Relaxed Asada optimistic about Olympic chancesTwo-time world champ jokes about odds of competing in Pyeongchang
"I feel better than I did last season, when I sometimes felt uncomfortable," she said through an interpreter. "This time, I feel good and ready."
Asada was fresh from her first practice at Joe Louis Arena, one in which Ashley Wagner said the two-time Japanese world champion "landed triple Axels left and right." The 23-year-old, who has competed for nearly a decade on the international stage, was pleased with her showing at the recent Japan Open, where she landed an imperfect but fully rotated triple Axel in her free skate, as well as a triple Lutz and two triple flip-double loop combinations.
"I feel like Japan Open was a success," she said. "This week, I will try to correct the mistakes I made there."
"This season, I am planning to do the same program (elements) I did last season, with a triple Axel in the short and long program," she continued. "I want to include the triple flip-triple loop, depending on the conditions and how my practices are going. If I feel I can do it, I will go for it."
Asada made a good start in her short program at Skate America, gaining 73.18 points for a short to Chopin's "Nocturne" that included a fully rotated, albeit slightly two-footed, triple Axel.
It is a different Asada than the worried-looking young woman who competed at the Vancouver Olympics almost four years ago. Back then, answering endless reporters' questions about her longtime rivalry with Korea's Yu-Na Kim seemed to weigh on her. Here, just four months before Sochi, she smiled them away.
"Yu-Na has been my competitor since the junior level, when we were young teenagers," Mao said. "People saw us as big rivals in Vancouver. But now I am more concentrated on myself. I am not thinking so much about Yu-Na."
As precocious teens too young to compete at the world championships or 2006 Olympic Games, Asada and Kim traded world junior titles: Asada won in 2005, Kim in 2006. In the senior ranks, Kim has most often bested her rival, defeating her in Vancouver and, most recently, at the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships, where Kim took gold to Asada's silver.
The Japanese skater has had her wins, too, including defeating Kim at the world championships in 2010. But she seems to take more satisfaction out of skating clean programs than winning alone.
"I was happy with part of my experience in Vancouver; part of it, I wasn't happy with," she said. "This last season, my last Olympic season, I hope I do my best in every event I enter.
"Obviously, anybody would be happy to win an Olympic silver medal, but that was a season when I couldn't do most of my jumps. I was not happy about it. I came back to do a perfect program at the Olympics and show not only my jumping skills but my skating skills."
Starting in September 2010, she worked with Nobuo and Kumiko Sato to strengthen her jump technique, eventually adding the triple Salchow back to her repertoire.
"Compared to four years ago, the focus now is more on the technical aspect," Mao said. "I started from scratch at the beginning (after Vancouver). Now I am seeing the results with my skating skills and jumping.
"Last season, obviously, I tried my best, but the results were not always satisfactory. I have worked hard on it this season. So far, it seems good, and I hope it continues."
Throughout the interview, Asada talked of this as her final season. Asked what her plans were after the 2014 World Figure Skating Championships, to be held in Saitama, Japan, in late March, she once again smiled.
"At the moment, nothing. I just want to dedicate this last season to myself. After, I will continue to skate in shows."
Then, the big question: Would she consider competing in a third Olympics, in Pyeongchang, Korea, in 2018?
Asada laughed and pretended to consider. Then, she borrowed a page from Michelle Kwan's "never say never" book.
"2018? Who knows. I'll only be 27."