Mao pulls out of GP Final as mother falls critically ill



Mao Asada hastily returned to Japan on Friday evening after withdrawing from the Grand Prix Final in Canada because her mother Kyoko is in a critical condition.

According to her management company IMG, Mao’s 48-year-old mother is suffering from visceral disease and her health has been deteriorating since last summer.

The Vancouver Olympic silver medalist, also a two-time world champion, walked through Narita airport without answering questions from reporters.

Her coach Nobuo Sato, who accompanied Mao to Japan, said, “A phone call woke me up in the morning and I was told to be ready in 30 minutes, so I rushed to the airport (in Canada) without washing my face.”

“Mao had just one practice session in Quebec and she was in good form. But now there is nothing we can do about the competition. I told her we’ll get over this crisis together first,” he said.

Mao was going to skate for her third Grand Prix Final title after having finished second at the NHK Trophy in Sapporo in mid-November and first at the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow two weeks later.

“The Japan Skating Federation informed the International Skating Union this morning of the withdrawal of Japanese skater Mao Asada,” ISU spokeswoman Selina Vanier said.

“Miss Asada received news early this morning that her mother (Kyoko) is in a critical condition in Japan and she has decided to return home to Japan accompanied by her coach Mr. (Nobuo) Sato.”

“On behalf of the ISU and the skating family we would like to express our deepest concern and wish the Asada family all the best at this difficult time and thank the Japan Federation for their care and concern for their athletes,” she said.

JSF official Yoshiko Kobayashi quoted Mao as saying she had “really caused trouble,” by withdrawing from the event. Kobayashi did not give any details on the nature of Mao’s mother’s illness.

“I got a call from Mao’s manager at about 5:20 this morning telling me that her mother’s condition had suddenly deteriorated and she went home this morning,” Kobayashi said.

“Mao has been skating well this season, she got this far and this event really meant so much to her,” she added.

The announcement opened a news conference for ISU president Ottavio Cinquanta, who said that the women’s competition would be contested by five finalists as it was too late to bring in reserves.

The women’s short program is scheduled for Friday followed by the free program on Saturday. Akiko Suzuki is the other Japanese representative in the women’s event.

Americans Mirai Nagasu and Ashley Wagner and Russia’s Adelina Sotnikova were listed as the three substitutes.

“I wish first of all to reconfirm our sentiments toward the Asada family for this situation but it is my duty to take the matter under a sport point of view,” said Cinquanta.

Mao was looking to complete a meteoric rise from the ashes in what would have been 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 Suzuki at the NHK Trophy in Sapporo before ending a three-year GP title drought at the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow, despite leaving out her trademark triple axel jump.

Shoji fourth after short


Risa Shoji placed fourth after the women’s short program at the Junior Grand Prix Final on Thursday.

Shoji, 15, under-rotated a triple lutz and had relatively low scores on her spins to score 51.53 points. Russian’s Julia Lipnitskaia led with 59.98, followed by compatriot Polina Shelepen with 54.99. American Vanessa Lam was third with 54.34.

“I had a few minor mistakes but I feel I moved well and am quite relieved,” said Shoji, who narrowly missed out on a medal at this event last year in Beijing.

“I was still green when I competed last year but I feel a bit more used to being in this event now. I did well in the short program and hopefully I can build on that in the free skate.”

In Beijing, Shoji and China’s Li Zijun both finished with a total of 149.82, but Li took the bronze medal after placing fourth with a better score in the free skate, one position higher than Shoji.

Chan apologizes


Reigning world champion Patrick Chan of Canada apologized Thursday for comments he made in an interview suggesting he would be more appreciated if he skated in China than Canada.

Chan was quoted in a Reuters story Thursday as saying he felt more Canadian several years ago but was “slowly feeling more Chinese.” He said he should appreciate where he has come from because of the support he gets from the Chinese community in Canada.

Speaking to reporters after practice at the Grand Prix Final, Chan said, “I would like to apologize . . . It’s not like me to say those things. I know that it was a mistake and it was taken out of context . . .”