The absence of two-time world champion Mao Asada from the recent Japan Skating Federation training camp provided more questions than answers.
Word circulated through various reports that Mao was “exhausted” after the delayed world championships were followed by preparations for her new programs for the upcoming Grand Prix season, and appearances in several shows, many of which benefited relief efforts for the March 11 disaster.
While certainly deserving of a break after skating nonstop for years, the lack of information about Mao’s condition was a bit unsettling, especially considering she was coming off a poor season by her standards.
Mao’s agent, Mariko Wada, did not respond to email and telephone messages requesting clarification on the star’s condition and plans, which only added to the mystery.
With world champion Miki Ando and Olympic gold medalist Kim Yu Na both having declared their intentions to sit out the upcoming GP season, the prospect of Mao also not participating would no doubt remove more luster from what promises to already be a watered-down field.
Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, and after some time off Mao will return rested and ready to take the ice as scheduled in November at the NHK Trophy in Sapporo, the first of her two GP assignments this season. Mao is also slated to compete at the Cup of Russia later the same month.
One of Mao’s recent charity shows was held in Hachinohe, Aomori Prefecture, in late July, where she and several other skaters donated their services so that more than 1,000 victims of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami could see them perform free of charge.
A highlight of the show was Mao’s pairs piece with world silver medalist and training partner Takahiko Kozuka.
Rosters set: The GP season will get under way with Skate America (Oct. 21-23) in Ontario, California, where Haruka Imai will take on U.S. champion Alissa Czisny and three-time European champion Carolina Kostner.
Akiko Suzuki will face the American trio of Mirai Nagasu, Rachel Flatt and Ashley Wagner at Skate Canada (Oct. 28-30) in Mississauga, Ontario.
Kanako Murakami goes up against Nagasu and Kostner at the Cup of China (Nov. 4-6) in Shanghai.
In addition to Mao, the NHK Trophy (Nov. 11-13) will feature Suzuki, Russia’s Alena Leonova and Finland’s Kiira Korpi. Japan has one unassigned slot remaining for the event.
Murakami will be Japan’s lone female competitor in singles at the Trophee Bompard (Nov. 18-20) in Paris. The lineup will include Czisny and Kostner.
The Cup of Russia (Nov. 25-27) will feature Mao, Imai, Leonova and Flatt.
On the men’s side, Kozuka and Daisuke Murakami will go up against Vancouver Olympic champion Evan Lysacek and European champion Florent Amodio at Skate America.
Daisuke Takahashi, the 2010 world champion, will battle reigning world champion Patrick Chan and Americans Adam Rippon and Ross Miner at Skate Canada.
Nobunari Oda and Yuzuru Hanyu will represent Japan at the Cup of China, where two-time U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott and 2007 world champion Brian Joubert are also entered.
The NHK Trophy will feature a strong lineup that includes Kozuka, Takahashi, 2008 European champion Tomas Verner and Miner.
Oda is part of a formidable field at the Trophee Bompard that includes Lysacek, Chan, Amodio and Joubert.
Hanyu will compete against Abbott and Verner at the Cup of Russia.
In pairs, Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran will pull on the boots at Skate Canada and the NHK Trophy.
In ice dance, Japan’s Cathy and Chris Reed are slotted in for the Cup of Russia. Japan also has a spot for the NHK Trophy that has not been assigned yet.
The Grand Prix Final for both seniors and juniors is slated for Quebec City from Dec. 8-11.
Cover girl: Even though she has competed in just two events since winning the gold medal at the Vancouver Olympics, 2011 world silver medalist Kim is still the darling of the skating world.
Kim is featured on the front of the October issue of International Figure Skating magazine.
The South Korean star continues to perform in shows and is reported to have earned $10 million in the past 12 months by Forbes magazine, making her one of the top 10 earning female athletes in the world.