Goosebump time in Japan

Oh Mao Asada. This is your moment, your time.

If you had won the Olympics in Sochi, it may not have been as memorable as your having lost it, having dropped to the netherlands, having picked yourself up again, going for that nasty nemesis of yours, the triple Axel, having landed it and having shone like a rare lovely beacon with every step. And those tears afterwards. We all understood them. (We just may have been weeping, too.) It was Olympic to the nth degree.

You could have gone home exhausted from that effort, found it hard to gather yourself for one more big attempt – on home ice, with all the pressure that entails – with your retirement so close. But no. You skated that program once again today, that short program that caused such a blight on your heart in Sochi, and you did not let the memory get the best of you. You let it unfold in all its loveliness with your light touch, and you landed that triple Axel, rotated, with a row of GOEs in the plus-two category! Triumph!

Later, Asada said she wanted to perform her “Nocturne” program “full of love” and so she did. “I only thought about paying back the experience at Sochi,” she said. “This time Lori Nichol, my choreographer, was also watching my program and a lot of people were watching. I was so glad that I could show them my best. I could turn their cheering into my power.”

And hey, skating a program full of love does this: Asada set a world record of 78.66, too, finally snapping YuNa Kim’s record that she’d held since the Vancouver Olympics. It’s like a movie.

Here’s hoping Asada can make the memory complete, with her third world title, at home, in Saitama in front of her country and in front of the world this week. She hasn’t always had the best of it. She probably could have won the Turin Olympics, but she was too young to compete. She had given a thrashing to her senior peers at the Grand Prix Final two months before that. It was not to be in Turin, which may have been her time. She has not been able to turn the trudge of time and circumstance to her favour many times since, with the unfortunate thought that her greatness began to get lost in the disappointments. Why keep doing that triple Axel? Hasn’t it cost her so much? That’s not Mao Asada. The Mao Asada we know takes it as a challenge, a loss of honour to back down from it. And look: she’s conquered it. And now that she is about to retire, and we are to lose her, she seems to be finishing with a flourish.

Asada’s task won’t be easy because so many of the women in the short program left us with goosebump moments, skated to their potential. And there’s a feeling that this competition is so much more sane than the one at the Sochi Olympics. This world championships is in a safe place, in Japan, where skating is appreciated for what it is, and gold medals aren’t the only reward.

Akiko Suzuki? More of the same. She was heavenly in the short program and her face showed it. (It always does.) She will disappear, too, after this. And if you do nothing else, call up YouTube and watch her winning performance in the long program at the Japanese championships in December. It was epic and unbelievable.  And she had that same aura about her today. She, too, set a personal best score of 71.02 to finish fourth against a strong group.

“I really enjoyed being out there today,” Suzuki said. “I wanted to be able to give everything I’ve got as this is my last short program. I am so happy that I was able to get my personal best. I kept thinking about all those who have supported me throughout and gave everything I’ve got to show my gratitude towards them.”

She said she was a little hesitant about competing at worlds, after the exhaustion of Sochi, but after she came to the rink, she realized how many fans were there supporting her and how long she had been skating. “I am really glad I was able to do everything I can,” she said. “I did trip a little bit. However, even then, I just thought: ‘This is so much like myself!’ and kept on skating.”

Carolina Kostner, too, has had a long career: she is at her 13th world championship. She’s a fixture, really. And she has kept growing through all of these years, and just check out an earlier blog to see what I thought of her Ave Maria routine in Sochi. Incomparable. She’d never had an easy ride at the Olympics, and finally she won a bronze medal. (There are those out there, who thought she should have won gold in Sochi for her stellar, mature routines.) “Finally I had the Games that I dreamed of,” she said. “So now a big weight fell down my shoulders and I just said to myself I’m living my dream absolutely, so just enjoy it.

“It’s hard though, because I get nervous when I skate.” She admitted to being nervous the entire afternoon before the short program. “I kept saying to myself that you have so much experience, you shouldn’t be that nervous, but it’s each time the same.” She appreciated skating for the Japanese crowd, and how long they had been waiting for this world championship: three years.

Canadian champion Kaetlyn Osmond met her challenge, too. Skating in only her second international competition of the season, she threw herself a challenge of attempting a more difficult triple-triple in the short (triple flip – triple toe loop as opposed to triple toe loop – triple toe loop) and met it. She did miss up a layback spin that is her favourite. “I just got a little excited and pushed a little hard and lost my edge,” she said. She’s on a roll, though. Coming into this event, she’s been skating perfect programs almost every day – the best she’s ever felt coming into a competition, so there may be more to come in the long program. She’s eighth, equalling her overall finish at her first worlds last year, and she’s dangerous because she skates with absolute delight. Sometimes, that’s what it takes.


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