Mao scores emotional national crown victory

by Gus Fielding

Kyodo

Grief-stricken Mao Asada rode a Christmas Day wave of emotion to come from behind and capture the women’s title at the national championships Sunday, securing a berth at the world championships in Nice, France, in March in the process.

Courageously competing here in Osaka just weeks after the death of her mother Kyoko, the 21-year-old delivered a graceful, if not perfect skate, to beat Akiko Suzuki with a winning total of 184.07 points.

“I was skating in a different situation to normal and I wondered how things would turn out, but I managed to stay focused and I believed in myself,” said Mao, who won her fifth overall national crown.

“I think I was able to control myself better than yesterday and I am really pleased to end the year with this title,” added the former two-time world champion.

Grand Prix Final silver medalist Suzuki moved up from third to second with 179.27, while short program winner Kanako Murakami made a series of errors and placed third with 172.69.

Suzuki and Murakami were also selected to take part in the worlds.

Mao opted out of her trademark triple axel and opened with a double axel before cleanly landing a triple flip-double toeloop and following up with a triple lutz.

She popped out of a triple salchow and the only other blemish came when she botched a triple loop and two-footed the jump.

“I was a bit disappointed about my jump at the end but reminded myself to keep smiling until the end,” said Mao.

A resurgent Mao had been set to compete at her first Grand Prix Final in three years in Quebec earlier this month but made a frantic dash back to Japan from Canada on the eve of the women’s short program after learning that her mother was in a critical condition in the hospital. Kyoko died before Mao could reach her bedside.

Kyoko, 48, passed away on Dec. 9 after a long battle with liver cirrhosis.

Like Murakami, Suzuki also had a wobbly skate, singling a triple lutz and also making a bad landing on a triple flip.

“I was aiming for victory but with a performance like this . . . well, that’s just the way it goes. I’ll do my best to skate better at the world championships.”

Murakami singled a triple loop and made errors on a number of other jumps, also tripping over and crashing to the ice after mistiming her steps.

“My aim was to make the medals podium so I am pleased about that,” said the former junior world champion. “I don’t normally make mistakes on my steps and my mind just went blank. I want to put the same amount of practice into free skate as I do in my short skate and get more confidence.”

Daisuke Takahashi won the men’s national title on Saturday and will be going to Nice, along with runnerup Takahiko Kozuka and third-place finisher Yuzuru Hanyu.