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Sunday, March 26, 2006

Skating wasn't part of Mom's original plan for Mao, Mai


Staff writer

All parents have dreams for their children.

News photo
Figure skater Mao Asada smiles while listening to a question at a recent meeting of the Foreign Sportswriters Association of Japan in Tokyo.

Often, much to their bemusement, the kids go their own way yet still find success.

That's how it has gone in the Asada family -- home to world-class figure skaters Mao and Mai -- according to mom Kyoko.

Speaking at a recent meeting of the Foreign Sportswriters Association of Japan in Tokyo, which she attended with daughter Mao, the mother of the skating sisters had a different art form in mind for her daughters when they were youngsters.

"I wanted them to become world-class ballerinas," Kyodo Asada confessed.

"Because Mao was very thin, we had to train her ankles. There is a skating rink nearby our house (in Nagoya). In order to do this, we had her do a skating program.

"Both of them got interested in skating a bit after this, and then it went from once a week and turned into two or three times a week, and the focus was changed from ballet to figure skating.

"Mao was the one that said she wanted to take up figure skating, rather than ballet. Instead of having one doing figure skating, and the other doing ballet. I wanted them to both go into the same sport, so that is how they ended up being skaters."

The sisters were also given a chance to become familiar with a different environment at a young age.

"In order for them to become accustomed to language, they went to international school for four years," Kyodo Asada noted.

Fifteen-year-old Mao, who burst onto the world scene this season with her stellar performance on the senior Grand Prix circuit -- where she won the Trophee Bompard in Paris, the Grand Prix Final in Tokyo, and became the first female skater ever to perform two triple axels in the same program in competition at the Japan national championships -- said life is a bit different for her now than it used to be.

"I used to be able to walk the streets without getting much attention. But it's not like that now, especially when I go to practice at the rink."

Kyoko Asada said that the spotlight is nothing new for her youngest daughter.

"Ever since Mao was in the sixth grade, she has been participating with the All-Japan team, and has been getting attention.

"(Since) winning the Grand Prix Final, she has received worldwide attention. The people around her have always been very supportive of Mao and the family.

"Mao will continue to work and improve, and I would like to have everybody's support. We really appreciate the support we have received."

Mao's older sister, 17-year-old Mai, who strongly resembles her mother, is an excellent skater in her own right. She finished sixth at the Four Continents Championship in Colorado Springs, Colo., in January.

When asked about her skating idols, Mao, who graduated from junior high school on March 17, quickly named two.

"I admired Midori Ito and Tara Lipinski when I was young. Midori, because she jumped high and won the silver medal in the Olympics (1992 -- Albertville). Lipinski, because she won the gold medal (1998 -- Nagano) when she was 15 years old."

With Mao ineligible to skate at the Turin Olympics because of the International Skating Union's age-limit rule, she has quickly been installed as one of the favorites for the gold medal at the Vancouver Games in 2010.

When asked about the time period between the two Winter Olympics, Mao reflected and said, "Four years might feel like a long time, but it's probably short."

The body of a skater at 15 and one at 19 can be markedly different, but Mao is not concerned about how growing will affect her skating.

"I have grown taller, but I am not worried about my physical changes."

Mao's parents were both quite athletic in their youth. Her mom was into gymnastics, while her father, Toshiharu, was a skier.

One of Mao's signature moves is a Bielmann spin with only one hand on her skate. She says she developed it on her own.

"In practice, everybody was doing the same Bielmann spin and I was watching them, but I wanted to do something different, so I came up with the one-hand technique, which I was able to do. So I kept practicing it.

"I knew it would get a high score from the judges. I have practiced it since I was little, and will continue to do it."

Mao, who beat Olympic gold medalist Shizuka Arakawa three different times in head-to-head competition this season, made no secret of the fact that she is always looking for new, eye-catching moves.

"I go over the difficult upper body movements and spins with the coaches to try and please the judges."

Mao, who finished second at the recent world junior championships in Slovenia after winning the event last year, believes that music she skates to while competing is very important.

"I listen to a lot of music, but I choose the songs that most fit my skating style. Personally, I like to listen to Ayumi Hamasaki.

"I don't like to skate to slow music. I would rather skate to upbeat, up-tempo music."

Though based in Nagoya, Mao travels to Canada periodically to work with world renowned skating choreographer Lori Nichol.

"My free program (this season) was choreographed by Lori, and my short program by my coach (Mihoko Higuchi)."

Between school and skating, Mao doesn't have much free time, but says she likes to spend what few moments she does have with another family member -- toy poodle Aero.

When questioned about what she might be doing 10 years from now, Mao was quite assertive with her response.

"Within 10 years, the Olympics will be one of my big goals, but I would also like to have children in that time.

"When my career is over, I want to get married and have children. I would like to get married around the age of 23, but I can always skate even if I get married."

Her mom hopes Mao will continue her education by going to college, which could be a tough task for the kind of schedule that goes with being one of the world's best skaters.

How does Kyoko Asada see skating and education fitting in together?

"It's a very difficult issue. We have to think about it."



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