Part 5: 2006-07 seasonWorld record scores
At her second event of the season, the NHK Trophy, Mao faced a do-or-die situation. If she finished first, she’d advance to the Grand Prix Final in St. Petersburg and have a chance to defend her title. If she finished below first, she’d stay home.
But that is not how her mother tried to motivate her. Instead of saying, “You have to win so that you can go to the Final,” Mao’s mother said, “Mao, take me to St. Petersburg. It’s someplace I’ve always wanted to go. We’ve talked about it many times, haven’t we? Let’s go there together—to Russia.” (1)
Mao recalls, “I did feel nervous. But I wanted to take Mama to St. Petersburg.” So in front of her home crowd, Mao not only won the competition, but she also received the highest total score a female skater had ever received—199.52.
2006 NHK Trophy SP (age 16)
“Nocturne No. 2 in E-flat Major” by Chopin
2006 NHK Trophy FS (age 16)
“Czardas” by Vittorio Monti
Mao with her NHK Trophy gold medal
Mao at the NHK studio after the competition
The Grand Prix Final in St. Petersburg proceeded much like the 2006 Skate America competition. Mao skated brilliantly in the short program and took the lead, but in the long program she fell on her opening triple axel and skated half-heartedly through the rest of her program. She finished second.
The book Mao Asada, Sweet Sixteen reveals what had happened behind the scenes. Mao and her mother had arrived in Russia early, so that they could explore St. Petersburg before the competition. Unfortunately, Mao caught a cold. But she never admitted to being sick; she never said “I have a cold” as a way to explain her disappointing silver.
Because Mao Asada refuses to make excuses. She will never say, “Oh, I had a cold,” or “I felt jet-lagged,” or “other skaters are obstructing me during the warm-up.” She, the lover of challenges, will take every obstacle, every hardship, as a way to push herself to be even better.
The 2006 GPF was important for two other reasons. First, it gave Mao the opportunity to meet Tatiana Tarasova, the legendary “champion maker.” Or rather, it gave TAT the opportunity to meet Mao, because it was the former who actively sought out the latter: Tarasova found Mao, and she said, “I want to work with you.”
Secondly, the 2006 GPF was Yu-Na Kim’s first major success on the senior circuit.
2006 Grand Prix Final podium: Mao Asada (Silver), Yu-Na Kim (Gold), Sarah Meier (Bronze)
I’m trying to remember what I thought of Yu-Na Kim back then. I do remember thinking that since she beat Mao Asada at the 2006 Jr. Worlds, she must be pretty good, but I don’t think it was that impressed when I first saw her skate that season.
Certainly, that was due in part to my Mao bias. Every time I watched her skate, I’d think, “ah, but Mao does this better; Mao does that better. She’s not as flexible…eww, where’s the turnout?”
I occasionally wonder what would have happened if I had seen Yu-Na Kim skate before I had ever seen Mao. Would I have become a Yu-Na fan? Would I have formed a pro-Yu-Na bias and disliked Mao?
I think the answer is probably not. Because if I hadn’t happened to see Mao on TV on that fateful New Year’s Day, I don’t think I’d be a skating fan at all. I might have watched the 2006 Olympics, and that would have been it.
It was the combination of Mao’s against-all-odds GPF win, the drama over whether she would get to go to the Olympics, and her beaming smile that made me care about skating.
And, in the end, as my friend judiciously remarked, “You like Mao Asada better because she’s cuter.” Yeah, I can’t disagree with that! ^_^;;
(1) From the book 浅田真央、１６歳 [Mao Asada, Sweet Sixteen], pg 98.