Mao Asada: “Performing triple axel at the age of 32 is a personal challenge for me, but I also hope that this challenge can be an encouragement for everyone.”
Interview with Mao Asada about shows and triple axel.
source: news.yahoo.co.jp by Mie Noguchi
In late June, Mao Asada (32) appeared on the ice rink in the morning, performing a show number with a serious expression. Nodding to herself as if speaking to her own self, she said, “Alright.” The ice show “BEYOND,” with 103 performances in 22 venues across the country, has only two venues left – Miyagi and Tokyo. As the leading performer, Mao felt a sense of accomplishment, and she set herself a new challenge for further evolution: attempting a triple axel at the age of 32.
“I have to put in the highest level of determination ever, but it’s not a burden in the shadows. It’s a positive tension,” she expressed overflowing love for the ice show and her aspiration towards the triple axel.
The “BEYOND” tour that started from the Shiga performance in September last year is finally coming to its culmination. Over the course of ten months, it seems that the show has been significantly enhanced.
Mao Asada: After practicing and performing repeatedly, the level of completion has undoubtedly increased. While cherishing the connection with the audience, the improved technical skills now allow us to perform very close to the seats. We get as close as about 5 centimeters in front of the audience, and the ice splashes, and the wind reaches them. During ‘Scheherazade,’ when I perform fast twizzles and then stop right in front of the audience, I can see them reacting with surprise, and inside, I think, ‘I did it!’ I’m pushing myself to be more daring in my performances.
In one show, you skate almost ten programs, and you have two shows in one day. Considering you’re 32 years old, it’s quite a remarkable challenge.
Mao Asada: When I was a competitive skater, all I wanted to do was practice, practice, practice, but now I’ve started to consider how to manage my physical stamina and rest. For example, when there are four shows on the weekend, I push myself until Tuesday, four days before, then I take it easy on Wednesday and Thursday, have a rehearsal on Friday, and then it’s showtime. I try to approach the show with zero fatigue. On my days off, I go for massages and visit the sauna, and I try not to walk too much.
So you’re very mindful of avoiding walking.
Mao Asada: Actually, the muscles used in figure skating are different from those used in walking. The muscles used for skating are more developed, so when you walk on land and use different muscles, your legs get tired. I’m not good at walking on land; I find the ice much more comfortable. During a sequence of four shows, my quadriceps get tight after the first show, my hamstrings ache in the second, and my calves tighten in the third. I naturally try to protect and use different muscles as I go along, so I try to give my legs as much rest as possible. Now that I’m in my 30s, I finally understand the importance of rest, something that Coach Nobuo Sato used to say during my competitive days (laughs).
Even during the sequence of four shows, you always give your all in each performance.
Mao Asada: I always strive to give my best, regardless of the conditions. There is still pressure on myself, just like in competitions, but the difference from my competitive days is that I’m always surrounded by my fellow skaters. We high-five each other and cheer on the next skater, which provides a strong support. There was also a time when I had a big fall, and the audience burst into laughter, and I laughed it off and improvised to connect with the performance. Both the audience and the skaters have been helping each other and overcoming challenges together.
Unlike competitions, it seems like you can enjoy even unexpected incidents.
Mao Asada: Of course, I always pursue perfection. I can’t compromise on that aspect. However, in programs with a lively vibe, I want the audience to enjoy the ad-libs and see them as part of the entertainment. That’s the beauty of live performances. But for programs like ‘Scheherazade,’ ‘Ballade No. 1,’ ‘Swan Lake,’ etc., perfection is a must. I skate those programs with utmost care and attention.
In ‘Swan Lake,’ you perform more than 40 consecutive grand jetés, a challenging move even for competitive skaters, and you execute it perfectly.
Mao Asada: Indeed, I might not have been able to do it during my competitive days. I keep pushing myself to the limit, continuously moving my feet without stopping. There are many intricate moves in the program, so I hope the audience pays attention to the footwork. Figure skating is, after all, where my passion lies.
Over the ten months since the premiere, have there been any changes in how you adapt to the performances or how the audience reacts?
Mao Asada: Since January of this year, we’ve allowed cheering following the easining of the COVID-19 restrictions. Initially, the audience was somewhat reserved, but now they cheer and cheer at just the right moments. There are people who come to see ‘BEYOND’ show more than once. For ‘Swan Lake,’ they intentionally stay quiet, and for ‘Caprice,’ they respond with a big ‘Wow!’ The interaction with the audience is delightful and gives me energy.
‘BEYOND’ is a non-stop 90-minute show that creates a unified world.
Mao Asada: My inspiration for ice shows goes back to when I was in the second year of junior high school and watched Ayumi Hamasaki’s live performance. A single person like ‘Ayumi-san’ displayed various expressions, changed roles, and costumes while the scenes unfolded. It was a tremendous impact, and for some reason, I decided in my heart that ‘I want to be like her, I want to do ice shows like this.’
The influence from Ayumi Hamasaki seems to have been significant.
Mao Asada: When I first saw her live performance at the age of 14, it was just a week before the 2005 Junior World Championships. I drew strength from Ayumi Hamasaki and went on to win with a triple axel. Since then, I have been going to her live shows every year. She has been running at the forefront for 25 years since her debut, which is truly challenging and impressive. I followed her footsteps and was able to realize my own shows, ‘Mao Asada Thanks Tour’ and ‘BEYOND,’ where I skate more than ten programs. I think it’s a great accomplishment.
Six years after retirement, you have done two nationwide tours as a professional with ‘Mao Asada Thanks Tour’ and ‘BEYOND.’ How have your feelings changed?
Mao Asada: I’ve become more supportive of the current athletes, hoping they do well. I understand how the current skaters feel because I experienced the difficulties myself during my competitive days. So, when the current skaters come to see the show, I talk to them in the dressing room. However, maybe they get nervous, they don’t share much feedback with me (laughs). I tell them, ‘Do your best.’ When I was a child, I always admired Midori Ito and was happy to talk to her, getting strength from just that. So I hope I can be a source of power for the children who come to watch the show.
You also send messages to general fans through SNS and videos. Among them, the words “please come dressed warmly” show your consideration for the audience.
Mao Asada: Actually, many people are seeing figure skating for the first time during the nationwide tour. We have kept the ticket prices lower compared to regular ice shows, and we visit regional cities, attracting families and elderly people. When I see the reactions on SNS, some say, ‘I was freezing, but I got so engrossed that I forgot about it,’ or ‘My wife invited me, and I didn’t expect much, but it was amazing.’ It’s incredibly heartwarming that even first-time viewers enjoyed the show. At the same time, I feel that we need to remind them to dress warmly if it’s cold.
The tour is concluding with performances in Miyagi in June and the final show in Tachikawa in July. What aspects do you want to showcase?
Mao Asada: I want to show the sheer beauty of skating. The way skaters create the wind or the constantly unfolding formations. It’s the highlight that we can show a new world using just our bodies. Also, for the final Tachikawa performance, we will add special programs. We want ‘BEYOND’ to leave a deep impression in everyone’s hearts, so we are putting our emotions into creating a suitable program for the finale. I hope everyone will come and watch it.
I’m excited to hear that you are practicing the triple axel for the finale of ‘BEYOND.’ What prompted you to resume this challenge?
Mao Asada: In April of this year, I was feeling good physically, so I thought, ‘Let’s give it a try.’ When I tried it, it felt good for a first attempt, and that motivated me, thinking, ‘If I can do this much on the first try, maybe I can go further.’ Now, I’m almost there, just one-fourth of a rotation away. My rotation axis is also good, so it’s really just a little bit left. It’s a personal challenge for me, but I also hope that this challenge can be an encouragement for everyone. During my last (2016) Japanese Nationals, I couldn’t land it, and I can’t remember when my last successful one was. So, I thought, ‘Maybe I should try it one more time in my skating life and make it.’ I want to leave a record of it.”
Is the technique and approach the same as during your competitive days?
Mao Asada: I’m still experimenting with the technique. Compared to my competitive days, I try to change the speed, the trajectory of the approach, the power, timing, and various other aspects, and I find new discoveries. Towards the end of my competitive days, I realized that my height had increased, and the power was dispersed. Now, I feel like if I do it in a lighter, more compact manner without too much speed, I might be able to do it. I’ll continue trying it. If I can add a bit more height, improve the rotation closure, and add some sharpness, I’m confident I can do it. Since the 15 performances for the finale in July may be physically demanding, it might be challenging, so I’ll aim to do it during the Miyagi performance in June… If I succeed, I’ll post it on Instagram.”
Ito Midori was able to perform triple axels even until the age of 32!
Mao Asada: That’s incredible! I wasn’t aware of that. It gives me courage. I’m so happy. I’ve always thought that I inherited the triple axel from Midori-san, so to know that she could do it until 32 gives me that feeling too.
Mao-san, you are carrying on her legacy firmly.
Mao Asada: Midori-san is a true challenger. Even if she couldn’t land it in practice, she would still attempt it in the competitions. I’ve definitely inherited that spirit. I used to jump even when coach Nobuo Sato told me not to (laughs). It was my own determination. I didn’t want to regret not doing it. That’s what made it my own style. But I believe no one surpasses Midori-san’s jump height and greatness.
Ito-san couldn’t land it in the 6-minute warm-up at the Albertville Olympics, and her first free skate attempt was also unsuccessful. Nevertheless, she made up her mind to attempt it again in the program and succeeded. It was a legendary axel.
Mao Asada: I think Midori-san must have jumped with her whole being, not caring about scores or rankings. However, no matter how much you want to jump, it’s not easy to do it in the second half. Jumping a triple axel when you have only 10% of your energy left in the second half, amidst the tension of the Olympics, is almost god-like. Actually, I tried to imitate Midori-san and attempted it again in the second half after not landing it in the first attempt in a competition… but I couldn’t do it! So, I’m truly impressed by Midori-san once again.
How do you feel about attempting the triple axel at the age of 32? Is it the same as during your competitive days?
Mao Asada: This challenge feels completely different from when I was a competitive skater. Back then, the triple axel was both my strength and something that troubled me. Now, I think, ‘Wow! The triple axel is so much fun!’ There’s no pressure, and it’s just pure enjoyment. Being able to do the triple axel with zero pressure is an incredible feeling of happiness.
It’s quite a change from the time when you asked, “Why can’t the triple axel be easy for me?” during your retirement press conference.
Mao Asada: Yes, it has changed completely. If I were to say something to the triple axel now, it would be ‘Thank you.’ It’s like saying, ‘Thank you for coming into my life.’ Also, knowing that Midori-san could perform triple axels until the age of 32 feels like destiny. Since I inherited the triple axel from her, I will do my best!
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