Japan skate heroine hits back at Tokyo 2020 chief
Japanese figure skater Mao Asada arrives at a conference in Tokyo after returning from the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi on February 25, 2014 - by Yoshikazu Tsuno
The 23-year-old returned to Tokyo from the Winter Games empty handed, despite having gone into the singles competition as a frontrunner.
Her short programme was a flop from the get-go, as Asada, one of Japan's most popular sporting figures, crashed to the ice on her initial jump and completely missed a compulsory part of the dance.
That drew accusations of her being an habitual choker from former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, who now heads the body charged with organising the 2020 summer Games.
"That girl, she always falls over whenever it's important," Mori sniped on Thursday amid national disappointment.
Asada on Thursday brushed aside the 76-year-old's scoffing.
"I'm human. I happen to fail," Asada told a news conference when asked about Mori's remarks.
"I don't care at all now, but I'm afraid that perhaps Mr. Mori is now slightly regretting making such remarks," a smiling Asada said.
Although he is not unique among senior Japanese politicians for a jaw-dropping inability to judge the public mood, Mori has a track record of going the extra mile with his gaffes.
Last week's criticism of a young athlete almost universally held in deep affection among Japanese provoked derision from across the spectrum, from Facebook users to Major League Baseball standout Yu Darvish.
A near-flawless performance in the free programme on the second night of competition was not enough to drag Asada into the medals, and she finished in sixth place.
The event was won by Russia's Adelina Sotnikova who pushed defending champion Kim Yu-Na, the South Korean favourite, into the silver medal position.
Asada made no secret of her sadness over her performance in Sochi, and said she was considering overturning a plan to retire from international tournaments at the end of this season.
"I'm full of regrets over failing to bring medals back to Japan," Asada said, adding that her chance of continuing to perform next season is "fifty-fifty".
Ex-premier Mori has made a half-hearted attempt to defend himself over the comments, questioning whether or not he could really have uttered words that have added to the public impression of a loose-tongued senior.
During his own visit to Sochi last week, he told a press conference he had never bothered to learn English fluently because it had been "the language of enemies" during World War II.
And his January appointment as head the Tokyo 2020 organisers elicited a slightly baffling prediction that he might be dead by the time the Games come to Japan.
"I am going on 77 this year," he told a seminar. "I am destined to live five or six more years if I am lucky."