Mao Asada may not have won a medal after Thursday’s Olympic free skate in Sochi, but she certainly left her imprint on the competition and the sport, following her disastrous short program the previous night.
The defending Olympic silver medalist and two-time world champion from Japan climbed from 16th to sixth in the field after posting a career-best 142.71 long program that trailed only gold and silver winners Adelina Sotnikova and Kim Yu Na. It truly was a remarkable and heartfelt feat, embodying the Olympic ideal.
Wednesday’s 55.51 in the short in which she floundered on her triple Axel and triple flip paved the way for a sleepless, doubtful night. The 23-year-old Asada had noted this would be her final season, and there was no way she was going to let those be her final moments on the ice.
The woman whose age kept her out of the 2006 Torino Games and was hand-picked by many to be the early favorite in Vancouver, skated in the second of four rotations Thursday.
She delivered with a memorable performance that consisted of a triple Axel, flip, loop, Salchow, and Lutz, that was one tenth of a point ahead of bronze medalist Carolina Kostner of Italy.
Now there is the question of whether she will compete at the World Championships in Saitama, Japan, which begin in just 34 days (March 24-30), where she can feed off the type of energy Sotnikova felt from the Russian crowd.
Following Yuzuru Hanyu’s win in the men’s competition, it was a mostly disappointing ladies’ result for Japan, which was sent a woman to the podium at Worlds in 11 of the last 12 years, including four medals from Asada.
National champion Akiko Suzuki, 28 and also retiring at the end of the season, stayed consistent with her eighth-place finish from the short program, while 20-year-old Kanako Murakami jumped from 15th to 12th.
At least now, Asada can take a deep breath and take pride that she gave everything she had. Even though she didn’t win a medal in Sochi, it was a program that truly won’t be forgotten amongst the most memorable in the history of the Games.