Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mao Asada’s journey and my evolution as a Mao fan: Part 9

Part 9: 2007-08 season—Signs of vulnerability

Mao Asada’s 2007-08 competitive season had a fiery start—literally.  In late October, Mao awoke to find the power out.  Soon after they were told to evacuate Lake Arrowhead immediately to escape the wildfires ravaging Northern California.  She and Rafael ended up training in Toronto for a few days before heading to Quebec City for the 2007 Skate Canada.   Of course, Mao never complained, never said that the situation upset her.

But at the competition, she was not able to show the world a new improved Mao in her challenging, maturing short program.  She almost fell on the triple loop in her opening triple-flip/triple-loop combination jump and found herself in third place after the short.

The next day she rallied and skated a clean long program capped off with a bright smile.

2007 Skate Canada FS (age 17)
“Fantasie-Impromptu” by Frederic Chopin

She landed the triple-flip/triple-loop combo that had given her trouble in the short (though it was judged underrotated), but she did not attempt her signature triple axel.  It was the first time she had purposely omitted the triple axel since becoming a senior.  Still, it did not prevent her from scoring her first victory of the season.



At this point in time, I was still a casual fan.  I knew that Mao had worked with Tarasova over the summer, but I didn’t really know who she was.  I also had no idea about the wildfire incident.  I thought Mao’s performance in the short program was a bit disappointing, but it was just the first competition of the season, after all.  I thought it was a little more intriguing that Mao left out the triple axel.

Here, for the first time, I was introduced to the concept of “edge calls.”  Starting with the 2007-08 season, the technical specialist began checking to see if the lutz and flip were launched from the correct edge: the lutz from the outside edge and the flip from the inside edge.  If the lutz takeoff was from an inside edge, an error known as a “flutz,” the tech specialist would mark it with an “e,” and the judges were required to give negative GOE’s. 

All of a sudden, Mao, a notorious flutzer, started getting receiving substantially negative GOE’s for a jump that used to garner her positive GOE’s.  She was not the only one; Miki Ando also lost points for launching her flip from an outside edge (an error known as a “lip”).  At this point, however, I don’t think I fully understood the judging system nor did I realize the full magnitude of the deduction.


At Mao’s second Grand Prix event of the season, the Trophee Eric Bompard, her “curse of the short program” struck again, and she popped the triple loop in her triple-flip/triple-loop combination.  It was the same mistake she had made at the 2007 World Championships.  She ended up first after the short program, but she cried for 30 minutes after the program. 

The American ESPN commentators couldn’t understand why she was crying—after all, she was in first place—but I knew.  It was because once again, Mao messed up the combo that she could do perfectly in practice.  Because for Mao, it’s not just about winning or being in first place; it’s about doing everything that she is capable of. 

The next day, Mao easily won the long program and the competition despite falling on her opening triple axel and receiving a time violation deduction. 

2007 Trophee Eric Bompard FS (age 17)
“Fantasie-Impromptu” by Frederic Chopin

It was not her best skate by any means, but one aspect of her performance showed me she had matured as a skater: even though she fell on the triple axel, she picked herself up and skated the rest of her program cleanly.  In the previous season, if Mao messed up the triple axel, she would let it affect the rest of her program; she would kind of give up.  That had happened at the 2006 Skate America and the 2006 Grand Prix Final.  But here she kept fighting; she didn’t let the fall faze her.  She was no longer letting the triple axel dictate the rest of her program, which I thought was an important development.

2007 Trophee Eric Bompard podium: Kimmie Meissner (silver), Mao Asada (gold), Ashley Wagner (bronze)

On paper, the 2007 Grand Prix season was her best yet—she won both competitions she entered—but this fact obscures the rather shaky performances she delivered, especially in the short program.  She may have won two GP gold medals, but she also showed some signs of vulnerability.

1)  Mao actually gave the first performance of her short program at the 2007 International Counter Match held in Japan.  Watch it here:

It’s interesting to watch her program in its original form; some aspects of the choreography were modified by the time she performed it at Worlds in 2008.

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