Saturday, January 23, 2010

Mao Asada's journey and my evolution as a Mao fan: Part 6

Part 6: 2006-07 season--Bittersweet Sixteen

Mao Asada won her first National title at home in Nagoya, and she won it with a broken finger.

Yes, about one week before the competition, Mao fell and broke her pinky finger. One would think that wouldn’t affect her skating that much, but in order to jump, you need to close your hands into fist and pull them to your chest. With her broken pinky, she could not jump. The doctor told them that it would take 10 days to heal, and Mao's mother thought their hopes for Nationals were ruined.

But Mao never lost hope. And she never complained. Not a soul in the media knew that Mao was competing with an injury, and she wanted to keep it that way. Because as with the Grand Prix Final, she didn’t want people to think she was making excuses.

In the end, no excuses were needed. Her finger healed just in time, and she skated beautifully in the short program, and phenomenally in the free skate, winning with over a 26-point lead.

2006 Japan National Championships SP
“Nocturne No. 2 in E-flat Major” by Chopin

(click on the YouTube to watch the actual link in HD)

2006 Japan National Championships FS
“Czardas” by Vittorio Monti

Up to that point, Mao had said she didn’t want to cry in public. But in that moment—does it get any better than winning your first title in your hometown?—she broke down and showed the nation her tears of joy.


After winning Japan Nationals, Mao looked ready to conquer the World. And the JSF had set the perfect stage for her senior World Championship debut—Tokyo.

And I thought, how perfect would it be if Mao won Worlds on her very first try, at home in Japan? After all, it’s the girl who won the GPF on her very first try, at home in Japan—it’s Miracle Mao.

2007 Worlds fluff on ESPN

Going into 2007 Worlds, I was both very excited and terribly nervous.

And then the unthinkable happened. Her perfect short program that had landed her in first place all season long—it failed her. She popped the second jump in her combo, the triple loop, and she found herself in 5th place after the short. She was more than 10 points behind the leader, Yu-Na Kim, who had electrified the crowd with her tango and set a world record score in the short program.

2007 World Championships SP
“Nocturne No. 2 in E-flat Major” by Chopin

Mao was devastated. She kept beating herself up over her mistake, becoming more and more dejected. So Mao’s mother did the only thing she could do—she scolded Mao. Fiercely. It broke her heart to do it, but she knew that the only way to make Mao stop beating herself up was to make her angry. “No, that wasn’t my best! Yes, I can do better! Yes, I CAN WIN!”


The next day, in the free skate, Yu-Na Kim faltered, perhaps due to the nerves of leading or the lingering effects of her injury.

Next up, was Mao Asada.

2007 World Championships FS
“Czardas” by Vittorio Monti

And I knew that everything would hinge on that first triple axel—and she nailed it! (Ok, it was two-footed, but I couldn’t tell.) The joy that she showed in her performance, the arm pumps after a successful jump, the way she practically skipped to her final pose —THAT was the Mao Asada I fell in love with at the 2005 GPF! THIS is why I watch Mao Asada!

Mao set a World record score in the free skate—133.13—and jumped to the lead with two skaters to go. Oh my god, I thought! She might just do it! She might just win!! How amazing would that be, after her disaster of a short program?

Kimmie Meissner skated next, but not nearly as well as Mao. That left only Miki Ando, who was second after the short.

My heart was thudding as I watched her skate. Miki pulled off a clean program. Would it be enough?

It was. In the end, Miki edged Mao Asada by a mere 0.64 points for the gold.

2007 Worlds podium: Mao Asada (Silver), Miki Ando (Gold), Yu-Na Kim (Bronze)

To have come so close, to have almost tasted gold—that must have been heartbreaking for Mao. She went and cried in the bathroom.

But she soon got over it. There would be other Worlds, other chances. Silver was pretty good for a first try. And she had learned an important lesson: no matter what happened in the short program, no matter how far behind she was, she could come out in the long and fight. She could deliver a clean program when it mattered the most. And that would be an invaluable lesson for seasons to come.

1) Team Japan goofing around after 2007 Worlds. I love that they are so close.

(Translation can be found in the 2nd post here.)

2) The best exhibition program EVER. Mao Asada skating with her toy poodle, Aero, to music from “The Wizard of Oz” at the Japan Super Challenge in January 2007.

Yep, that’s a triple axel from steps. O_O

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