Twenty-two year-old Mao Asada is one of skating's brightest stars. With her older sister Mai blazing her trail, Mao ascended through the ranks of international skating at an alarming pace and was the 2008 and 2010 World Champion.
Growing up in Nagoya, home of many excellent Japanese skaters, Mao was developed by famed coach Machiko Yamada for several years. Landing triple Axels and stunning triple-triple combinations in novice and junior competition since 2001, Mao had some time to develop her artistry while Japan was sending other phenomenal junior skaters to international competitions. The three-time junior national champion was finally old enough to compete on the Junior Grand Prix circuit in 2004-05. Mao won all of her competitions, and landed triple Axels at the Junior Grand Prix Final in Helsinki and the World Junior Championships in Kitchener, Ontario. She also placed a close second behind Miki Ando at the Japanese senior ladies championship.
In 2005-06, The Japan Skating Federation allowed Mao to compete on the Senior Grand Prix tour, although she was too young under ISU regulations to compete in the Olympics and World Championships. She had an excellent season, winning Trophée Eric Bompard and the Grand Prix Final in a field that included defending world senior champion Irina Slutskaya. At the Japan nationals, Mao became the first female skater ever to perform two triple Axels in competition en route to a silver medal. At the World Junior Championships, Mao finished second behind Korea's Yu-Na Kim, another chapter in a rivalry sure to last until the 2010 Olympics and beyond.
2006-07 was Mao's first full year on the senior circuit internationally. At times brilliant, she had to deal with some consistency issues. She won her first All-Japan championship in December en route to a silver medal behind countrywoman Miki Ando at the World Championships held in Tokyo. In 2007-08, Mao was solid in all her competitions, although occasionally struggling with a triple-triple combo in her short program. That season also saw her and sister Mai leave Japan for Lake Arrowhead, California to train with Rafael Arutunian. By the end of the season, however, Mao had returned to Japan. She defended her Japanese title in December, and then in March won her first World Championship, in Sweden. Overcoming an early miscue when preparing for a triple Axel, Mao was flawless the rest of the way.
In the 2008-09 season, Mao trained with Tatiana Tarasova, making trips to Moscow from her base at Chuyko University in the Aichi prefecture. Despite winning the NHK Trophy, the Japan Nationals and edging archrival Yu-Na Kim at the Grand Prix Final, she finished third at the Four Continents and fourth at the important pre-Olympic 2009 Worlds in Los Angeles. Mao had a shaky start to the 2009-10 Olympic season, but rebounded to land triple Axels in her free skate en route to a silver medal at the Olympics in Vancouver and a gold at the Worlds in Turin.
On the ice, Mao’s performances are characterized by mature artistry and ballet (a personal interest) as much as technical prowess. In public, Mao is outgoing and confident, and will dutifully give interviews, pose for pictures and sign autographs for fans for as long as is necessary. Mao is seemingly unaffected by the enormous press attention in Japan, and has developed a great amount of poise when dealing with fans and media. She is a popular talk show guest in her native country, and appears in many promos and TV commercials. She talked about her feelings about dealing with the media in her exclusive interview with Japan Skates at the 2007 Skate Canada International.
Mao struggled with her jumps throughout the 2010-11 season and finished sixth overall at the 2011 World Championships in Moscow. Mao plans to compete in the 2011-12 season, under the tutelage of famed coach Nobuo Sato. We at Japan Skates look forward to covering her career for as long as she chooses to skate.