Mao Asada might retire, but her fans weren’t ready to leave.
Asada won her third World Championship on Saturday. Few adoring Japanese flag-waving spectators appeared to exit the packed Saitama Super Arena near Tokyo until after her in-house interview, a medal ceremony, a lap of honor for all three medalists and more photo opps before she departed the ice.
Asada totaled 216.69 points, outlasting Russian Yulia Lipnitskaya (207.50) and Italian Carolina Kostner (203.83) for gold. She added to her collection that includes 2008 and 2010 World Championships and the 2010 Olympic silver medal.
Americans Gracie Gold, Ashley Wagner and Polina Edmunds were fifth, seventh and eighth.
No Americans won medals in any discipline at the World Championships for the first time since 1994. But the U.S. earned three spots for women’s, men’s and ice dance at the 2015 World Championships, a feat it hadn’t accomplished since 2008, and put three women in the top eight for the first time since 2006, the last time a U.S. woman won an Olympic or World Championships medal.
Asada, 23, said after a disappointing sixth-place finish at the Sochi Olympics that she was reconsidering plans to retire after the World Championships. She looked at the top of her game in the short program Thursday, recording the highest score in history.
Asada didn’t mention her future in her arena interview before receiving her gold medal.
“After finishing the season I could truly say figure skating is wonderful,” Asada said in Japanese, generating heavy applause after a slightly flawed free skate that included an under-rotated triple Axel and a step out on a double Axel landing.
Asada’s place as one of the all-time greats is secure, despite what went wrong in Sochi or whether she skates competitively again.
She joined Michelle Kwan and Katarina Witt as the only women to win at least three World Championships in the last 45 years.
She’s been among her sport’s elite for nearly a decade and was considered talented enough to challenge for the gold medal at the 2006 Olympics despite not being old enough to compete. She also spent much of her career squaring off against 2010 Olympic champion Yuna Kim, who retired after winning silver in Sochi and is considered by some the greatest ever.
On the ice, Asada was best known for being one of few women to consistently attempt and land the triple Axel, drawing praise from critics and peers alike.
The Russian Lipnitskaya, 15 and the sensation of the Olympic team event, jumped past Kostner for silver.
Lipnitskaya was fifth at the Olympics, overshadowed by countrywoman Adelina Sotnikova, who in Sochi became the first woman to win Olympic gold without having won a medal at a previous World Championships. Sotnikova, ninth at last year’s World Championships, did not compete in Saitama.
The Italian Kostner, 27, held on for her sixth career World Championships medal, matching the color of her first in 2005 and of her only Olympic medal last month.
The women’s landscape is changing, as it usually does after an Olympics. Asada and Kostner may both retire, and Kim is definitely done. Lipnitskaya and Sotnikova are the leaders heading into the next Olympic cycle.
But the U.S. is not far behind and joins Russia and Japan with three women’s spots at next year’s World Championships.
Gold, 18, followed her fourth in Sochi with a fifth in Saitama, falling one spot from after the short program. The Frank Carroll student was disappointed with popping a jump and falling during her free skate Saturday.
“I don’t really know what happened,” Gold said. “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to put out my best performance.
“I need to train harder. I need to complete the whole package. One competition it’s lovely skating, one competition is lovely jumps. I have to work on putting the package together and getting better programs.”
Wagner, 22, maintained her seventh-place standing from the short program.
She posted the fourth highest free skate score, better than Gold, finishing a tumultuous season on a high. Wagner was put on the three-woman U.S. Olympic Team after finishing fourth at the U.S. Championships in January and then reverted her long program three weeks before the Olympics.
It finally felt right again Saturday.
“I feel like I was back as a competitor,” said Wagner, who was fourth at 2012 worlds, fifth at 2013 worlds and seventh in Sochi. “The past season has been very tough for me. Full of ups and downs and highs and lows. Everything that could have gone wrong this season went wrong.”
Edmunds, at just 15, may have the greatest potential.
She scored 4.7 points higher in her free skate than at the Olympics, finishing eighth, one spot higher than she was in Sochi. Lipnitskaya was the only woman in the top 10 at the Olympics or World Championships who was younger than the San Jose native.
The Olympics and World Championships were Edmunds’ first two senior international competitions. The goal for the U.S. women next year? Win the first U.S. women’s medal at the World Championships since 2006. Worlds are in Shanghai in March 2015.
“One of my best performances ever,” Edmunds said of her worlds debut. “I feel really comfortable here.”
1. Mao Asada (JPN) 216.69
2. Yulia Lipnitskaya (RUS) 207.50
3. Carolina Kostner (ITA) 203.83
4. Anna Pogorilaya (RUS) 197.50
5. Gracie Gold (USA) 194.58
6. Akiko Suzuki (JPN) 193.72
7. Ashley Wagner (USA) 193.16
8. Polina Edmunds (USA) 187.50