Asa Ando put on quite the show – displaying speed and form down the Druscie slalom piste – followed by a demonstrative celebration, shortly after crossing the finish in her first run.
“I needed to go full, full, full, even if I will go out,” Ando told Ski Racing Media in the Cortina finish area.
The 24-year-old Japanese racer clocked 50.45 seconds, on the future 2026 Olympic slalom hill, nabbing seventh place, out of the 24th start position.
“I didn’t expect that – I was really surprised and I’m really, really happy,” Ando said about her run.
Ando pumped her fists and punched the air emphatically, an outpouring of emotion confirming her satisfaction with the result.
“I was so surprised, like ‘wow, what a day,’’ she said, with a big laugh, shortly after finishing a phone call with her mother in Japan.
Ando’s second run was solid, albeit not as spectacular as her previous. Thirteenth fastest down the 550-meter slope translated into a career best, tenth place result, placing her in the vicinity of names like Shiffrin, Vlhova and Austria’s newest star, Katarina Liensberger, who won Saturday’s world championship slalom by one second.
“Actually, I don’t remember everything – I was really nervous at the start, and also really nervous from top to bottom,” Ando said, about her second run, continuing an excited laugh.
“It’s my best result ever – it’s really amazing,” she said, about the breakthrough performance.
The ebullient Japanese racer, undoubtedly, foreshadowed her tremendous potential, delivering on the grand stage, Saturday in Cortina.
Atomic has labeled her Japan’s “young ski tornado.”
“We need to believe,” Ando says, referring not only to herself, but also other up-and-coming Japanese racers, while noting that she’ll return for tomorrow’s men’s slalom to cheer on her teammates.
Ando is enjoying her best World Cup season to date. She skied to career bests of 15th in slalom, in Semmering, Dec. 29; and 22nd in GS, in Courchevel, Dec. 12.
Ando’s achievements – many coming in Asia, are vast and varied. She has racked up numerous Japanese GS and slalom natioanl titles, displayed dominant performances across years of Far East Cups, won super-G and giant slalom gold medals at the 2017 Winter Universiade, and garnered valuable experience from appearances at four FIS Junior World Championships.
In November, Ando took top honors in slalom, at the Swiss National Championships in Diavolezza, albeit with top racers, like Wendy Holdener absent.
Surprisingly, the well-traveled racer, who resides in Japan’s powder mecca of Hokkaido, when she is not competing across Europe, comes from non-skiing parents. Ando says her mother is originally from Osaka, and her father from Hokkaido, however he prefers judo over skiing.
“My mother and brother always care about me with everything, supporting me every day all the time,” she said. “I wouldn’t be here without them.”
Ando represented Japan, at age 21, at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. She skied out 12.88 seconds into her first slalom run.
Despite the uncertainty swirling over the Beijing 2022 Games, Ando believes she can elevate her racing with the necessary work and determination.
“First, I need to get into the top 15, but of course it’s very difficult,” Ando says. “I need to get stronger and improve my technique. The Olympics can make you uncomfortable,” she adds.
However, Ando notes that Saturday’s performance on the world championship stage should boost her confidence moving forward.
Looking further into the future, what might it be like for Ando – considering that a 2030 Winter Olympic bid from Sapporo, with ski races planned for Niseko in her home region of Hokkaido, appears to be the frontrunner – to represent her native Japan at an Olympic Games in her own backyard?
The promising racer would be 33 then, seemingly a golden opportunity, should Sapporo convince the International Olympic Committee, as organizers did in 1972, that the region’s wonderful, light, abundant snow is ideal.
“It is so far, but being from Hokkaido, which is really nice, it would be amazing,” Ando said.
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