Time for Mao to change direction or give it up

Three-time world champion Mao Asada fell twice during her free skate at the national championships on Sunday and has struggled with declining results this season. | KYODO

There is nothing worse than seeing a great athlete that has hung on too long.

Struggling to regain their past glory in the glare of the spotlight and growing increasingly frustrated when they can’t accomplish it, this can be a very humbling experience for even the most successful person and torture for their fans.

Just ask three-time world champion Mao Asada.

Her 12th-place finish at the Japan nationals in Osaka on Sunday continued a downward slide that began back in October at Skate America when she finished sixth. A few weeks later it was the Trophee de France and a ninth-place result.

And now the nightmare at Namihaya Dome.

How bad was it on Sunday?

Four juniors placed higher in the final standings than Mao. Just as Ice Time had speculated beforehand, the legend could not keep up with the youngsters.

World junior champion Marin Honda, Japan junior champion Kaori Sakamoto, the fantastic Yuna Shiraiwa and Saya Suzuki not only came in higher than Mao, they all finished in the top nine.

When it came time to name the team for the worlds, the Japan Skating Federation did the right thing and chose Satoko Miyahara, Wakaba Higuchi and Mai Mihara.

So what is the next move for Mao?

Should she retire before enduring more humiliation or try something new?

I would say the latter. I don’t think Mao needs to retire. What she needs is a change in direction and leadership.

Mao is only 26 and should still have a few good years left.

Put quite simply, Mao needs a new coach and a new environment. Anybody who can’t see this is detached from reality.

Skaters change coaches all the time. It’s part of the business. It’s not personal.

What has happened with Mao is what we often see in other sports when a team reaches a plateau, can’t get any better, and then begins sliding. Usually the coach departs and a new person is brought in and everybody moves on.

This is what needs to happen with Mao.

Nobuo Sato is a highly respected coach, but it seems quite clear that the partnership is no longer producing good results, and hasn’t been for a while.

And forget the excuse about the knee injury. As I have said before, if Mao is genuinely hurt she should not be skating at all.

So what should Mao do now?

Ice Time thinks she should pick up the phone and call Brian Orser.

With just over 13 months to go until the Pyeongchang Olympics, Mao still has time to turn it around. But nothing is going to change unless she takes the initiative.

No more taking the path of least resistance by training only in Japan. Mao has not trained outside of Japan with a foreign coach for any length of time since she left Rafael Arutunian back in January of 2008, nearly nine years ago.

When you become as famous and powerful as Mao is, you are often enveloped in a cocoon surrounded by people who are afraid to tell the truth for fear of upsetting the star and jeopardizing their own interests. These folks are called sycophants and the outcome is inevitably bad.

The old saying that “your real friends will tell you what you don’t want hear” comes to mind. It seems apropos in this situation.

Orser has proven what he can do with the likes of Yuna Kim, Yuzuru Hanyu, Javier Fernandez and others. His record speaks for itself.

Think the former world champion and two-time Olympic silver medalist for Canada would not relish the chance to try and remake Mao?

You better believe he would.

That is the kind of challenge that coaches live for.

Many are thinking that Mao is near the end now, but I’m certain Orser would not only take her on, but have a positive impact as well. With the right attitude and a new approach, I honestly believe Mao could still be on the Japan team for Pyeongchang.

The question now is whether Mao is going to go out with a whimper, or take a long, hard look in the mirror and say, “This is on me. I have to make a change.”

The skating world awaits her answer.

Source: japantimes.co.jp


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