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Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2010

ICE TIME

Mao's change in strategy not part of the grand plan


While not giving in to those cal-ling for a coaching change, Mao Asada's decision at last month's Japan nationals to cut the number of triple axels she attempted in her free skate from two to one was significant.

Jack Gallagher

It appeared to be an admission that her original plan of pulling off two of the difficult jumps in the same program was too ambitious.

The inclusion of two triple axels in her free skate made the difference at the 2008 Grand Prix Final, when she came from behind to score a narrow victory over South Korea's Kim Yu Na. However, with a year having passed without a single victory, Mao seemed to recognize that it was time to shake up the lineup.

Mao's decision paid off at Namihaya Dome, as she skated off with her fourth straight Japan title and an automatic berth on the Olympic team.

Mao said after her victory that at her morning practice earlier that day she was not confident in her triple axel and cut back the planned two to one. The problem is that Mao is still planning to include two of the difficult jumps in her free skate in Vancouver.

You had to feel for Mao and her show of relief when her scores were posted in the free skate in Osaka. The way she leaned her head back and closed her eyes let viewers know that an incredible burden had been lifted from her shoulders.

Mao won the nationals in decisive fashion over surging Akiko Suzuki, who also earned a trip to Vancouver, with her second-place showing.

While Mao's victory was impressive and certainly boosted her confidence, it did not remove the primary obstacle — Kim — to her shot at the gold medal in Canada.

Mao would be wise to stick to the single triple axel in the free skate and let the chips fall where they may. She is really risking it by insisting on going for two.

News photo
Back in business: Mao Asada's resounding victory at the Japan nationals last month has reignited hope that she can win the gold medal at the Vancouver Games. AP PHOTO

Despite their 1-2 finish, Mao and Suzuki have both elected to participate in the Four Continents Championship in Jeonju, South Korea, later this month. Many consider this surprising, with the Winter Games beginning just a few weeks later.

The feeling here is that both skaters hope to maintain their sharpness in the runup to Vancouver with competition, rather than training.

Mao just endured two entire months out of action after failing to qualify for the Grand Prix Final, and likely did not want to go another two months without a real event.

World champion Kim, who trains in Toronto, has already ruled out participating in the Four Continents due to travel and time-zone concerns so close to the Olympics.

Conspiracy theory: The Internet is abuzz with skating fans (and journalists) already theorizing that because Kim was marked down on her triple toe loop at the GP Final in Tokyo last month, that this opens the door for the same tactic to be pulled off in Vancouver, thereby allowing Mao a better chance to win.

The root of the rumors seem to originate with fans who think that because four of the International Skating Union's seven major sponsors are Japanese (the other three are French), that there might be some shenanigans to favor Mao and therefore please and help retain the corporate backing.

In the wake of the judging scandal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, one could understand why some might be concerned about possible bias, but this seems like a stretch at best.

I'm trying to remember the last time I heard of a conspiracy theory being floated before it actually happened. If anything, you could argue that those promoting this scenario are trying to affect the outcome in advance, which could be constituted as a conspiracy.

Stay tuned, if Mao and Kim take the gold and silver, and the results are close, you can be assured we will be hearing more of this conjecture.

Major exposure: With the days to the Olympics dwindling, television coverage of skating is heating up. J Sports announced recently that it will show the Four Continents Championship ladies singles free skate live on Jan. 29 from 2-5:30 p.m. on its J Sports Plus channel.

Additionally, J Sports Plus will air live coverage of both the U.S nationals and European championships, and delayed coverage of the Canadian nationals.

The U.S. men's free skate will be telecast live on Jan. 18 from 3:25-8 a.m., with the ladies free skate on Jan. 24 from 8:55 a.m.-1:30 p.m.

The European Championships men's free skate will be shown early on Jan. 22 from 1:35-6:30 a.m., with the ladies on Jan. 23 from 8:20 p.m.-1:30 a.m.

The Canadian men's free skate will be televised on a delayed basis on Jan. 28 at 6 p.m.

More information can be found at: www.jsports.co.jp.

Asian boom continues: The continued growth of skating in Asia is reflected in the most recent event — the 2010 Grand Prix Final — awarded to the region. Beijing will host next season's GP Final from Dec. 9-12, the International Skating Union announced recently.

The GP Final will be one of four international competitions staged in Asia during the 2010-11 season. Also slated for the Far East are the Four Continents Championship in Taipei (Feb. 15-20), the world junior championships in Gangneung, South Korea (Feb. 28-March 6), and the world championships in Nagano (March 21-27).



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