The Inside Edge: In honor of skating legend Mao Asada on her 30th birthday

Here are three of the best programs the three-time world champion has skated through three decades.

The Inside Edge is a column by Faith Bonds about figure skating.

If you were a sports fan growing up, you almost undoubtedly had a childhood hero. Maybe you oohed and aahed as Michael Jordan dominated the court in the ’90s, earning six NBA Championship rings for the Chicago Bulls. Or maybe you watched Serena Williams win 37 Grand Slam Tournament titles, establishing herself as one of the greatest female tennis players to ever pick up a racket.

When I was a kid, I had both feet immersed in the skating world — I watched skating videos from various events for hours upon hours on the weekends (and still do!). While many of my skating friends preferred American skaters such as Alissa Czisny, Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold, I found myself hooked on Japanese champion Mao Asada.

I don’t know if it was her balletic skating style, detailed costumes or amazing triple axel, but this skater won my heart from a very young age — and still has it. She brought more passion to the ice than any other ladies competitor I have ever seen, always performing with all of the fire and none of the fear.

Asada tantalized fans around the world for over a decade in the senior ranks. She mounted three world titles, four Grand Prix Final championships and an Olympic silver medal throughout her career, finally announcing her retirement from amateur skating in April 2017.

In honor of this legendary skater — my idol — and her 30th birthday that passed on Sept. 25, here are three of Asada’s most genius and well-skated programs from her senior career.

1. 2014 World Championships short program — Nocturne in E flat major

Asada had all the ingredients to turn her 2014 World Championships short program into a legendary cultural moment — and she delivered. What makes this skate so great is not only the content of Asada’s three-minute performance, but the circumstances surrounding its execution.

The 2014 World Championships took place only a month after Asada’s disappointing finish at the Sochi Olympics — where the medal favorite placed 16th in the short program and 3rd in the free skate to end up in 6th overall. In what seemed to be the last season of Asada’s career, she couldn’t bear to end with such a stain on her record.

Adding to that emotional pressure was the death of Asada’s mother, to whom she dedicated the program. In her ending pose, the audience can see Asada kissing her hand and pointing it toward the sky, as if she’s reaching toward her mother in heaven.

She adorned the flowing, classical program with her signature triple axel, gorgeous spins, top-notch step sequence and a perfect lavender dress. Asada earned 78.66 total points — a world record at the time — in front of her home crowd in Saitama, Japan after turning in a flawless skate.

2. 2010 Olympics Short Program — Waltz Masquerade

Asada’s rivalry with Korean superstar Yuna Kim marked her career in a big way, and the 2010 Olympics were no exception. Both skaters, who were 15 years old in 2006 and therefore too young to compete in the Torino Olympics, had been trading World titles for years and were prepared to duke it out on the biggest of stages in 2010.

This Waltz Masquerade program — originally used as her freeskate in 2009 — worked so well with Asada’s personality that she decided to keep it for the Olympics. When the big moment came, Asada performed the Waltz so sharply and cleanly that she made even the most difficult elements look effortless.

Though Kim edged out Asada in the short program and ultimately came away with the Olympic gold medal, this program convinced judges and fans alike that Asada wouldn’t go down without a fight. It also proved that in addition to her unparalleled triple axel, Asada had the best spiral sequence in the business! (If you don’t believe me, skip to the 2:00 minute mark on the above video.)

3. 2016 Finlandia Trophy — Ritual Fire Dance

The 2016-17 season served as the finale to Asada’s career, and her pair of “Ritual Fire Dance” routines were some of the most inspired I’d ever seen her skate. Designed by the genius Canadian choreographer Lori Nichol, these programs could make the audience believe Asada was a ball of fire bouncing on the ice.

The combination of her sharp arm and leg movements and the design of her dress created such an attraction that I felt like a moth to a flame, drawn in by the danger and passion of her skating.

Unlike many other skaters who reveal their programs at the beginning of the season while still going through a “trial” phase, Asada brought an unmatched verve and emotion to the Finlandia Trophy.

The fast-paced step sequence at the end of this fiery performance demands the audience’s full attention and admiration — and after all, isn’t admiration the least we can offer to this sweet, sophisticated, playful, passionate and altogether iconic figure?

“The Inside Edge” runs every other Monday.