The 2008-09 season started with Yu-Na Kim putting on a stunning short program performance at the 2008 Skate America. She too had undergone an image change, piling on the eyeliner and playing the Asian dominatrix. Her music was Saint- Saëns’ “Danse Macabre,” which I thought suited her perfectly. And she simply killed it. She also slaughtered the competition at Skate America, and two weeks later, at the Cup of China.
Everyone kept raving about her performances, calling her the definite favorite for the Grand Prix Final, and even for the 2010 Olympics.
I was livid. How could they say that before Mao had a chance to skate?! I was dying for Mao come out and show everyone why she is so much better than Yu-Na Kim. Because although I could see that Yu-Na Kim skated very well, and I could understand why people would rave about ‘Danse Macabre,’ I personally was not very impressed. In fact, I thought she could have done more with the music in the step sequence, but I guess not everyone is as skilled with steps as Mao.
Moreover, while others raved about Yu-Na’s menacing expressions, I found them over-the-top and totally insincere. While watching her, I felt like someone had told her, “now look menacing here, make a sexy face there, and smile here.” She was carrying out the instructions perfectly, but it just looked so rehearsed and fake to me. After having watched a summer season of top-class international ballet stars, this kind of amateurish mugging for the audience did not qualify as “expression” to me.
Around this time, Mao appeared in a commercial for Asience shampoo.
Asience CM (Fall 2008)
Wow, I thought; she’s really starting to mature from that adorable little girl into a beautiful young lady.
In the commercial, Mao says, “The me that is sometimes weak-hearted...the me that is so strong that you can’t believe it...Both are me, and that is why I can shine.”
At the time, I had no idea that these words would characterize Mao’s 2008-09 season so perfectly.
In mid-November, Mao arrived in Paris for the fourth Grand Prix event of the season, the Trophee Eric Bompard, an event she had won twice before. From all that I had heard, Mao was in great condition, and she greeted the reporters in Paris with her typical Mao smile. I couldn’t wait to see Mao’s new programs and new costumes.
Now that the Grand Prix events were no longer being aired on TV in the US, I was forced to watch them online at IceNetwork.com. This meant that I got to see the whole competition, including the nerve-wracking warm-up sessions, and all without the annoying American commentary.
For the short program, Mao wore a lovely lavender dress with crescent ornaments. I had secretly hoped for a white dress to starkly contrast Yu-Na’s black ‘Danse Macabre’ costume—you know, Moonlight versus Hell Fire or something—but the dress was pretty enough.
What surprised me was how tall and thin Mao looked. She had always been slender, but now her lovely long limbs seemed even more extended—she looked more like a ballet dancer than skater to me.
I was hoping for Mao to go out and remind everyone that “I am the world champion,” but that is not what happened. Just like she had done at the 2007 Worlds and at the 2007 Trophee Eric Bompard, Mao popped the triple loop in her combo jump. She then went on the double the triple lutz, and she got an edge warning (“!”). So much for all the progress she had supposedly made over the summer.
I was definitely disappointed. I had really wanted her to nail her program on the first try the same way that Yu-Na had. In addition, I was somewhat disappointed with the program. I thought the music would be perfect for Mao, but I found the cuts in the music to be a bit jarring, and I wasn’t sure I liked having two spins back-to-back at the end.
But at this point, I wasn’t worried. This was typical Mao behavior. She always struggles in the short program. I simply expected her to skate well in the free skate and win.
The next day, Mao came out in an all-black, lacy (even potentially racy) costume with heavy eyeliner and bright red lipstick. Whoa! I thought. This is DEFINITELY an image change!! Oooh, let’s see what this grown-up, vampy Mao can do!
The music started—even today, whenever I hear that ominous waltz beat, my heart starts to beat a little faster—and then Mao set up for her triple axel. This is the make or break moment, I thought.
And she landed it! Oh my god, she landed it! She’s on tonight! I thought. Because in all my experience of watching Mao compete, I’d never seen her have a bad performance after landing the opening triple axel.
But, as they say, there’s a first time for everything, and from that point on, her performance fell apart. The next jump, which I thought would be another triple axel, seemed to be changed into a loop at the last moment, and Mao doubled it. She went on to pop her triple-flip/triple-loop combo again, and then she popped the triple salchow and fell. It was a complete disaster. Mao earned the lowest score of her senior career and finished second to Joannie Rochette of Canada.
I was absolutely devastated. Not just because she lost, but because I had no idea what had happened. I had never seen Mao put on two poor performances back-to-back like that. I thought her training had been going so well. If that were the case--if Mao were doing everything perfectly in practice, then her failure here implied serious mental problems. And those, I knew, were very difficult to overcome.
Even more distressing was the fact that Mao herself looked shocked. And Tarasova was livid. All while they were sitting in the kiss 'n' cry, she seemed to be ranting. Perhaps she isn't the right coach for Mao after all, I worried.
I was so distressed that I couldn’t contain it any longer; after having lurked on the Mao Asada Fan Forum for months, I finally broke my silence and shared my stunned disappointment with the other faithful fans.
But of course, with Mao being Mao, the story doesn't end here...