The triple axel has been Mao Asada's trademark. It also has been her curse.
On Wednesday at the Sochi Olympics, the Japanese star fell on the 3½-revolution jump, and it ruined the rest of her short program. The result was a 16th-place finish, destroying any medals chance for the two-time world champion and silver medalist at the Vancouver Games.
The only woman to regularly use the triple axel, Asada opens her 2-minute, 50-second routine with it. Nail it and the scoreboard lights up. Miss it and, well, everything else had better be perfect to remain in contention.
Perfection was not in the cards for Asada this time. After she under-rotated the axel, then fell, she couldn't recover. Her next jump, the triple flip, was under-rotated, as well. Then she couldn't do a combination jump, a planned triple loop-double loop. All she managed was a double loop by itself.
Her marks reflected her weak performance: Asada received 55.51 points. In contrast, leader Yuna Kim — who beat Asada for gold four years ago — had 74.92.
Instead of being in the medals chase, the 23-year-old Asada was sandwiched between teammate Kanako Murakami and Elene Gedevanishvili. Hardly the territory Asada is used to.
When her program was done, Asada somberly skated off the ice. She sat, stunned, in the kiss-and-cry area, and the marks barely seemed to register.
Then she trudged off, knowing that a place on the podium in Sochi was gone.
Asada won the world championship title in 2008 and 2010, and was second in 2007. She won the Grand Prix final this season, and is a six-time Japanese champion.
But she was only third behind Akiko Suzuki and Murakami at this season's nationals, and now she is behind both of them at the Olympics.
Unlike in the men's competition, won by Yuzuru Hanyu, Japan won't be going home with any medals in the women's event.