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Mao's path to gold difficult, but not impossible

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 18, 2014 at 10:28 am •  Published: February 18, 2014

SOCHI, RUSSIA – Mao Asada returned to practice here on Sunday following several days of training in Yerevan, Armenia. Mao trained for 40 minutes at the Iceberg Skating Palace along with teammates Akiko Suzuki, Kanako Murakami and three other skaters.

Mao and Suzuki worked on their free skates, while Murakami went through her short program during the session.

Mao landed several triple axels and a triple flip/triple loop combination jump. It is obvious that the Japan team is doing everything it can to boost Mao’s confidence heading into Wednesday’s short program. Whenever she hit a triple axel, the coaches and trainers all clapped, their cheers echoing around the nearly empty cavernous arena.

“After the team event, I was a little upset and unsure of myself,” Mao said at a press conference with Suzuki and Murakami on Monday evening. “I wasn’t exactly on a high during the training in Armenia, but I’ve felt pretty good the last couple of days since coming back to Sochi.”

“In Armenia I tried too hard to perfect my program and wound myself up into a knot,” Mao noted. “I started stressing out, so my coaches told me to relax and just let the skating come to me.”

The two-time world champion worked on her jumps and step sequence again on Monday afternoon as the clock continued to tick down to Wednesday night’s short program.

Mao believes that her frame of mind will be crucial to her result in the singles.

“I was picking it up for Sochi but I wasn’t strong enough mentally in the team event,” Mao said. “In the singles I want to focus on myself, trust myself more. That’s probably the most important thing.”

The significance of the short program — where Mao has had problems over the years — can’t be underscored. Four years ago in Vancouver, Mao was nearly five points behind Yuna Kim heading into the free skate. Mao ended up finishing 23 points behind the South Korean star after the free skate.

If Mao is going to win the gold here, she is going to have to stay close to Kim in the short program to have a realistic chance heading into the free skate. Ice Time thinks the gap can be no greater than one point. If Mao is close, or has the lead over Kim, she will be in a good position.

As we saw with the men on Friday, in the Olympics anything can happen. Yuzuru Hanyu had a nearly four-point lead after the short program, but looked like he had squandered his chance after two falls in the free skate. But then Patrick Chan came apart and Hanyu was able to hang on.

Mao will have to skate cleanly in the short program, landing all four jumps, to keep the pressure on Kim. The view here is that if Mao and Kim skate cleanly in both programs, Kim will retain her title as Olympic champion.

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