“Be cool like Lady Gaga!” Interview with Mao Shimada about JGP, programs and the aim of winning
Translation of the interview with Mao Shimada.
source: number.bunshun.jp dd. 25th September 2023 by Yoshie Noguchi
“I didn’t feel the slightest pressure from the title of ‘last season’s world junior champion.’ At the Junior Grand Prix Series in Osaka (September 14-16), Mao Shimada (14) marked the highest score of the season, including senior skaters, and secured an impressive victory.
“Last year was my first junior season, and I didn’t know how well I would fare on the world stage, so I just focused on delivering my best performances and seeing how far I could go. This year, I had a better idea of my position in the world, so I approached it with the aim of winning.”
The fourth stage of the Junior Grand Prix Series, which was hosted in Japan for the first time in seven years, was eagerly anticipated by Mao Shimada, who was making her international season debut.
“As this was the fourth event, I was looking forward to it while watching the first, second, and third events. Since it was held in Japan, my desire to deliver a good performance in front of everyone was stronger than any pressure.”
For her short program, she skated to Lady Gaga’s “Americano.” She had already performed it numerous times in ice shows, refining her performance. Her theme for this program was, “Be cool like Lady Gaga!”
“The costume for the ice shows was short-sleeved and had a somewhat cute feeling, so I wanted to make it more mature, hence I chose long sleeves. I tried to portray a strong, independent woman in a way that resembles Lady Gaga, and I even changed my makeup, with thicker eyeliner, to make it different from my free program.”
In junior competitions, it is not permitted to include difficult jumps like the triple axel in the short program as per regulations. Wanting to have a moment where people could say, “She’s evolved in some way,” Shimada has put thought into her final I-spin.
“I wanted to build excitement towards the end with the final spin, so I practiced it quite a bit. Every time, I thought, ‘Faster, faster,’ during practice.”
The typical I-spin involves lifting one leg in front and spinning in a split position, with the leg raised as high as possible to resemble an “I.” However, due to the natural positioning of the upper body slightly to the rear, achieving the appearance of a perfect straight line like an actual “I” is challenging based on the structure of the human body.
First, just like in previous seasons, she spun in the I position with her legs split front and back. Then, she slightly shifted her free leg to the side. As a result, her leg extended to a position of about 180 degrees or even 190 degrees, and her free leg and upper body fused seamlessly, creating a position that looked like a perfect “I.” By reducing the rotation axis’s width, the rotation speed increased dramatically due to inertia. Both in terms of speed and position, she achieved a superhuman spin.
“During the spin, I received a lot of applause, and I could hear it, so I was able to finish it with a great feeling. I think the rotation speed was also good.”
Seven out of nine judges awarded a “+5,” the highest quality rating, for her spin.
With impressive speed throughout her performance and three perfect jumps, she achieved a personal best score of 73.78 points, prompting a smile.
“I was surprised to get 73 points. I think the difference in music and my efforts in expression from last year were appreciated. After landing all three jumps, I skated while thinking about enjoying this moment.”
Further demonstrating her prowess as the “Junior Queen,” she faced the free skate the following day. Regarding her mental state for this season, Shimada had this to say before the free skate:
“I try not to dwell on the fact that I was ranked first in the world last season and switch my focus.”
When asked, “How do you manage to switch your focus?” she responded without hesitation:
“By continuing to challenge myself.”
In this competition, Shimada has set her sights on achieving both the triple axel and the quadruple toe loop. However, after arriving at the venue, she struggled with the quadruple toe loop. On the other hand, her triple axel has gained more power compared to last season, and it has become a flawless jump with no concerns about under-rotation.
“It’s difficult to improve both of them at the same time. The triple axel requires a forward takeoff, while the quadruple toe loop requires a backward takeoff; they are entirely different jumps. In the week leading up to this competition, I had a hard time improving my quadruple’s performance,” she explained.
Her coach, Mie Hamada, who guides Shimada, previously had this to say.
“Triple axel and quadruple toe loop require different upper body usage during takeoff. After executing a triple axel, you have to switch your sensations immediately because a quadruple jump follows within seconds. That’s the challenging aspect for women. Some female skaters can perform quadruples even if they can’t execute a triple axel; this might be one of the reasons,” she explained.
Meanwhile, this competition featured a junior female skater attempting the quadruple. Mia Kalin (15) from the United States was among them. She was diligently practicing the quadruple toe loop and quadruple salchow for the free skate. Upon seeing this, Shimada felt inspired and decided to move forward without hesitation.
“It was very motivating to see Kalin practicing the quadruples. Especially her quadruple toe loop was incredibly stable, almost fail-proof, and she landed the quadruple salchow multiple times. I thought to myself that I need to practice more, I have to do it,” she said.
The six-minute warm-up before the main event arrived. Shimada couldn’t land a quadruple jump even once during that practice. The conventional wisdom might have suggested avoiding the quadruple jump. However, there was no hesitation.
“Since I was in elementary school, I’ve admired and drawn strength from Mao Asada’s continuous attempts at the triple axel. So, I felt that I also wanted to show my determination to keep challenging (big jumps),” she said.
With Coach Hamada’s reassurance that she could definitely handle the pressure, she was sent off for her performance. Her program was set to “Benedictus,” with a theme centered around prayer. Amidst a solemn atmosphere, she executed the triple axel flawlessly before the judges’ eyes. She maintained the tension and proceeded to the quadruple toe loop. Although she didn’t complete the rotation and fell, she continued skating without compromising the essence of the music, nailing all the remaining jumps.
“I just decided to go all out this time. Looking back, I think I could have relaxed a bit more on the quadruple jump. But considering my condition wasn’t ideal, I thought it was better to go for it rather than regret playing it safe and ending up with a single rotation. I have no regrets, and I plan to continue attempting (both jumps).”
Instead of simply aiming for a flawless performance, she finished her routine with an I-spin and a layback spin, both of which earned her applause during the short program.
“I think I managed to spin to the music during the combination spin (I-spin), which added to the excitement during the climactic part with the strong music.”
Not only did she achieve astonishing positions, but she also synchronized her spins with the music to elevate her performance. What Shimada is aiming for goes beyond just a flawless routine; she’s pushing the boundaries of technical quality and musicality. Her performance exuded boundless potential and energy.
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