Monday, February 22, 2010

Asada's hopes hinge on triple Axel

Mao Asada is sticking with the plan.

"As far as the triple Axel, I have one in my short program and two in my long program," the Japanese champion told reporters at a press conference today.

"I have prepared these for certain, and I hope to challenge myself. . . Today in practice [at Vancouver's Burnaby 8 rink] my success rate with the triple Axel wasn't too bad, so I am really going to go all out and hope I succeed."

Triple Axels have been hit-and-miss all season long for the 2008 world champion, the only woman to consistently try the forward take-off, three-and-one-half revolution jump in competition.

Correctly done, it has a base value of 8.2 points. At Four Continents, Asada landed two in her free skate, earning a whopping 16.80 points and pulling up from third place after the short to take gold.

Other competitions this season have been less successful.

Asada failed on her second triple Axel at Trophee Eric Bompard and flubbed both attempts at Rostelecom Cup a week later. She has not successfully completed the maneuver in the short program at any of her international competitions this season.

Heading into Vancouver, she hopes all that will change.

"After Four Continents and prior to coming here, I practiced my jumps every day and did my best job to make sure they were clean," Asada, 19, said.

"At my nationals and Four Continents, I think my triple Axel looked good. I will be going to actual training rink [Pacific Coliseum] tomorrow and hope to get the feel of the ice there. The most important aspect would be to do well in the short program. I would like to make sure every step and every move is clean."

Asada needs a clean short to compete with longtime South Korean rival Yu-Na Kim, who posted a huge score in her short at Trophee Bompard, where she defeated the Japanese skater by a devastating 36.04 points.

Without the Axel, Asada's jump arsenal is limited to a triple flip, toe and loop; she rarely executes a triple Lutz or Salchow.

At today's press conference, speaking through an interpreter, Asada sidestepped a question on Kim, saying only that she wished to focus on her own performances here.

"I am really confident, because I have been able to practice a lot," she said. "After the free skate at Four Continents, I said that I did my best and that I probably had an 80 percent chance of an Olympic medal. Now I think I am in an even better condition. I don't think I can give a numeric probability; that would be too difficult.

"But especially in my short program, I want to do my best and complete all the elements and I think I can. . . If I am successful in all of the jumps, I think the other scores will go up, too."

Asada's coach of record remains Tatiana Tarasova, who choreographed both of her programs, a short to Khatchaturian's "Masquerade Waltz" and free to Rachmaninov's "Moscow Bells."

Much of the time, however, she trains with Tarasova's assistant, Shanetta Folle, in Nagoya, while Tarasova remains home in Moscow. She was there, hard at work training, up until a few days ago, delaying her departure as long as possible and checking into the Olympic Village only this morning.

"Generally speaking, I arrive at the venue or town just before the competition begins, so I can practice in Japan until just before the event," she said. "That's what I did this time. This is the only pattern I know.

"I've been practicing in Japan early in the morning so I don't think I will need so much time to adjust [to the time difference]. I think I will adjust very quickly."

Asada was inspired by Daisuke Takahashi, who won a bronze in the men's event, the first-ever figure skating Olympic medal from a Japanese man.

"I was at the Chukyo University practice rink, over in Toyota [a suburb of Nagoya], and I saw the video there," she said. "I was extremely motivated, and I also want to medal.

"If I do my triple Axels, and a clean short, I really think I will."

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