Japan’s Asada Channels Ito

Articles, Articles by Barry Mittan

Mao Asada

Japan’s Mao Asada, 14, carried on the tradition of Midori Ito, her role model, when she competed during the 2004-05 season. Coached by Ito’s coach, wearing Ito’s costume, using choreography similar to Ito’s, and landing Ito’s trademark jump, the triple axel, Asada breezed through the year undefeated in international competition, capping the season by winning the 2005 World Junior Figure Skating Championships in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. Ito, who often watches Asada at practice and encourages her, was there for the victory. “Midori was very excited when I won Junior Worlds,” Asada said, “maybe more than I was.”

Asada captured the medal that eluded her older sister, Mai, who finished fourth at Junior Worlds last year. She skated virtually flawlessly in all three rounds of the competition, easily outdistancing her nearest rivals. Her long program included a clean triple axel, the first by a lady at the Junior Worlds. She also completed a triple loop-double loop and triple flip-double toe combination, plus a double axel, two triple lutzes and a triple flip. In the qualifying round, Asada had landed a triple flip-triple toe loop, a triple lutz-double loop, and a triple loop-double loop-double loop, but her triple axel attempt was slightly under-rotated and counted as a second double axel. Her short program combination was a triple lutz-double loop to go along with the required double axel and triple loop.

Asada also won gold medals in novice at the 2003 Helena Pajovic Cup in 2003 and the Mladost Trophy in 2004. This season, she won both her Junior Grand Prix events at Skate Long Beach and the Ukrainian Souvenir, and then took the Junior Grand Prix Final in Helsinki, Finland. Asada also won the Japanese junior ladies title in 2005. “This was the best season for me,” Asada said. “I’m quite happy about it. It’s frustrating not to be in seniors next year, but I will try to do my best in juniors and win at Junior Worlds again. I didn’t feel any pressure when I competed. I get energy from competing and it’s fun for me to be with my skating friends from all over the world.”

The talkative teenager began skating when she was only five, following her sister onto the ice. “Mai and I were taking ballet and my mother thought she needed stronger ankles so she took her to the skating rink that was only ten minutes from our house,” Asada explained. “I happened to be with her so I took lessons too. I was doing classical ballet since I was three years old until I was nine. I did some recitals but no shows.” Asada landed her first triple jump, a triple salchow, when she was eight or nine. “I’ve tried the quad salchow at practice and landed some, but I don’t like the salchow jump so much,” she noted. “I like the loop, flip and lutz more. I’m working on a triple lutz-triple loop.”

She landed her first triple axel when she was only 13 and became the first lady to land a triple axel in a major ISU junior competition when she landed the jump at the 2005 ISU Junior Grand Prix Final. “I had the triple axel since a special camp last year,” Asada said. “I could do it easily every time. But sometimes during the season, it wasn’t consistent.”

Machiko Yamada, who also coached Japanese world champion Midori Ito, trains Asada in Nagoya, Japan. Asada skates for three hours a day every day on ice and participates in about an hour and a half of off ice training every day, including ballet, conditioning and weights. She has trained with her sister for the past two years. “I have fun training with my sister,” Asada said, “but we are rivals when it comes to the competitions.”

Lea Ann Miller choreographed Asada’s competitive programs, both of which were new this season. Miller, together with Yamada and Mihoko Higuchi, Asada’s choreographer in Japan, select the music for the programs. She skated to “The Wizard of Oz Fantasy for Orchestra” by John Williams for the short program and “La Boutique Fantastique” by Jerome Kern for the free skate. “I like music with a story,” Asada said. “Lea Ann Miller brought us the music for the short program and I liked it. I saw Disney on Ice using it. The long program doesn’t have a story and I wasn’t keen on that. It was my coach’s idea to have choreography similar to Midori Ito’s and to wear her costume. Next year, I will have two new programs.” Asada is using “Pick Yourself Up” by Jerome Kern and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” for her exhibition programs, which were choreographed by Yamada and Higuchi.

Asada is a student in her second year of junior high school. “My school is very cooperative about my skating and my studies are not too demanding yet,” she said. “I’m only in school about four hours a day.” Although her best subjects are gymnastics and sports, her favorite subject is home economics. “I like to cook,” she added. Eventually, she hopes to go to university to study, but wants to be a professional skater first.

Off ice, Asada said, “I’m not so quiet, but not so active.” She enjoys playing with LEGO blocks and assembling jigsaw puzzles. She keeps all the gifts she receives in her room and especially likes Sponge Bob Square Pants. As a reward for winning Junior Worlds, her mother is getting her a chocolate brown poodle puppy, which she is thinking of naming Chocolate. Her favorite vacation was a trip to Hawaii. “I can’t swim but I liked the shopping and the game rooms,” she said. “I want to go to Paris and Great Britain because I’ve never been there.”

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