by Kitty Hu
(11 February 2013)
With all the audience standing, clapping their hands loudly, the waves of cheering bouncing off the ceiling of Osaka Central Stadium, Mao Asada gave her strongest performance of the past 35 months. She had been suffering a low ebb since the 2010 World Championship in Torino, having lost her trade mark triple Axel, the stability on her jumps, her confidence and her smile. But on February 8th at the Four Continents Championships, Mao announced her coming back with a beautiful short program and a triple Axel landed smoothly, to win her third Four Continents title in Osaka, Japan.
At the press conference after the short program, Mao Asada said "I feel very very happy with my performance today, I think I have skated my best performance here."
It has been two year since the last time she landed a clean triple Axel at the 2011 Four Continents Championships in Taipei, but given the inferiority of the short program and mistakes on the combination jumps in the long program, she ranked after Miki Ando, to then win the silver medal.
Mao was very satisfied to have her triple axel back, "I feel very happy that I could do it in the competition, and the jump was also acknowledged by the judges," she said. "For the last two years, the jump was always under-rotated in competition, so there is no meaning to the whole program. Also, I had some problems when I tried it in the practice, but after I came to Osaka, the jump went to a very stable situation. I think it will connect to future competitions. I won't let the jump go again."
By landing her first triple Axel in the 2004 Junior Grand Prix Final, Mao became the first woman skater to land this jump in an ISU junior event. She later became the first woman skater to land a triple Axel in a short program at an ISU championships competition. Finally, at the Vancouver Olympics, she became the first woman to land three triple Axel jumps in one event. The triple Axel has since become linked with Mao"s name by the press, and it has also been marked in Mao's brain.
But after Vancouver, Mao returned to Japan to train with Nobuo Sato who brought up Yuka Sato, and Takahiko Kozuka. "Actually I felt very uncomfortable with my jump before the Vancouver games, but I didn't have time to make adjustments, because I wanted to go to the Olympic Games. After that I talked to my family. Anyway, I want to compete until Sochi at least, so I made the decision to change the way I jump."
At her first ISU competition after Vancouver, the 2010 NHK Trophy, Mao missed eight of her ten jumps in both the short and free programs, ending up placing 8th. "There were some bad habits with my jumps, I have to loose them. It will take some time, but I think it is worth it. I want to be a better skater," Mao said.
Mao also mentioned another problem. "The way I use my strength is a problem. I put lots of strength when I take off, and the rotation is very slow. That made my triple Axel very weird. I think that is the main problem before." Mao wants to find a better way with her jumps.
Mao tried the triple Axel 5 times last season, singled twice and was marked under-rotated for the other 3 times. At the beginning of this season, Mao told the media that she would stop using this jump for a while. "I will spend less time on my triple Axel, she said. "Maybe just like 20 percent time compared with my training before. I won't put it in my program until it is stable in my training. "
It was Nobuo Sato who made this decision with Mao. "Not putting it in the program is coach Nobuo's idea, I still do the jump in training some times, but not so much; no more than 20 percent compared to my former training. Coach hasa me do the other jump first. "If there is time left, then we work with my triple axel."
Compared to the triple Axel, Coach Nobuo Sato has been working with Mao on her whole program, "Coach Nobuo spends a very long time to help me correct the jumps other than the triple Axel, but he didn't let me put the triple Axel in the program. He only let me jump the double Axel until I corrected my jumping technique. Last year I was doing well on my double Axel, so coach let me jump the same way to try the triple."
Mao never totally gave up on her favorite triple Axel, and showed that she could still land it at the official training at Japan Championship in 2012. "I landed the triple in practice before Japan Championships, so after I reached Sapporo I tried it in practice, but I don't think that was the right time to do it in competition, because I didn't have enough practice then. Actually I really wanted to try the triple Axel even at the beginning of this season, but was waiting for the right time. And it finally came here in Osaka. It made me very happy."
"I thought letting her put the triple Axel in the program would be a motivation for her at this event," Nobuo Sato said. He told Mao right before the short,"don't be conservative." Nobuo also felt very pleased with Mao"s performance at Osaka. "She performed like her practice level here, and the most important thing is that she became more confident."
As a top skater, and a good jumper, Mao has worked hard to improve her jumps in the past two seasons. After placed 6th in two World Championship, Mao took a break off the ice last summer. "I was confused with my skating most of the time the last two years. I was very upset with my performance. The confusion was going with my practice always. I was also considering whether I should go on last summer. But I still love this sport. After the summer break I found a new way with my skating."
Going to the World Championship in London, Mao will compete with Yuna Kim for the first time since Moscow Worlds in 2011. Mao said she will focus on her own performance and practice. "I want to improve my stability with my triple Axel and also triple-triple jumps in the program, and show my best skating in London."
With one year to go until the Sochi Olympics, Mao used Four Continents as a good start of seek glory on the way to her second Olympics. "Although I do not have the ticket to Sochi now, I'm sure I want to improve myself to be a better skater in the coming days."
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