By Alissa de Carbonnel
SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - It is both her greatest strength and her Achilles heel but Mao Asada will be the only woman at the Sochi Games to attempt at triple Axel, one of the toughest jumps in figure skating.
At the last Olympics in Vancouver, the Japanese dynamo landed three of them to win the silver medal behind the woman who is also her main rival in Sochi, Kim Yuna of South Korea.
Since then she has struggled to land the jump. In the team competition she messed up the Axel and placed third behind Russian teen prodigy Julia Lipnitskaya and Italy's Carolina Kostner in the short program.
"After that (the 2010 Vancouver Games), I was struggling with the triple Axel for a long time," Asada told reporters on Monday, two days before the women's individual competition begins. "In the team event, unfortunately, I couldn't do it. I was overwhelmed by my feelings."
This time Asada, who is hoping to finish off her competitive career with a bang, is giving herself one shot in each of the short and long program to nail the elusive jump and reap the technical points.
"A triple jump is a risk, but I see it as a challenge," Asada said.
The 23-year-old, who followed her older sister Mai into skating at age five and is now a household name in Japan, says she draws her inspiration by her countrywoman Midori Ito, the first woman to land the triple Axel in competition in 1988.
"Midori Ito has been my idol since childhood," she said. "I wanted to do the same jumps, the triple Axel."
Although Asada prefers not to comment on her post-Olympic plans, her skate in Sochi is likely to be her last chance to perfect her trademark jump at the top level as she defends her Olympic title, with 15-year-old upstart Lipnitskaya among the challengers.
"The pressure really is on Kim Yuna and Mao Asada to go out there and accomplish their goals," 1992 Olympic champion Kristi Yamaguchi told Reuters. "Maybe it is their last chance here at the Olympics, whereas for Julia it is her first coming out party."
(Editing by Mitch Phillips)