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Mao’s magnetism resonates on a global scale

by Jack Gallagher

Ever think you had a fairly good idea of the popularity of a public figure only to be completely blown away when you truly found out?

That’s the revelation Ice Time has been pondering for the past couple of weeks after staging a book giveaway for two-time world champion and Olympic silver medalist Mao Asada.

Earlier this month, The Japan Times offered several readers the chance to win the recently released Japanese book “Princess Mao” about the skater’s life story. We were naturally expecting a strong response from people in Japan, but what we hadn’t counted on was the outpouring of interest from those overseas.

As an avalanche of e-mails arrived to enter the contest, the location of some of them could only make me shake my head.

We were contacted by a good number of folks in the United States and Canada, which was no surprise. But it was the ones from places one could never have imagined that still amaze.

People in Australia, Russia, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom and Singapore threw their hats in the ring.

Then it started to get really interesting.

In the space of a few minutes we had a reader from Seoul apply and another from Tulsa, Okla. A bit of a dichotomy there.

Before you knew it we had received messages from Mexico, El Salvador, Brazil and Peru. Wow.

Then there were entries from Lithuania, Turkey and Israel.

Good grief.

Most in this country would agree that Mao is Japan’s most popular female athlete and in the top three overall.

But known the world over?

My guess is they had no idea.

It was not just where they wrote from, but also who they were. We received correspondence from academics, executives, students and housewives. It seemed to cut across all classes.

The contest just served to confirm that Mao’s power and allure transcend nations, cultures and continents. The sense I had was that there were many out there who had been touched by Mao and wanted something that would help them connect with her.

If anybody doubted before what a special athlete and person she is, that has just about been eliminated.

Her compelling battle with South Korea’s Kim Yu Na at the Vancouver Olympics certainly moved many who saw it. Perhaps it was Mao’s incredible athleticism or her emotion in defeat that stayed with them.

Whatever it was, the feedback we got with this giveaway exhibited the amount of sheer power that Mao possesses with fans around the globe. Her charisma and class shone through on an unimaginable scale.

I have said it before, and I’ll say it again: Japan is blessed to have an ambassador like Mao.

Serious business: Following her historic victory at the Olympics, Kim Yu Na is wasting no time getting her affairs in order.

The South Korean wire service Yonhap reported Monday that the skater and her mother have formed their own company AT Sports, which will manage the star’s career. Yu Na’s mother, Park Mi Hee, will run the operation.

Yu Na’s contract with her previous agent, IB Sports, ends on April 30.

Life changes: It has been a big month for Nobunari Oda. Following his disappointing 28th-place showing at the worlds, the Osaka native decided to leave Nikolai Morozov and return to Canadian coach Lee Barkell.

Barkell, who has also mentored former world champion Jeffrey Buttle, worked with Oda before he joined Morozov two years ago.

As if that wasn’t enough, the 23-year-old then announced that he had gotten married and would become a father.

Here’s wishing Oda the best and hoping he can balance all of his new responsibilities and remain focused on his skating.

Moving up: World junior champions Kanako Murakami and Yuzuru Hanyu, both 15, have decided to skate on the senior Grand Prix circuit next season, Kyodo News reported Monday.

There had been some question about what the two would do, with Japan certain to be strong again in the senior ranks next season, but the pair decided to accept the challenge against older competition.