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Mao Asada's best performance didn't win a medal, but it won people's hearts

Mao Asada performs during the free program at the Sochi Olympics, on Feb. 20, 2014. (Mainichi Photo/Taichi Kaizuka)

Retiring figure skater Mao Asada triumphed as a competitive skater with an Olympic silver medal and world championship titles, but her most memorable performance for her fans across the globe was at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, even though she did not win a medal there.

Asada set her sights on the gold medal at the Sochi Games in 2014 after coming in second in the previous Olympics in Vancouver, but Asada struggled in the short program at the Sochi Olympics, falling on the ice after trying her signature triple axel jump. She came in 16th place in the short program.

"I wasn't able to move my body well," Asada commented after the short program. Asada's chance at glory at the games was over even before she performed in the freestyle category -- or so everyone thought.

In the freestyle skating program the following day, Asada made a remarkable comeback. She successfully completed triple jumps a total of eight times -- the only participating skater in the event to do so -- coming in third place in the freestyle program and marking her personal best of 142.71 points. At the end, her overall ranking moved up by 10 places.

After completing her freestyle performance, Asada looked down, and tears dropped from her eyes. She made a teary smile to respond to loud cheers.

Even for Asada, who had been a figure skating front-runner ever since she started competing in junior events, it was difficult to pull herself together mentally overnight. Her coach, Nobuo Sato, told Asada about one of his pupils in the past who competed in an Olympics free program with tonsillitis. Sato said the skater could not even eat before his performance.

"I told him, 'Skate until you fall down. If you do fall, I will come get you on the ice.' He delivered his best performance," Sato said to Asada.

Sato's words worked magic for the troubled Asada and she was able to move on from her short program meltdown.

While she did not win a medal at the 2014 Games, her performance there will remain in people's memory. And for a skater, there is no greater prize than that. (By Tatsuya Haga, City News Department)

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