Tears for a different reason than four years ago
As figure skater Mao Asada finished her free program, she raised her face. Tears welled up in her eyes and streamed down. Four years ago, she cried in frustration at the Vancouver Olympics. But this time, her tears were for a different reason: “I was happy. Crying with happiness and smiling—the same thing. I gave my best performance, in my view. I was able to repay the many people who were rooting for me.”
On Feb. 20, 2014, at the Sochi Olympics in Russia, Asada was the 12th entrant to perform a four-minute free program out of a total 24. Soon into her program, she successfully executed a triple axel jump, the first time she had achieved that in competition during the current season.
Once I was on the ice, my only thought was, ‘I can do it.’ I did not think about the program as a whole, but just thought about performing each part successfully.”
Asada was convinced that she could perform well. Executing triple jumps in a row is a challenge. She did a triple lutz jump, which she felt anxious about because she previously tended to have points deducted on her take off. But this time, Asada landed a triple lutz and a triple salchow without error. Her scores for steps and spins were in the highest rank, level 4. She had not achieved that in her short program.
Just before she did her last two jumps, she suddenly recalled a failed attempt in the Vancouver Olympics. But this time, she was undaunted. Asada is the first woman Olympic figure skater to land six varieties of triple jumps.
“I got my revenge for my performance during the Vancouver Games,” Asada said. Her total score was a personal best of 142.71. Her technical score was the second highest of all the competitors in the Ladies Free Skating.
Finishing an unexpected 16th in the short program
Her fans were disappointed by her performance in the short program the day before. Losing her balance, she botched the triple axel landing. Asada continued making mistakes after that because she was unable to recover. Her points for spins and step sequences were in the level 4 in many competitions earlier in the season, but at Sochi, she only received a level 3 rating for some of them. Being unable to regain her usual top performance, she ended up in 16th place, with 55.51 points. It was Asada’s first time to sink to a double-digit ranking in senior international competition.
“I was weak.” “What have I been doing all these years?” Thoughts such as these plagued her that night, making it hard for her to fall asleep. She woke up late on the day of her free program competition and went straight to the rink for morning practice without warming up enough. Landing a jump, she had to put her hands down on the ice. Her attempt at a triple axel ended up becoming a single axel.
Asada shook off thoughts of doubt. “I need to perform at my own pace.” She worked up a good sweat doing exercises off the rink to make up for her poor practice on the ice. She then took a solid nap, and then woke to enjoy festive red rice with her meal.
When she returned to the ice for the six-minute practice before her free program, she jumped a triple axel beautifully, regaining her confidence.
“In the end, I made up my mind and was ready. I was determined to jump even if I ended up like I did in my short program.”
Aiming for Sochi to be the culmination of her career
Asada trained hard in the four years since the Vancouver Olympics. She finished in sixth place at the World Championships in 2011 and 2012, her personal worst. “I could not help sighing deeply when I was alone in the center of the rink,” she wrote. Out of fear of not being able to jump, she resorted to an extreme diet regimen. Her cheeks became hollow and her legs thinner.
In spring 2013, she suddenly announced: “I want to give a performance that will be the culmination of my career on a big stage, like the Olympics.” Her announcement surprised the people around her.
“I want to push myself so hard that I won’t be able to think about the season after that,” she said. Asada set her sights on the Sochi Olympics, not as a stage that she had longed for or dreamed of, but as the battlefield where she would test herself after all those years of hard training. She ended the competition with her best performance ever. “I have been striving to perform in the way that I did today. All the past four years were good. I think that feeling is getting stronger and stronger,” Asada said.
At the end of her performance, she wept for a moment. But she quickly blinked away her tears and turned a smiling face to the audience.
“I can go on if I remember to smile. I will never forget to smile, even if I am in difficulty.”