Mao struggles, still claims third world title

by Jack Gallagher

Staff Writer

Mao Asada captured her third world title with a satisfactory free skate on Saturday night at Saitama Super Arena.

Just one month after struggling to a sixth-place finish at the Sochi Olympics, Mao earned a measure of redemption with the victory. In achieving it, she became the first Japanese to win the world title three times. She also earned the world crown in 2008 and 2010.

Mao skated to Rachmaninov’s “Piano Concerto No. 2″ and opened with her trademark triple axel but underrotated it. Mao attempted seven more triple jumps, but underrotated three of them (a triple flip, and pair of double loops), yet still came out on top.

The 23-year-old was unable to repeat her stunning free skate in Sochi, but still prevailed by more than nine points with a total of 216.69 before a partisan crowd of more than 18,000.

Mao entered the free skate with a lead of almost 1.5 points over Italy’s Carolina Kostner and was never in danger on this night despite the miscues. Mao, looking radiant in a blue and black outfit, received high marks for her program components.

“I could not do the same as I did at the Olympics, but overall I am very satisfied with my performance,” stated Mao. “The Olympics and worlds brought me happiness and also gave me regrets. I went through so many emotions, but after all it made me realize again how wonderful skating is.”

Despite the many accomplishments in her illustrious career, Mao admitted she did feel the pressure before taking the ice.

“I was much more nervous than in the short program, but the cheering from the audience and my coach (Nobuo Sato) were with me so I could skate in a relaxed mood,” noted Mao.

Russia’s Julia Lipnitskaia, who was third after Thursday’s short program, earned the silver medal with 207.50.

The 15-year-old competed to “Schindler’s List” and fell on her triple salchow, but did hit six other triple jumps.

“It is a shame that I missed the salchow,” said Lipnitskaia. “I didn’t do it correctly technically, therefore I fell. In practice, I struggled with it as well and for next season we need to fix it.”

Kostner, the 2012 world champion, claimed the bronze on 203.83, despite finishing sixth in the free skate. She also took the bronze in Sochi last month.

Kostner performed to “Bolero” and struggled through an error-filled program. She fell on the back end of a triple flip/triple toe loop combo and singled a pair of other jumps.

“I wish I could skate again and do better,” Kostner commented. “It was really hard. The jumps did not work how I wished, but this is the sport.”

One can only wonder how different the results might have been had defending champion Yuna Kim and Sochi gold medalist Adelina Sotnikova competed here.

Russia’s Anna Pogorilaya, who replaced Sotnikova after she withdrew, took fourth at 197.50.

Akiko Suzuki, who was fourth after the short program, skated to “Phantom of the Opera” and botched her opening triple combo. She ended up in sixth place with 193.72.

Suzuki, who turned 29 on Friday, was competing in the final event of her long career. The reigning Japan national champion finished eighth in Sochi.

“I tried to put out everything that I have in me,” said Suzuki. “I am a little disappointed that I could not do everything as I expected to. However, I am very glad that I was able to skate my heart out until the very end.”

Suzuki paid tribute to her legion of fans as she bid farewell to the sport.

“I realized how many people have been supporting me throughout these years and I am so happy that I was able to end my skating career this way,” she said.

The combined results of Mao and Suzuki here mean that Japan will retain its three slots for next year’s worlds in Shanghai.

Kanako Murakami was 10th with a tally of 172.44.

Italy’s Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte claimed the ice dance crown by a razor-thin margin over Canada’s Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje.

Cappellini and Lanotte won the gold despite finishing fourth in the free dance. The Italian duo’s total score was 175.43, just .02 better than the Canadians at 175.41.

France’s Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat (175.37) were not far behind in third.

Cathy and Chris Reed finished 18th with 136.13.