A Quick Rundown of Japan's Beloved Ice Figure Skater, Mao Asada

The Olympics is a display of skills and talent by determined and seasoned individuals. People who compete and win in these competitions are sourced from the crème de la crème of athletes in that sport; those who are blessed with both the physique, capability, and discipline to be extraordinary people, and do extraordinary things. 

Within the range of Olympic sports, there’s a division – summer sports, and winter sports. Under winter sports are categories such as alpine skiing, bobsleigh, cross-country skiing, curling, snowboarding, figure skating, and freestyle skiing, just to name a few. One of the most popular among those mentioned is figure skating, as it combines art and music with the attempts to perform near-impossible stunts of spins and balancing.

Each country proudly cheers on their contestants to win, but only a few truly shine, bringing their name, along with their country, out into the spotlight. One memorable Japanese figure skater who dominated the rink up until her retirement is Mao Asada.

By Mao_Asada_2010_OP_Press_conference.jpg: David W. Carmichaelderivative work: Tabercil (Mao_Asada_2010_OP_Press_conference.jpg) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Quick Facts About Mao Asada

Mao Asada was born as “Asada Mao” (浅田 真央) in Japanese, in Nagoya city, Aichi Prefecture, Japan. Her birthday is September 25, 1990, making her 27 years old as of when this article was written. Her height is 5 ft 4 inches or 1.63 meters. She represented Japan in the Olympics as a competitive figure skater.

Over her career, she’s had a total of 9 coaches on her team. Her most recent ones are the triad Nobuo Sato, Kumiko Sato, and Reiko Kobayashi. Former coaches already archived include Yuko Monna, Mihoko Higuchi, Machiko Yamada, Rafael Arutyunyan, Tatiana Tarasova, and Hiroshi Nagakubo. She’s also had a total of 6 choreographers; her former ones being Mihoko Higuchi, Machiko Yamada, Lea Ann Miller, and Shanetta Folle, and Tatiana Tarasova, with her latest choreographer being Lori Nichol. 

The skating club that she’s part of is from Chukyo University, and she would frequently train at Toyota, in Shin-Yokohama. She began skating at the tender age of 5. Asada would continue to rank 10th place as her world standing by April 3, 2016. By April 27, 2017, her rank had dropped to 53. As for season’s bests (the highest score one has garnered from that season), her highest total was 29, for years 2016 to 2017. Before that, her totals were 9 for 2015 to 2016, 4 for 2013 to 2014, 2 for 2012 to 2013, 3 for 2011 to 2012, 2 for 2010 to 2011, 2 again for 2009 to 2010, and 2 once more for 2008 to 2009. 

Mao Asada’s Personal Bests According to the International Skating Union

Mao Asada won her first world title in March 2008. Her combined total points, according to the union, reached to that of 216.69 in the 2014 World Championships. She also was able to gather a score of 78.66 for the 2014 World Championships as well for the Short program. As for free skating, her highest was 142.71 points from the 2014 Winter Olympics.

A Winning Streak: Beyond the Gold Medal

When it comes to Ladies’ Singles Figure Skating, Mao Asada was a name to reckon with. From all of the major sporting events that she has attended, she has won 12 gold medals, 7 silver medals, and 2 bronze medals. One of those silver medals was from the Winter Olympics in 2010, held in Vancouver.

As for her world championships, Mao Asada won gold for one held in 2008 in Gothenburg, one in 2010 in Turin, and 2014 in Saitama. In 2007, she won a silver medal in Tokyo and a bronze medal in 2013 in London. For World Junior Championships, she won gold in 2005 while it Kitchener, and silver in Ljubljana, 2006.

For Four Continents Championships, Asada won gold in 2008 while in Goyang, 2010 while in Jeonju, and 2013 while held in Osaka. Silver medals were awarded to her for her participation in 2011 in Taipei, and 2012 in Colorado Springs. Her other bronze medal was won in the Four Continents Championship held in Vancouver in 2009. 

By Jpchan90 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

For the Grand Prix Final, Asada won four gold medals in her career; one in 2005 – 2006 held in Tokyo, the next one in 2009 - 2009 in Goyand, followed by 2012 – 2013 in Sochi, and then 2013 – 2014 in Fukuoka. She also won two silver medals, one in 2006 – 2007 held in St. Petersburg, and one in Turin, which occurred 2007 – 2008. In 2004 -2005, she was a gold medalist for the Junior Grand Prix Final, held in Helsinki.

Winner of Ladies’ Singles in the 2012-2103 Grand Prix Final in Sochi, Russia

Mao Asada was the champion for ladies’ singles in the 2012-13 Grand Prix Final for figure skating, which was part of the senior event. She was up against Ashley Wagner from the U.S. (who ended up placing second after incurring an injury), and Akiko Suzuki (ended up placing third), who was also from Japan. She was also awarded for the third time a GPF title for winning the free skate competition. 

The Sudden Passing of Mao Asada’s Mother

What was brilliant about Mao Asada was how she continued to win trophy after trophy before and after facing the hardship and mourning from the loss of her mother, Kyoko Asada, in December of 2011. 

Although Mao made it to the Grand Prix Final, things took a turn for the worse as her mother fell in dire shape, and she had to immediately fly back to Japan to be with her. Kyoko Asada passed away from liver cirrhosis at the age of 48 in Nagoya Hospital, Japan. She was not able to be with her daughter, as her daughter was still in the plane when Kyoko had passed away. 

Kyoko was known to be a supportive and warm lady who was far from a stern stage mother. While she motivated Mao and did everything to make the best out of Mao’s figure skating abilities, Kyoko was also a very sweet woman to everyone she met in general. Sportswriter Jack Gallagher recounts her in one of his articles as someone who wins the gold medal for what she left behind, as she would give Jack’s young daughter stuffed toys, enamored by the little girl. Kyoko Asada left behind two daughters, Mai and Mao Asada.

Right after her mother’s death, Asada competed at the 2012 Four Continents Championships and placed as a silver medalist. In the following World Championships in 2012, she placed sixth overall, which frustrated Asada, combined with the fact that she had been stressed by what she had gone through. While she was thinking about quitting, Lori Nichol, her choreographer at that time was helping her for an exhibition number, and as a result, Mao realized that she still loved figure skating and pushed through – soon winning more gold medals. 

By David W. Carmichael [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

What Is A Triple Axel?

It was because of Mao Asada’s triple axel record that she won first place at the 2013 Four Continents Championships in February. It was her first triple axel ever to be performed in competition. She performed this move along with a triple flip-double loop, and a triple loop. 

The reason a triple axel is very difficult and extremely impressive to pull off is that of the sheer gravity of it. It’s done at full speed, kicking off with one foot to spin thrice in the air for approximately 3 and ½ rotations, and this all happens in less than one second – which is already extremely difficult, considering the sheer speed and power of manipulating your body to spin. What makes it even more difficult is that the skater must land on the foot that he or she did not kick off with. 

Because of a large amount of force used to kick off and spin, the energy returns, all coming down at once as the blade of the performer’s ice skate (which is ¼ inch thick) hits the icy pavement. The skater, at this point, could very easily lose control, because that foot would receive more than four times the weight of the skater him or herself. Practicing this enough to keep the balance even as the skater lands merits large points from judges and wows the crowd. 

When Did Mao Asada Retire?

Mao Asada initially used her blog to announce that she would retire – she published this on April 10, 2017. She had a press conference the following Wednesday, April 12, to formally announce this. Having made her home country proud, rising to local celebrity fame, at least 350 sources of media came to cover her announcement, as she was live on NHK. 

The reported reason she wanted to retire was that of her low performance during the National Championships in 2016, where she landed in 12th place. She thought that it would be a good time to retire, having participated in countless figure skating contests since she was 12 years old, and winning medals in many of them. She occupied a place in the hearts of many Japanese figure-skating fanatics, and promises to continue appearing on figure skating shows, however perhaps less competitive. Taken from a quote, Asada says she is positive about her future and looks forward to trying new things. 

By Caroline Paré (http://everythingskating.com/) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

More About Mao Asada’s Sister, Mai Asada

Mai Asada, the older sister of Mao Asada, is also a competitive figure skater, however not as successful as her younger sister. She began skating a year after her sister did, in 1996, and performed in several events, including the Four Continent and Junior Worlds games. She would also appear in free skating competitions, as well as short programs.

Mai Asada is part of the Grand Prix Tokai FSC Skating club, as well as the skating club of Chukyo University Nagoya. She would often train at Lake Arrowhead, California, Nagoya, and Kyoto. Her combined total ISU personal best score is 141.65 from the 2006 Four Continents competition, next to her score of 55.80 from the short program at the 2005 Andorra Cup, and 89.63 for free skating at 2006 Skate America. 

Contrasts and Similarities Between Mao Asada and Yuna Kim

These two figure skaters have been compared as “rivals” by figure skating fans all over Japan and South Korea (Yuna Kim is South Korean), and even the world, as they are head to head when it comes to accomplishments. However, in execution, the two are quite different. Mao and Yuna both have their own strengths and weaknesses. Some say that Yuna is more graceful with her skating flow, giving a soft and natural way about her choreo, while Mao is stiffer. However, Mao did land a triple axel (and does so quite often), which is a brave and very difficult move and takes a lot of flexibility and practice.

Quiet on Instagram - What Has Mao Asada Been Up to This 2017 and 2018? 

Ever since Mao Asada announced that she would be retiring, she has laid low in much of her social media accounts – including Twitter and Instagram. In fact, most of her posts on her accounts are still from 2016 – perhaps because the beloved figure skater focused on writing her book, “Mao Asada: My Skating Life”. There were passes being given out by The Japan Times to win an autographed copy of her 160-page book. In the book, she writes about what it was like to compete in the Olympics, performing the fantastic triple axel move, and other aspects of her life.