Mao’s mother passes away

by Gus Fielding

Kyodo

The mother of figure skating star Mao Asada died early Friday morning, the skater’s management agency IMG reported. She was 48.

Two-time world champion Mao pulled out of the Grand Prix Final in Quebec City early Thursday morning and returned to Japan after learning that her mother Kyoko, who had been battling liver cirrhosis, was in critical condition.

Kyoko Asada passed away at a Nagoya hospital before Mao arrived back in Japan.

“I don’t know what to say. I’m lost for words,” said Mao’s coach Nobuo Sato, who accompanied her to Japan. “This will be a big shock to her as she is still so young. This is what worries me and I feel so sorry for her.

“They both shared the same purpose so this will be a massive shock. I hope she can overcome this as quickly as possible.”

Mao’s former coach Machiko Yamada said, “There was a particularly strong bond between them so I am ever so worried for Mao.

“She is a tough character but this will be very difficult for her to take. Her mother was a real fighter and I am sure there were still things she wanted to do for Mao’s future.”

Resurgent Mao had been hoping to complete her comeback with victory in her first Grand Prix Final appearance since 2008.

The 21-year-old failed to win a single event in the worst season of her competitive career in 2010-2011, but headed into the final with confidence sky high after a pair of strong performances in November.

Mao finished second behind Akiko Suzuki at the NHK Trophy in Sapporo before ending a three-year GP title drought at the Cup of Russia in Moscow.

International Skating Union President Ottavio Cinquanta said Friday he was deeply saddened by the death of Mao’s mother, as condolences poured in from the figure skating fraternity.

“I have to say that we are really sad for what happened,” Cinquanta told Kyodo News in an interview ahead of the women’s short program.

“Unfortunately she had to leave yesterday to go back home and we are very sorry for her that sad news was waiting for her when she arrived in Japan.”

Cinquanta, however, said that there were no plans to observe a minute of silence to mark Kyoko Asada’s passing at the GP Final.

“I would like to say we have to conduct anyway this final to which Mao qualified as one of the best skaters in the world,” said the 73-year-old Italian.

“As the International Skating Union we have sent already an official message of condolence to the (Japanese skating) federation, to the sports entities in Japan and in particular to the family.

“But we consider that this is a very private position and therefore to take another initiative such as a moment of silence is something beyond the personal and family situation.”

Sato was devastated by the news, while Carolina Kostner was in tears when Kyodo News informed the Italian skater of the news after she had taken the lead in the women’s short program.

“I have no words. I’m sorry,” said the visibly shocked world bronze medalist, who briefly turned her back on reporters to wipe tears from her eyes.

Akiko Suzuki, who finished second behind Kostner in the short skate, said, “I don’t know whether the news about Mao affected my performance. I’m sure she wanted to be skating here. I could not skate in her place but my job was to carry out my role and seeing all the Japanese flags at the venue gave me strength.”

Mao had been expected to battle it out with Russian teenager Elizaveta Tuktamisheva for the gold medal at the Grand Prix Final.

The national championships, a qualifier for next year’s world championships, are scheduled for later this month in Osaka.

Hidehito Ito, the JSF’s director of figure skating, said he could not put a time frame on Mao’s return and was unable to say whether she would skate at the worlds if she skipped the nationals.

“It will be a case of seeing how quickly she can deal with this and obviously we hope she can get through this as quickly as possible,” he said.

“I knew her mother well so I am at a loss for words. The federation will do everything it can to support (Mao).”