Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Mao Asada’s journey and my evolution as a Mao fan: Part 10

Part 10: 2007-08 season—Some disillusionment and despair (from me)

In December 2007, Mao Asada headed to Torino, home of the 2006 Olympics, for her third straight Grand Prix Final.  And it started off disastrously.  The triple-triple combo that had been a stumbling block for her—she nearly fell on it.  Then, during the approach for her triple lutz, she slid and lost her timing, so she omitted the jump altogether.  Only two jump passes completed and one with a near-fall.  It was no surprise that she found herself in last place (6th) after the short program.

2007 Grand Prix Final SP (age 17) (ESPN commentary)
“Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra” by Nigel Hess

(For a higher-quality widescreen version, please click here.)

Mao ended up a little more than 5.5 points behind the leader, Yu-Na Kim, and just under 3 points behind 2nd place, Caroline Zhang of the US. 

Well, you can guess what happened the next day.  No stranger to "coming from behind," Mao Asada pulled out all the stops and skated her heart out in the free program the next day.

2007 Grand Prix Final FS
(ESPN commentary)
“Fantasie-Impromptu” by Frederic Chopin

(For a higher-quality widescreen version, see here.)

Not only did she land the triple axel, but she also successfully landed two triple-triple combinations: the triple-flip/triple-loop, her usual combo, and the triple-flip/triple-toe loop combo.  And the way that she ends the program with a double axel before the final note--who else can do that?!  

Mao received 132.55 points for her free skate, very near her record score from the 2007 World Championships.  And just like at 2007 Worlds, she burst into tears at the end—tears of relief, tears of satisfaction, tears that said, “I did it!”  

Once again, Mao "met the moment," as Tracy Wilson said.  Wow.  And the tears--that was just part of why I love Mao: because she wears her heart on her sleeve.  You can't help but go through the emotional highs and lows with her.  And oh, how it warmed my heart to see Rafael Artunian hugging and carrying the crying/smiling Mao off the rink!

I was not the only one who was excited.  Tatiana Tarasova was there watching as a commentator for Russian TV, and she exclaimed, “She has given her all!.. has given her all... Has proved to herself that she can!..”  (Read the full translation of her commentary here.  Thanks to summervie from the Mao Asada fan forum!)

Rafael Artunian, Tatiana Tarasova, and Mao Asada at 2007 GPF

As the rest of the field posted scores well below Mao’s, I began to think, Mao might actually have a chance to win this!  How amazing would that be?  To go from last to first?

The leader after the short program, Yu-Na Kim, was the final skater to take the ice.  She fell on her second jump, a triple loop, but skated the rest of her program cleanly.  Her score?  132.21, a mere 0.34 points behind a completely clean Mao Asada.  She easily clinched her second straight Grand Prix Final gold.

2007 Grand Prix Final podium: Mao Asada (silver), Yu-Na Kim (gold), Carolina Kostner (bronze)

I was stunned.  “How can that be?”, I thought.  So I looked at the protocols.  Although Mao Asada had gotten full credit for all her jumps (nothing was marked underrotated), she lost quite a few points through negative GOEs on her jumping passes, especially on the edge-called triple lutz.  In contrast, Yu-Na Kim received positive GOEs across all of her elements (except the triple loop that she fell on).  In addition, Yu-Na received higher PCS than Mao.

And then, I thought, “If that’s how they’re going to judge it—if Mao Asada can skate her heart out and land all her jumps, while Yu-Na Kim falls, and their scores end up practically the same—if that's how it's going to be, then I don’t think I want to watch skating anymore.”


Even I, the ardent Mao fan, had to admit that Yu-Na Kim was a very good skater.  Even I could concede that Yu-Na Kim had a polish to her programs that Mao Asada was lacking.  Every element was done cleanly; she didn’t make edge errors nor underrotate.  She sold every jump, every spin, every spiral, maintaining the performance aspect throughout her whole program.  And although her facial expressions seemed very affected, very artificial, to me, at least she made an effort.  Mao, on the other hand, seemed like she sometimes forgot about performing.  Sometimes it seemed like she was only concentrating on the jump she had to do next.  Moreover, there was the issue of mental toughness—Yu-Na Kim seemed to handle the pressure very well, whereas Mao couldn’t get her head together for the short program.

But that didn’t mean that I liked Yu-Na Kim.  No, not at all.  I could objectively see that she was good, but I did not think she was better than Mao.  On a more subjective level, I simply did not enjoy watching Yu-Na’s skating.  This might be in part due to my pro-Mao bias, but recently I think it has something to do with my ballet background as well.  Every spiral of Yu-Na's that lacked flexibility, every less-than-graceful line made me wish I were watching Mao.  I felt the same way about many of the other less flexible and less graceful ladies, but I did not care as much because they were not even close to rivaling Mao.


So at this point in this time, I felt disillusioned.  I looked at the scores and thought, “gee, maybe Mao Asada can’t do it.  She can't seem to get her head together for the short program, and the judges seem to like Yu-Na. She’s probably going to win Worlds at this rate.” 

And this is when my interest in skating waned.  Because
I remembered how painful it was to watch Mao Asada come so close to gold at the 2007 Worlds and end up with silver, and I did not want to see that again.  

Because like Tarasova, I believed that Mao was the "real star," the "marvelous girl" who "would achieve everything."

2007 Grand Prix Final banquet
Daisuke Takahashi, Mao Asada, Yukari Nakano

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