Figure Skating / Olympics / Winter Olympics / Figure skating | ICE TIME

Mao’s inflexibility hurt medal chances

by Jack Gallagher

“If things continue as they are, it could all end in tears without a silver medal this time. Maybe without any medal.”
Ice Time — Dec. 27, 2013

Sometimes in life people can be their own worst enemy.

Refusing to take advice, tuning out what they don’t want to hear, ignoring reality.

This formula usually results in great disappointment when they are confronted with what they don’t like, fear, or want to do.

Such was the case in the women’s singles at the Sochi Games with two-time world champion Mao Asada.

It’s been no secret for quite a while now that Mao was having serious problems trying to land her trademark triple axel, but she refused to change her strategy and ended up off the podium in sixth place after the free skate on Thursday.

It didn’t have to be like this, but Mao’s stubbornness became more difficult to overcome than hitting her favorite jump. Blessed with incredible natural ability, grace and beauty, she possesses the dream package for a skater.

If Mao truly wanted to win the gold medal at the Olympics, however, she would have altered her direction years ago.

Ice Time believes that Mao should have moved abroad and worked with a top foreign coach to try and achieve her goal. If she had learned from somebody like Brian Orser, Nikolai Morozov or Frank Carroll, chances are she would be leaving Sochi with a second Olympic medal.

Instead she returns home with the disappointment of what might have been.

A large number of the international media considered Mao one of the favorites for the gold, but they seemed strangely ignorant of the fact that she has been going through a crisis with the triple axel for over a year now. This is because many will look at a skater’s historical record, while not taking into account present concerns.

One writer I spoke with before the singles, who did understand Mao’s predicament, was resigned to the fact it was going to end badly for her here.

“She’s done so much for skating,” the writer said in a sad tone, her voice drifting off.

Mao failed to land the triple axel in both the team short program and the women’s short program. That she finally hit it in the free skate came as a relief to many, but by then it was fait accompli.

“I don’t consider the triple axel to be a burden at all,” Mao said on Monday at a press conference. “It actually gives me something to shoot for and it defines me. But the axel isn’t everything; even with one I can still have a decent program with the other jumps I’ve got.”

The problem with this statement is that by not landing her big jump at the start of both programs it had a psychological effect on the rest of them. It had a profound impact both times.

As I rode the media bus from the Iceberg Skating Palace back to the Main Press Center on Wednesday night after the women’s short program, I spoke to a skating judge who was also on board. The judge shook her head and said, “Mao didn’t have to do the triple axel.”

It was obvious that many who were there were thinking the exact same thing.

The saddest part is that Mao’s refusal to deal with this issue resulted in huge disappointment not just for her, but for her many fans as well. She was 16th after the short program, with no realistic chance of getting a medal.

Just like that, it was over.

I remember thinking, “All of the people back in Japan who stayed up all night to watch on TV … ”

Much has been made of her outstanding free skate on Thursday, with some considering it redemption. But that is a weak assessment.

Performing when you have no pressure at all is no challenge. The expectations are low, so it is not difficult to look good.

Does anybody really think it was just bad luck that resulted in the errors in Mao’s short program in the team and women’s events?

You would have to be completed disconnected from reality to believe that.

I firmly feel if Mao had gone with the likes of Orser, Morozov or Carroll, they would have evaluated her after a short period of time and then had a long talk with her.

They would have said something like: “You can’t land the triple axel reliably anymore, so I think we should make a change in the programs. We need to come up with something new and go in a different direction. This is the best path to the gold medal.”

But when somebody doesn’t want to deal with a problem, they try to ignore it. This usually just compounds it and makes it worse.

When people must come to terms with a crisis they often ask, “Why did this happen?” discounting the fact that in many instances they were well aware of it beforehand.

In Mao’s case, the handwriting has been on the wall for a long, long time.

She just didn’t want to face up to it.