Japanese figure skater Mao Asada has fought out an intense rivalry with the South Korean since they first faced off at junior level. Born just 20 days apart in 1990, together the pair have pushed the boundaries of women’s figure skating, trading victories in the competitions they have graced since 2005.
As far as the Olympic Games are concerned it is advantage Kim, with the South Korean having beaten Asada to gold at Vancouver 2010, a setback that the hugely talented Japanese ice dancer is determined to put right at Sochi 2014.
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“In Vancouver, I had the gold medal as my goal,” said Asada in 2013. “I'd worked for it since I was a child, and afterwards I really regretted my mistakes. In Sochi, I'd like to erase those memories by doing everything perfectly. That’s what I've been working for these last three years.”
Since embarking on her sparkling career as a young prodigy, Asada has gone on to become one of her country’s most popular athletes. She is the first woman ever to land the triple axel in compe-tition, achieving the feat when she was just 14 at the 2004/05 ISU Junior Grand Prix final in Helsin-ki, where she beat Kim to the gold.
The Japanese overcame the South Korean once again at the 2005 World Junior Championships in Kitchener (CAN). Despite her obvious talent, however, she was too young to compete at that year’s World Championships or the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Turin.
Triple axels aplenty
When she finally arrived in the global elite, the Nagoya-born skater showed she had plenty of tricks up her sleeve. Noted for her sublime ability to perform the Biellmann spin, a one-foot spin that en-tails holding the other foot extended above and behind the head, with the body forming the shape of a tear drop, she is also a triple axel specialist, producing one in the short programme at Vancouver 2010 and becoming the first female skater to land two and then three of them in the free skate.
The Japanese has won a host of medals throughout her career, collecting gold at the World Championships in 2008 and 2010, silver in 2007 and bronze in 2013. In addition, she won the Four Continents Figure Skating Championship title in 2008, 2010 and 2013 and finished runner-up in 2011 and 2012, while also winning the ISU Grand Prix final in 2008/09 and 2012/13, invariably be-ing joined on the podium by Kim.
In 2013 Asada also became the only skater, male or female, to win all seven events on the Grand Prix circuit: Skate America, Skate Canada International, the Cup of China, the NHK Trophy, the Trophée Eric Bompard, the Cup of Russia and the Grand Prix final itself.
That notable achievement will stand her in good stead for her latest duel with her great rival at Sochi 2014. “Right now my goal is to make sure I have the physical strength to skate well until the very end, to be able to skate my programmes in a way that satisfies me,” she said, looking ahead to what will be her final tilt at Olympic gold.
Reflecting on her long-running rivalry with Kim, she added: “There have been some very tough times, but if she wasn't there I wouldn’t have made the progress I have.”
Sochi 2014 will see the two lock horns for the last time in what will be one of the most intriguing storylines of the Games, and Asada will not be holding anything back as she looks for a grand finale: “Because of that, I know can really pour all my energy into competing,” she promises.