Mao Asada’s recent proclamation at the World Team Trophy that she “intends” to retire after next year’s Sochi Olympics took many by surprise, but I think the proclamation is far from set in stone.
These were the words of an athlete who was completely exhausted after another long season and has been competing nonstop for nearly a decade. It is understandable that after so many years in the sport, the two-time world champion would be contemplating getting out, but a closer examination of the issues shows that it may not be so easy.
First off, consider that Mao is practically a walking conglomerate. She has so many sponsors that one can hardly go a day without seeing her face on television, in the trains, newspapers or magazines. Whenever she skates, the TV ratings are exponentially higher than normal.
Since bursting on the international scene as a precocious 15-year-old with her victory in the 2005 Grand Prix Final, Mao has nearly single-handedly carried the entire skating industry in Japan. While the comparison may not be precise, the impact Tiger Woods has had on golf could be equated with what Mao has done for her sport in this country.
When taking all of the aforementioned into account, in addition to convincing herself that retiring is the right move, Mao will also have to persuade her sponsors, representatives, the media and fans.
This is where it gets complicated. By quitting skating, Mao would no doubt be impacted financially as her value to sponsors will drop significantly if she is not competing. She would certainly not lack for opportunities going forward, but one has to wonder if they would approach the level they are currently at.
influence will likely be exerted upon Mao by the Japan Skating Federation, as the business end of her retirement would no doubt hit it hard financially. If Mao bows out, there will be a huge void left behind.
But Mao will only be 23 when next season ends, which means she could considerably skate several more years, including all the way to the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, before hanging it up. With her physique and technique, Mao could easily compete for five more years.