No end to Asada's triple axel figure skating gamble
Japanese skater Mao Asada performs during the women's free skating in the ISU figure skating Grand Prix Final in Fukuoka, western Japan, on December 7, 2013
Asada, the only woman who regularly attempts the difficult but high-scoring 3.5-revolution jump in international competitions, botched three triple-axel attempts but won the prestigious Grand Prix Final title at Fukuoka in Japan.
In the long free-skate programme on Saturday, she fell after an opening triple axel and under-rotated her next element, another triple axel, before landing on two feet -- an irregular move.
It was the first time since the 2009-2010 season that Asada had attempted two triple axels in the long programme. She became the first woman to land three triple axels in the same competition when she finished runner-up to South Korea's Kim Yu-Na at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
"It has been a long time since my last challenge three years ago," the 23-year-old told reporters before the gala exhibition of the 2013 Grand Prix Final, which brought together the top six finishers in the Grand Prix series.
"I want to make another challenge at my next competition," she said, referring to the national championships in two weeks' time which will help decide three women's and three men's berths for Japan at February's Sochi Olympics.
Asada, the 2008 and 2010 world champion, insisted that the triple axel she executed in the short programme on Thursday was clean enough although judges ruled it was under-rotated.
"I believe I have fully rotated it. So I want to make it my starting point," she said.
"All elements except for the axel have been cleared toward this event," Asada said. "I believe it won't be long before my axel will be cleared if I firmly grasp how I made it and how I did not make it."
Only a handful of women have succeeded in performing the triple axel in competition since Japan's Midori Ito nailed it at a home event in 1988. Kimmie Meissner completed it at the US nationals in 2005.
The base value for the triple axel is set at 8.5 points, compared with 6.0 for the highest-yielding triple jump, the lutz. Skaters can gain or lose points from the base value, according to judges' assessment of their "grade of execution."
Asada could earn just 5.57 points for her triple axel in the short programme and a combined 7.59 points for her two attempts in the free skate.
She has yet to land a clean one in her eight attempts this season. At the Japan Open invitational team event in Japan in October, she landed safely but judges deducted points for a low grade of execution.
But, apart from her tremendous jumps, Asada has improved her scores on other areas of performance, including spins and steps which have often hit a maximum level-four in scoring.
US women's national champion Ashley Wagner praised Asada's courage after finishing third overall at the final behind the Japanese and Russia's 15-year-old Julia Lipnitskaia.
"I think that any woman who steps on the ice and says she's going to do a triple axel -- that's someone to be admired and someone who is pushing the sport further," the 22-year-old said. "So she's a competitor that I really respect."
Asada won the final -- for the second straight year and for a record-tying fourth time -- with a total of 204.02 points.
This was close to her personal record of 207.59 registered when she won the home Grand Prix, the NHK Trophy, in Tokyo last month.
Kim, the reigning Olympic and world champion, scored 204.49 points in winning the second-tier Golden Spin event in Croatia on Saturday, in her comeback from a foot injury which sidelined her from the Grand Prix series.