple axel, I was sure that that she’d be extra motivated to do it next time.

Tatiana Tarasova, Mao and Shanetta Folle in the kiss ‘n’ cry

(You can just feel the love and joy, can’t you?)

I was so thrilled by Mao’s win that I made my first earnest attempt to write about the Mao/Yu-Na rivalry, and why you should care about Mao Asada.


At the time, I thought it was only natural that Mao would come back strong after stumbling at the Trophee Eric Bompard (TEB).  In reality, however, it seems that the “emergency” practice session in Russia did not go very well. 

According to Mao Asada, Brilliant Eighteen, the latest book on Mao by Naoko Utsunomiya, Tarasova got really mad.  She couldn’t understand why Mao couldn’t jump at TEB.  She got so mad that she once threw a water bottle at Mao; it didn't reach her, but it got the staff wet.  Her anger was so powerful that Mao was shocked and couldn't speak. (1)

Poor Mao might have been stunned and hurt at the time, but I think that this outburst was simply a manifestation of Tarasova’s strong love and belief in Mao.  Tarasova’s staff said that no one had ever made TAT that mad before.  She might have been worrying a bit about her own reputation as a coach, but I think the real reason why she was so mad was because she cares about Mao so much; she truly believes that Mao is the best, and she truly loves her.

1)  Mao and Nobunari Oda, winner of the men’s competition, on an NHK TV program the day after the competition.

Mao looks so cute in her kimono!

2) Read about Tarasova’s reaction to Mao’s NHK performance in the 8th post on this page (my translation of the first few pages of 浅田真央、18歳 [Mao Asada, Brilliant Eighteen]).  There are more mini-translations from the book in the rest of the thread.

1) See pg 48 in Mao Asada, Brilliant Eighteen.

Mao Asada’s journey and my evolution as a Mao fan: Part 16

Part 16: 2008-09 season—“The me that is sometimes weak-hearted” [時々心が弱くなる自分]

The 2008-09 season started with Yu-Na Kim putting on a stunning short program performance at the 2008 Skate America.  She too had undergone an image change, piling on the eyeliner and playing the Asian dominatrix.  Her music was Saint- Saëns’ “Danse Macabre,” which I thought suited her perfectly.  And she simply killed it.  She also slaughtered the competition at Skate America, and two weeks later, at the Cup of China.

Everyone kept raving about her performances, calling her the definite favorite for the Grand Prix Final, and even for the 2010 Olympics.

I was livid.  How could they say that before Mao had a chance to skate?!  I was dying for Mao come out and show everyone why she is so much better than Yu-Na Kim.  Because although I could see that Yu-Na Kim skated very well, and I could understand why people would rave about ‘Danse Macabre,’ I personally was not very impressed.  In fact, I thought she could have done more with the music in the step sequence, but I guess not everyone is as skilled with steps as Mao.

Moreover, while others raved about Yu-Na’s menacing expressions, I found them over-the-top and totally insincere.  While watching her, I felt like someone had told her, “now look menacing here, make a sexy face there, and smile here.”  She was carrying out the instructions perfectly, but it just looked so rehearsed and fake to me.  After having watched a summer season of top-class international ballet stars, this kind of amateurish mugging for the audience did not qualify as “expression” to me.


Around this time, Mao appeared in a commercial for Asience shampoo

Asience CM (Fall 2008)

Asience Wallpaper

Wow, I thought; she’s really starting to mature from that adorable little girl into a beautiful young lady.

In the commercial, Mao says, “The me that is sometimes weak-hearted...the me that is so strong that you can’t believe it...Both are me, and that is why I can shine.”

At the time, I had no idea that these words would characterize Mao’s 2008-09 season so perfectly.


In mid-November, Mao arrived in Paris for the fourth Grand Prix event of the season, the Trophee Eric Bompard, an event she had won twice before.  From all that I had heard, Mao was in great condition, and she greeted the reporters in Paris with her typical Mao smile.  I couldn’t wait to see Mao’s new programs and new costumes. 

Now that the Grand Prix events were no longer being aired on TV in the US, I was forced to watch them online at  This meant that I got to see the whole competition, including the nerve-wracking warm-up sessions, and all without the annoying American commentary. 

For the short program, Mao wore a lovely lavender dress with crescent ornaments.  I had secretly hoped for a white dress to starkly contrast Yu-Na’s black ‘Danse Macabre’ costume—you know, Moonlight versus Hell Fire or something—but the dress was pretty enough. 

What surprised me was how tall and thin Mao looked.  She had always been slender, but now her lovely long limbs seemed even more extended—she looked more like a ballet dancer than skater to me.

I was hoping for Mao to go out and remind everyone that “I am the world champion,” but that is not what happened.  Just like she had done at the 2007 Worlds and at the 2007 Trophee Eric Bompard, Mao popped the triple loop in her combo jump.  She then went on the double the triple lutz, and she got an edge warning (“!”).  So much for all the progress she had supposedly made over the summer.

I was definitely disappointed.  I had really wanted her to nail her program on the first try the same way that Yu-Na had.  In addition, I was somewhat disappointed with the program.  I thought the music would be perfect for Mao, but I found the cuts in the music to be a bit jarring, and I wasn’t sure I liked having two spins back-to-back at the end.

But at this point, I wasn’t worried.  This was typical Mao behavior.  She always struggles in the short program.  I simply expected her to skate well in the free skate and win. 


The next day, Mao came out in an all-black, lacy (even potentially racy) costume with heavy eyeliner and bright red lipstick.  Whoa!  I thought.  This is DEFINITELY an image change!!  Oooh, let’s see what this grown-up, vampy Mao can do!

The music started—even today, whenever I hear that ominous waltz beat, my heart starts to beat a little faster—and then Mao set up for her triple axel.  This is the make or break moment, I thought.

And she landed it!  Oh my god, she landed it!  She’s on tonight! I thought.  Because in all my experience of watching Mao compete, I’d never seen her have a bad performance after landing the opening triple axel.

But, as they say, there’s a first time for everything, and from that point on, her performance fell apart.  The next jump, which I thought would be another triple axel, seemed to be changed into a loop at the last moment, and Mao doubled it.  She went on to pop her triple-flip/triple-loop combo again, and then she popped the triple salchow and fell.  It was a complete disaster.  Mao earned the lowest score of her senior career and finished second to Joannie Rochette of Canada.

I was absolutely devastated.  Not just because she lost, but because I had no idea what had happened.  I had never seen Mao put on two poor performances back-to-back like that.  I thought her training had been going so well.  If that were the case--if Mao were doing everything perfectly in practice, then her failure here implied serious mental problems.  And those, I knew, were very difficult to overcome.

Even more distressing was the fact that Mao herself looked shocked. And Tarasova was livid. All while they were sitting in the kiss 'n' cry, she seemed to be ranting.  Perhaps she isn't the right coach for Mao after all, I worried.

I was so distressed that I couldn’t contain it any longer; after having lurked on the Mao Asada Fan Forum for months, I finally broke my silence and shared my stunned disappointment with the other faithful fans.

But of course, with Mao being Mao, the story doesn't end here...