Sunday, February 14, 2010

Mao Asada’s journey and my evolution as a Mao fan: Part 12

Part 12: 2007-08 season—Crisis

In truth, the smooth sailing at Four Continents belied undercurrents of uncertainty.  Anyone watching the competition would have noticed that Mao Asada’s coach, Rafael Artunian, was not there.  Soon after that, they ended their coaching relationship permanently.

In Mao Asada, Miracle Seventeen, Mao’s mother tells their side of the story.  According to her, the original plan was for Mao to stay in Japan to practice after Nationals.  Rafael was supposed to join her in Japan, and together they would travel from Japan to Korea.  They had made a promise.  However, Rafael never came to Japan.  And he refused to go to Four Continents, saying, “I haven’t seen her practice for a while, so I cannot take responsibility.”

About the incident, Mao said, “I didn’t receive any contact from him.  So when I heard [he wasn’t coming], I was shocked.  I thought, ‘Why won’t he come here for me?’  I felt that very strongly.  Because I had been waiting for Rafael to come.
“Around New Year’s, my hip hurt a little bit and my practices weren’t going well.  And then, I felt kind of worried about Four Continents or something; I can’t really say.
“The reason I went to America was because I couldn’t practice satisfactorily in Japan.  I was glad that I was able to practice a lot abroad, and my lifestyle was unique.  I thought it was a fulfilling two years.” (1)

But in May 2007, they had opened a new rink exclusively for figure skaters at Chuukyou University, near Mao’s hometown, thus eliminating her need to go abroad to get private ice time.   And now that her and her mother’s trust in Rafael had been shattered, they decided to end the coaching relationship.

But that left Mao with no coach and just over one month until Worlds.  Mao, never one to complain, said that not having a coach didn’t bother her.  She didn’t want to use the absence of a coach as an excuse.  But the unusual situation was certainly taking a mental toll on Mao, and the JSF scrambled to find a new coach for Mao.  They sent a frantic offer letter to Tatiana Tarasova, and amazingly, she agreed to accept.  She said, “I choreographed her program this season, and I also watched her practice over the summer.  If Mao says she absolutely wants me, then I will accept.  In return, I want her to come to Russia two weeks before the World Championships.  If that doesn’t happen, then I won’t be able to train her.” (2)

For a moment, it seemed like Mao’s problems had been solved.

But the day after she returned home from Korea, the real crisis arrived.  Mao was practicing her triple-flip/triple-loop combination, when she made an awkward movement with her left foot and heard a popping sound.

An MRI revealed that she had sprained her ankle.


For awhile, Mao was in shock.  It didn’t hurt much, but she couldn’t skate at all.  "What if it doesn’t heal in time for Worlds?!", she worried. 

For one week, all she could do was train in the gym.  In the second week, she was able to move on the ice with her ankle heavily taped.  In the third week, she tried some single jumps.  But she found that she had a hard time feeling the ice with her ankle taped.  On the other hand, if she removed the taping, her ankle wasn’t stable.

All during this time, Mao Asada trained by herself, with only a few JSF members supervising her.  She couldn’t go to Russia in this condition, so the coaching agreement with Tarasova was canceled.

Finally, in the week before Worlds, Mao was able to do triple jumps again.  Her ankle had healed just in time.  And Mao found that surprisingly, she was no longer nervous.  After having to deal with the injury, after feeling despair that she might not be able to compete, she was elated to find that she could skate again and felt a strong desire to go out and win Worlds.

She trained in Japan until the very last minute, and arrived in Göteborg, Sweden just two days before the start of the competition.  She was simply glad that she had made it.

When she arrived, the media asked her about her skating condition.  It wasn’t quite the truth, but she said that “it's the same as usual; it's good.” (3)

Press conference for 2008 Worlds

Just like with her broken finger before 2006 Nationals, Mao never said a word about her injury.  No one outside of the JSF had any idea that she had been unable to practice fully for three weeks.

But Mao Asada doesn’t like to lie and she doesn’t make excuses.  So she resolved to make her statement—“My condition is good”—into the truth.

1) See pgs 91-92 in 浅田真央、17歳 [Mao Asada, Miracle Seventeen].
2) Ibid, pg 94.
3) Ibid, pg 104-105.

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