|Daily Times - Site Edition||Friday, December 30, 2005|
Asada, with two triple axels, not going to Olympics
TOKYO: Mao Asada’s Olympics are not coming up in February. They are four years away.
It hardly seems fair for the most accomplished figure skater of this season. At 15, however, the Japanese dynamo simply isn’t old enough to qualify for the Turin Games. So on February 23, when the medals are handed out, the best female jumper in the history of the sport probably will be watching from her home in Nagoya, Japan. Or perhaps from the stands at the arena as a guest while women she beat throughout the season wear the medals.
“I will be happy if I can take part in the Turin Games, but I will be satisfied if I can participate in the Vancouver Olympics in 2010,” Asada said. Despite her triple axels a history-making two in the same program at last week’s Japanese national championships Asada is too young, according to International Skating Union rules. Those rules aren’t likely to be changed in the next few weeks to allow her to compete in Turin no matter how much excitement she might bring to a sport that could use some buzz.
Only a half-dozen women have done one triple axel in significant competitions; Asada has been doing them since she was 12. She landed one at the junior Grand Prix finals in December 2004 at Helsinki, Finland, becoming the first junior girl to do one in an international event. Then she did one at the senior Grand Prix finals two weeks ago in beating world champion Irina Slutskaya for the biggest victory of her fledgling career.
“Why can’t she participate in the Olympics?” Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi asked reporters at a news conference following her Grand Prix final win. “Showing off such a splendid performance, I think that participation of an excellent player would make the Olympics all the more an exciting one.” Added John Nicks, who watched her beat his student, two-time world silver medallist Sasha Cohen, last month in Paris: “Right now she is the finest jumper in the world in the ladies division.”
Anyone who watched 15-year-old Tara Lipinski win gold in 1998 might wonder why there’s such a fuss about Asada’s age. Following the advice of doctors, the ISU in 1996 raised its age limit. While skaters can participate in most senior international competitions at 14, they must be 15 by the previous July 1 to be eligible for the Olympics and the world championships. Lipinski, like Sonja Henie decades earlier, had turned 15 by the July 1 preceding the Olympics. Asada didn’t turn 15 until Sept. 25, missing the cutoff by 87 days. The International Olympic Committee respects the rules of the participating federations and will not make individual exceptions. So Asada must wait for 2010.
Asada seems almost naive about the fuss over her not competing in Turin. Earlier in the season, she said she would respect the ISU rules. The Japanese federation also said it would not seek a change of a rule the federation actually voted for. When asked what she will be doing while others go for the gold, Asada simply said: “Training.” “That’s life and you can’t change anything, you know,” Slutskaya said. “We can’t decide. If this is the rules, we can’t do something. She’s pretty young. I think the next Olympics will be for her.” But an ominous warning was sounded by Carol Heiss Jenkins, the first woman to do a double axel and winner of the 1960 gold medal.
“Asada is now just 15. She has to grow. Let’s see. It is that 17-18 year age that is difficult. Their bodies change. They become a woman. They become much more emotional,” Heiss Jenkins said in Tokyo. Heiss Jenkins has been coaching Miki Ando, who did the first quadruple jump in competition for a female just before turning 15 in December 2002. Ando has not done one in competition for two years and recently turned 18. Asada won everything in juniors since she became eligible at age 13, sweeping through an undefeated season last year and taking the junior world title in her first chance.
She is coached by Machiko Yamada, who also trained Midori Ito, Japan’s most accomplished skater and a silver medalist at the 1992 Olympics. Ito was the first woman to do a triple axel in competition in 1989. Yamada also worked with Yukari Nakano, meaning Yamada has coached three of the six women who have done triple axels in competition. The other three are Americans Tonya Harding and Kimmie Meissner, and Russian Ludmila Nelidina. In Asada’s free program at the Japanese national championships on December 25, she made figure skating history. She opened with a triple axel, then followed it with a triple axel in combination with a double toe loop.
That didn’t help her win the title. Fumie Suguri won, with Asada second and 2004 world champion Shizuka Arakawa third. Still Asada, didn’t express any disappointment. “I’m very happy to have done two triple axels. I wasn’t thinking about the championship, but was just focusing on the two triple axels,” Asada said. Her next goal is four turns. “I also want to do a quadruple jump,” she said.
She will probably get that chance when she defends her title at the junior world championships in March. A week later, the senior worlds will be held in Calgary. But, like the Olympics, Asada must be on the sidelines. At least she doesn’t have to wait more than four years to get to worlds. She will be eligible for them in 2007 in Tokyo. ap
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