Olympics: Tokyo 2020 chief under fire over Japan skate idol gaffe

Japan's Mao Asada reacts at the end of her program during the Figure Skating Women's free skating Program at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Feb 20, 2014. A backlash erupted on Friday, Feb 21, 2014, over sneering by the boss of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic
Japan's Mao Asada reacts at the end of her program during the Figure Skating Women's free skating Program at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Feb 20, 2014. A backlash erupted on Friday, Feb 21, 2014, over sneering by the boss of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic committee about Japanese figure-skating heroine Mao Asada after her performance flopped in Sochi. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (AFP) - A backlash erupted on Friday over sneering by the boss of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic committee about Japanese figure-skating heroine Mao Asada after her performance flopped in Sochi.

Media, fans and fellow athletes hit out after former prime minister Yoshiro Mori, who now heads the body charged with organising the 2020 summer Games, poured scorn on Asada following a disastrous routine in Russia.

"That girl, she always falls over whenever it's important," he sniped on Thursday amid widespread disappointment after Asada slipped on her trademark triple Axel jump to end the night in a lowly 16th position.

Mori, whose short stint as premier was characterised by regular bouts of foot-in-mouth disease, said the out-of-form skater should have withdrawn from the team competition.

"She slipped over just like that. We knew Japan couldn't win," the national team competition, he said. "She wouldn't have had to embarrass herself."

A below-par performance in Sochi several days earlier contributed to Japan's poor finish in the event.

Mori, 76, often seems to misjudge the public mood and is one of several Japanese politicians who come under fire for outspoken remarks.

His comments about one of Japan's most-loved sports stars provoked instant derision from as far afield as the US, where Major League Baseball export Yu Darvish tweeted: "He doesn't understand what sport is all about."

Twitter was flooded with encouragement with the hash tags #GoMao and #MaoFight.

"She went for her goal earnestly. She deserves victory and praise that is worth more than a medal as a result of her efforts, regardless of the competition," user @charomam tweeted.

On Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Facebook page, which has become a general discussion board for a huge range of issues that grip the public, there was condemnation.

"Former prime minister Mori threw dirt at Asada's performance. The man in the position of the Tokyo Games chairman should not criticise the country's own athletes," Haruo Kohinata wrote.

The Nikkan Sports daily also questioned whether Mori was suited to the job. "Are we really OK for the Tokyo Games with this man?" its headline read.

The paper pointed out that Mori had also criticised Japan's ice dance pairing, Cathy and Chris Reed, saying: "They live in the US. We let them be part of the Japanese team because they are not good enough" to represent the US.

The brother and sister were born in the US to a Japanese mother, and surrendered their American citizenship as young adults.

Mori's comments appeared to have little impact on Asada, whose Thursday night performance in the free skate, where she turned in a virtually flawless performance, left her in sixth place overall.

Her routine included a perfect landing of the tricky 3.5 rotation triple Axel. She is the only professional skater to regularly attempt this jump in competition.

The event was won by Russia's Adelina Sotnikova who pushed defending champion Kim Yu Na, the South Korean favourite, into the silver medal position.

Asada, 23, is set to retire from international tournaments at the end of this season.

Many in Japan feel they know the athlete, having watched her skate since she was a teenager, including her breathtaking win of the global Grand Prix final at the age of 15.

Ex-premier Mori has a track record of verbal gaffes that set him apart - no mean feat in a world where senior politicians frequently voice eyebrow-raising thoughts.

In Sochi he told a press conference he had never bothered to learn English fluently because it had been "the language of enemies" during World War II.

Shortly after his appointment to head of the Tokyo 2020 organising committee in January, he predicted he might not make it as far as the Games.

"I am going on 77 this year," he told a seminar. "I am destined to live five or six more years if I am lucky."

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