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Thursday, Feb. 28, 2008

Agent: Mao has not split with coach

Staff writer

Contradicting a report from Kyodo News early Wednesday morning, the agent for figure skating star Mao Asada said she has not split with her Armenian coach, Rafael Arutunian, or decided to move her training base back to Japan.

News photo
Mao Asada

"This story is completely untrue," said IMG's Mariko Wada, the representative for Mao and older sister Mai, by telephone on Wednesday evening. "There has been no discussion with Rafael about ending the relationship with Mao."

The 17-year-old Asada, the runnerup at last year's world championships to compatriot Miki Ando, and older sister Mai have been working with Arutunian for the past 18 months in Lake Arrowhead, Calif.

Eyebrows were raised when Arutunian did not coach Mao at the Four Continents Championship in South Korea earlier this month. Mao won the competition and, with rival Kim Yu Na withdrawing due to an injury, is the favorite to win the world title next month in Sweden.

Arutunian, who also coaches several other skaters, had originally planned to come to Japan to work with Mao and then accompany her to the Four Continents.

"All of the arrangements had been made for his visas and travel," said Wada. "He said he could stay for 10 days. He was going to come to Nagoya for four days and then go to South Korea."

Wada says it was around this time that Arutunian changed his plans.

"One week before the event, he told me he had not seen Mao train for quite a while and was wondering about her condition," she said. "He said he could not be responsible for her, so she worked by herself and the Japan Skating Federation stepped in and supported her."

Mao, a Nagoya native, now has the convenience of being able to practice at the new national training center at nearby Chukyo University when she is in Japan.

"Mao can train at Chukyo and the JSF people can look after her. She has decided to stay in Nagoya until the worlds."

Wada said Arutunian, who once mentored Michelle Kwan, will not coach Mao at the worlds.

"We never had any type of long-term agreement with Rafael in the first place," she noted. "But we have not decided to stop working with him."

Wada was especially disturbed by the Kyodo story, which cited anonymous sources as claiming that Mao "had been suffering stress because of the language barrier and other problems she has encountered living overseas."

"This is totally wrong," Wada said. "To the contrary, Mao likes training in California. She can relax and have privacy that she does not in Japan."

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