In this series of posts, I want to describe Mao Asada's journey as a skater and a star, and at the same time, I want to document my own evolution from totally ignorant, to casual fan to crazy obsessed Mao uber.
Part 1: Prologue
Are we destined for greatness, or do we make ourselves great?
How much does success depend on luck and inborn talent, and how much on hard work, dedication and support?
While pondering these questions, I turn to the story of Mao Asada...
Mao Asada (浅田真央) was born on September 25, 1990 in Nagoya, Japan. She has an older sister, Mai (浅田舞), who is two years older than her.
Mao (3) and Mai (5)
(from the Mao and Mai Asada official website)
Mao Asada was not supposed to be a skater, but she was supposed to be a star.
Mao’s mother, Kyouko, loved ballet and wanted her daughters to be "world-class ballerinas." In fact, the character for Mai’s name means “dance,” and she is named after Maya Plisetskaya, a famous Russian ballerina. (Mao’s father, Toshiharu, named her after Mao Daichi, a famous Japanese actress. Thanks to their mother’s aspirations, Mao and Mai started ballet together when Mao was 3.
Mao (3) and Mai (5) at their first ballet lesson
When Mao was 5 years old, she and Mai went skating with a friend, and they liked it so much that they started taking classes. Kyouko said that she wanted them do skating to strengthen their ankles, especially Mao, who was very thin.
Mao - age 5
This is a clip from an April 2008 interview. At 5:30, you can see Mao skating at her first competition. Adorable!
Throughout her childhood, Mao participated in all kinds of activities—jazz dance, swimming, piano, etc. She and Mai went to an international elementary school for four years, and they even spent three summers in Hawaii as part of a study abroad program. But in the end, Mao decided that what she loved best of all was skating.
When Mao was 10 years old, she and Mai started training with Coach Machiko Yamada, Midori Ito’s former coach. To this day, she remains one of Mao’s beloved mentors.
2000 Novice Nationals (age 10)
In 2002, when she was 12 years old, Mao landed in the national spotlight for the first time. Although she was still too young for the junior circuit, let alone the senior circuit, she received a special invitation to compete at the senior National Championships. There she wowed the crowd and commentators by landing a triple-triple-triple combination (the first ever for a lady!) in her free program and finishing 7th.
2002 Japan Nationals FS (age 12)
(This starts with a recap of her SP.)
The first jump she attempted in the program was a triple axel. At this point, it was heavily underrotated, but you can see that even at 12 years of age, Mao was on her way to making the elusive triple axel her signature jump.
Soon after her success at Nationals, she stated her lifelong dream on TV: “I want to go to the Olympics, win the gold medal, and travel around the world.”
In 2004, Mao turned 14, and she was finally old enough to compete on the junior circuit. At this point, the triple axel was an established weapon in her formidable arsenal, a highlight of her long program.
She steamrolled the competition, easily winning her two Junior Grand Prix events and the Junior Grand Prix Final. (Mao Asada’s score at the 2004 JGPF: 172.83. The distant #2, a skater named Yu-Na Kim, scored 137.75). She even finished 2nd at the Japan Nationals (to Miki Ando).
(View the video of her FS here).
In spring 2005, she again proved herself in a class by herself at Junior Worlds, becoming the first woman to land a triple axel at Junior Worlds. And she won even despite a slight mishap with a skate lace that became untied. Here too, she beat the silver medalists (Yu-Na Kim again) by over 20 points.
2005 Junior Worlds SP (age 14)
2005 Junior Worlds FS (age 14)
2005 Junior Worlds podium: Yu-Na Kim (silver), Mao Asada (gold), Emily Hughes (bronze)
Winning Junior Worlds was important for two reasons.
First, Mao’s mother had promised that she could get a dog if she won, so Mao became the proud owner of a toy poodle, which she named Aero. (See Aero's full profile and pics here.)
Second, Mao was granted a special exemption to compete on the senior Grand Prix circuit in the 2005-06 season, even though she was officially too young to compete at either the senior World Championships or the Olympics.
This exemption would have important implications not only for Mao, but also for the world of figure skating, and for me as a future fan.
1) For my translation of an interview with Mai and Mao and some comments from Machiko Yamada from 2003, please see here.
2) In this clip from April 2009, Mao meets with her childhood ballet teacher, Kumiko Ochi, for the first time in many years, and there are clips of her doing ballet as a child.
3) My favorite anecdote of little Mao comes from when she was in Hawaii. (This was told in the book 浅田真央、１５歳 [Mao Asada, Fifteen years old]). Apparently Mao was playing with the telephone and managed to dial 911. As a result, a bunch of police showed up at their apartment; they thought perhaps a child was being held hostage or something. OOPS! :D
For more anecdotes from the book, please see here.