Sunday, January 17, 2010

Mao Asada's journey and my evolution as a Mao fan: Part 2

Part 2: 2005-06 season--a stellar senior debut

There is a Japanese phrase that describes 15-year old Mao perfectly: 天真爛漫 [Ten-shin-ran-man], which means “artless, innocent.”

The bright-eyed Mao knew nothing of pressure, felt no worry nor fear. There was no need to carefully weigh her words for the media; she simply said the first thing that came to her head without thinking, punctuating her words with her brilliant smile.

She faced each competition with a fresh excitement. Her first stop, her senior debut, was in Beijing at the Cup of China. There, she placed 2nd to Irina Slutskaya, who was not only the reigning World Champion but also undefeated during the previous season.

2005 Cup of China podium: Mao Asada (Silver), Irina Slutskaya (Gold), Shizuka Arakawa (Bronze)

Mao meets Irina Slutskaya

At her next event, the Trophee Eric Bompard in Paris, Mao successfully landed her triple axel for the first time on the Senior circuit and won her first Senior Grand Prix event. Here she even beat the eventual Olympic gold and silver medalists, Shizuka Arakawa and Sasha Cohen.

2005 Trophee Eric Bompard podium: Sasha Cohen (Silver), Mao Asada (Gold), Shizuka Arakawa (Bronze)

By placing 1st and 2nd at her two GP events, Mao qualified for the Grand Prix Final, which would be held in her home country, in Tokyo. There she would compete with the top 6 skaters from the GP series, who were arguably the top 6 in the World.

And yet, she felt no fear, no nerves. Her biggest concern at this point was perhaps growing up: as Shizuka Arakawa recalls, she noticed that Mao had changed the top of her Nutcracker costume, and when she asked her about it, Mao replied, “I grew, so the sleeve ripped.”

Mao had no expectations about winning, but that does not mean she did not have goals. As we will see, Mao Asada’s journey has been a story of tackling challenges and pushing technical limits, and the 2005-06 season was no different. Having proved that she had mastered the triple axel in the previous season, she aimed to attempt a feat that no lady skater had ever accomplished—two triple axels in a single program.

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