Figure skating-After three hard years, Asada hopes to shine at Sochi

Thu Nov 28, 2013 10:11pm EST
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By Elaine Lies

TOYOTA, Japan (Reuters) - The first time Japan's Mao Asada set foot on a skating rink nearly two decades ago she wore a helmet and protective pads on her knees and elbows, wanting only to follow her big sister.

Now she stands as a prime contender for gold at the Sochi Games, where she will once again lock horns with long-standing rival and reigning Olympic figure skating champion Kim Yuna of South Korea.

Yet as recently as 2012 Asada was thinking about quitting.

Her mother's death the year before, coupled with several uneven seasons of changing her skating style from the bottom up in the wake of losing gold to Kim at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, had sent her into a slump.

"If possible, I wouldn't have wanted to have these tough experiences," the soft-spoken 23-year-old told Reuters in an interview at her home rink just outside the central Japanese city of Nagoya.

"Over the last three years I've been through a lot of pain and worry. But it's because of that pain that I've gotten to where I am now.

"If I hadn't gone through these tough times, I don't think I'd have come as far as I have, to being in my current condition."

Asada, who has said this will likely be her last competitive season, racked up wins in both of her Grand Prix events this year, Skate America and the NHK Trophy, despite some trouble with the complicated triple Axel, a jump with 3.5 rotations.   Continued...

Japanese figure skater Mao Asada poses for a photo at the National Training Center, an intensive training base for figure skating, at Chukyo University in Toyota, central Japan November 27, 2013. REUTERS/Issei Kato