Immediately after the 2007 World Championships in Tokyo, Mao declared, “I will show Yu-Na around!”, and the two 16-year-olds set off to explore the city. That day, they were not rivals, but simply two teenage girls doing what teenage girls do in Tokyo: shopping, eating and having fun.
Today, things may be very different (and we’ll get to that point eventually), but back in 2007 and before that, Mao Asada and Yu-Na Kim were friends, or at least friendly acquaintances, happy to see the other.
Mao and Yu-Na
(2006 Jr. Worlds and off-season)
(2006 Jr. Worlds and off-season)
The pictures at the bottom of this reel are from Yu-Na Kim’s blog/journal. (It’s either the summer of 2006 or 2007; I’m not sure which.)
My Korean is not nearly as good as my Japanese, but here’s my translation of what Yu-Na says (with much help from Google translate).
At last I finally met them.
Mao and Mai, who are staying in the same dorm.
I did expect it, but to meet like this!
What a coincidence!
We talked and took pictures and I was very happy to see them.
They said they are going to Portugal in 3 days.
Last night, we made too much curry, so
I took it and gave it to Mao. As a bonus, kimchi pancakes too.
(She was more excited about the pancakes than the curry.)
In return, I received corn and drinks.
How sweet is that? Happily running into each other, happily talking, happily trading food.
But no longer.
Following Mao’s story, I think what saddens me the most is the deterioration of this friendship. Today, these young girls, these would-be friends, are national idols. The sensationalistic media and rabid ‘fans’ have inflated their rivalry into a battle for national glory, part of the acrimonious conflict between Japan and Korea that has run centuries long.
How can they be friends when the media and extremist ubers viciously slander the other? How can they be friends when Mao Asada must be protected by bodyguards the moment she steps into Korea?
And yet, can there be anyone who understands the other better? Who other than Mao Asada can understand the extreme pressure that Yu-Na Kim faces? Who other than Yu-Na Kim can understand the stress of constant media scrutiny?
Not only are they both celebrity athletes in their own countries, but they are also the same age. They are born just 20 days apart. They advanced from novice to junior skaters together, they debuted at Senior Worlds together, and they graduated from high school and started college together. So much in common, yet bitter history keeps them apart.
I often wonder if in the future, say 15 years from now, they’ll be able to meet as friends. Maybe enough time will have passed that they can reminisce fondly about their competition days. Maybe then, they could hang out together, just as they did one spring day in 2007.
But sometimes I think, maybe not. Because they have sacrificed their childhoods and teenage years for the same dream: Olympic gold. So perhaps, if they meet 15 years from now, it will not be a happy happenstance. Perhaps one will feel uncomfortably guilty thinking, “I destroyed your dream,” while the other will bitterly recall, “I lost.”
But I am getting too far ahead of myself here. (And rather melodramatic, as is my wont!)
After 2007 Worlds, Mao and Yu-Na also had a joint interview special on Japanese TV. Very friendly, very cute.
You can see it here with Korean subtitles.
One day I might try to translate all of it. But the part that I remember the most is the true/false quiz that they do at the end. Here I will recap/translate what is said.
For each of these 10 statements, Mao and Yu-Na have to hold up a paddle that has an O (True) on one side and an X (False) on the other. After the quiz, they discuss some of the answers.
(This is prefaced by Mao laughingly declaring, "I don't like these kind of quizzes!")
1) I like Yakiniku the best
(Later Yu-Na explains that she likes bread better than yakiniku.)
2) I’m still growing taller
[much hesitation from both]
[And yet, today, Mao is still growing…]
Here they stand side-by-side and compare how tall they are, how long their arms are—yup, they were just about the same height, same length arms and legs. ;)
3) I have confidence that I’ll smile in my final pose
4) Skating is good, but I also want to fall in love
They ask her what their "type" of guy is. Mao says her type is an interesting and cool person. Yu-Na says her type is “someone who has a manly look and personality, and like Mao, I like interesting guys.”
5) Truthfully, I’m afraid of my mother
6) Even if I were reborn, I’d want to be a skater
7) I’ve gotten dizzy from spinning
8) I hate to lose
9) At the Vancouver Olympics, the one who will win the gold medal is me.
[both laughing embarrassedly]
They ask Yu-Na why she answered ‘False.’ She says, “There’s still a long time until the Vancouver Olympics, and I think no one knows what will happen. But Mao is really trying hard, so I think she’ll put out a good result. But I don’t really know what will happen.”
Then they ask Mao why she said ‘True.’ She says, “From when I was a child, it has been my dream. But I think it would be good if we can both try our best.”
10) If I win the gold medal, I want to return to being a normal girl
Out of all the questions, I think the one that strikes me the most from this quiz is #6. "Even if I were reborn, I'd still want to be a skater," Mao affirms. Yu-Na, on the other hand, disagrees.
Perhaps things have changed dramatically since that interview, maybe now that Yu-Na has tasted World champion success and grown to enjoy skating, she would say she would want to be reborn as a skater too. I don't know.
I do know, however, that Mao Asada truly loves to skate. She has always loved to skate. And she probably will go on loving skating for the rest of her life. So much so, that even if she were reborn, she'd still wish to be a skater.
And that is part of the reason why I am a Mao fan. Because when she's skating at her best, you can feel how much she loves it.
As for their predictions for the Vancouver Olympics...Well, so much has changed since 2007. But I believe, and I hope Mao believes, that they will be correct! ^_^