Yes, I know that Japan has been waiting for her to succeed with an Olympic gold medal, Japan's pride over South Korea has been riding on this wispy 19-year-old who didn't have a clue growing up that she would be holding up a nation, and who maybe thinks she should have stuck to ballet. Standing on the podium, I wonder if she was thinking that she could have been a successful ballerina in Japan -- there's no Olympics in ballet and she would have enjoyed touring with the various companies all over the world and admired for doing a triple axel on the ground. Maybe she could have even auditioned for So You Think You Can Dance, been a great choreographer, who knows what was going through her mind while receiving her medal. Probably nothing because she looked numb, gave gold medalist Yu-Na Kim a half hug and looked miserable.
My lingering thought yesterday was that Mao didn't, or couldn't, allow herself to enjoy for a moment that she won the silver, that she tried her best, and this is still a huge accomplishment for her. At least that's what it looked and felt like on the podium. Maybe she was stunned or just needed to maintain her expression to remain composed. Maybe she cried in private. If I knew her e-mail address or fax, I would have sent her a note immediately which would read, "Dear Mao, You were terrific, I enjoyed watching everything you did, and three triple axels in an Olympics is historic."
So I was very happy to see her smile at these Olympics at the exhibition gala yesterday. NBC didn't show her skate (of course not) but photos from WSJ.com and Vancouver2010.com do show a smiling Mao looking pleased and perhaps happy that this ordeal is finally over! Maybe she was celebrating that this will be one of the last times she'll have to skate to coach Tatiana Tarasova's choreography! Tarasova has choreographed all three programs for Mao this season -- the short, long and exhibition -- and they have not worked for her.
Mao is an ethereal presence on the ice -- the music for all three programs seems heavy and Mao's costumes (long sleeves, gloves, chokers) seem heavy. If Yu-Na's skating to James Bond, Mao should be thinking, "I'm skating to the Pink Panther and showing everyone how it's done!" I'm sure she has a cheeky side to her personality and can wink to the audience with the best of them. That's the Mao that was missing from the Olympics. But what do I know? I've never had millions of people watching my every move and holding me up to be the next great thing. All I know is that a smiling Mao will be the last impression I have of her, regardless of her plans for Sochi in 2014.
Although NBC didn't show Mao's exhibition, here's a YouTube link to her Cup of Russia performance. It was to Capriccio Number 24 by Niccolò Paganini.