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Olympic figure skating: Athletes celebrate Mao Asada's spectacular free skate

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After turning in a devastating short program on Feb. 19, it would've been all too easy for 23-year old Japanese figure skater Mao Asada to mail it in during the Feb. 20 ladies' free program round at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. But instead of giving up, the 2010 Vancouver silver medalist proved her status as one of the sport's great class acts by delivering an awe-inspiring long routine that earned her something much more valuable than Olympic hardware: the heartfelt respect and admiration of fans and celebrity sports figures alike, as shared via a series of Feb. 20 tweets.

Kim Zmeskal Burdette, who earned a bronze medal as part of the 1992 U.S. Olympic gymnastics team, put Asada's performance and subsequent sixth place finish into good perspective, writing "Mao Asada... Inspiring. Character. Integrity of performance. Winning gold isn't the only time we win."

Figure skater Sasha Cohen, who earned a silver medal in the ladies' event at the 2006 Torino Games and knows the pressures of competing on Olympic ice, gushed "Wow! Mao Asada just pulled of a 3axel and a triple tripleā€¦ Way to come back strong after a tough short. That shows real strength"

Two-time men's Olympic figure skating silver medalist Elvis Stojko copped to having an emotional response to Asada's final skate on Winter Games ice, writing "I just have to say I am teary eyed for Mao Asada, makes my heart smile! :-)"

Canadian Joannie Rochette, who took the bronze medal behind Asada at the 2010 Games just days after the tragic death of her mother, praised her strength with "Mao Asada, WOW!!! What a skate! What a fighter!"

Finally, five-time figure skating world champion Michelle Kwan summed up the sentiments of many when she tweeted "Mao Asada - made me cry.... a performance that we will all remember forever!"

Although all five figure skating events are now complete, the 2014 Winter Olympics will continue Feb. 21.

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