Tokyo (AFP) - Japan's media on Thursday urged struggling figure skater Mao Asada to steel her nerves in a bid to overturn a disastrous first evening on the ice in Sochi.
Asada's routine was doomed from the off, with the 23-year-old falling on her trademark triple Axel jump on Wednesday and ending the night in a lowly 16th position.
The Vancouver Olympic silver medallist is the only woman to attempt the difficult 3.5 revolution jump in competition, but it is also her Achilles' heel.
It backfired on her in the team event short programme in Sochi when she fell. Despite persevering she once again fell on the jump at the start of her routine to Chopin's "Nocturne in E flat major".
It threw the two-time world champion and she also doubled a planned triple loop and had no combination jump during her 2min 40sec routine.
The Grand Prix winner looked on in shock as she scored just 55.51 points -- over 20 below her personal best -- to place 16th, with the top 24 advancing to Thursday's free skate final.
"The moment after the axel, I knew something wasn't right. I couldn't do what I visualised," said Asada.
"My timing was off. I couldn't move the way I wanted to out there," explained the 23-year-old, whose duel with arch-rival Kim Yu-Na headlined the Vancouver Games four years ago.
South Korea's Kim remained on course to defend her Olympic women's figure skating crown, but leads Russia's Adelina Sotnikova and Italy's Carolina Kostner by less than a point.
"I didn't skate anywhere near as well as I could," said Asada. "I don't know what to make of this now. All I can do is give it everything I have tomorrow.
- 'I couldn't control my emotions' -
"I couldn't do any of the things I've been working on in training. Once I started the programme, I couldn't control my emotions and my body. My only option is to skate the free to the best of my ability."
At home there was dismay over the wonky performance, but also encouragement for the much-loved figure to stay the course.
Shizuka Arakawa, gold medallist in the 2006 Torino Olympics, told broadcaster NTV the triple Axel has always been challenging and the miss had not been too unexpected.
"This was something she never had a problem doing," she said.
The Asashi Shimbun daily had a headline: "Trembling Mao" next to "Queen Yu-Na returns".
But leading newspapers cheered her on for the freestyle event later in Sochi.
"She has nothing to lose now," the Yomiuri Shimbun daily said in its Thursday evening edition.
The Mainichi Shimbun newspaper also said: "She still has a chance to show her real quality."
One-time rival Miki Ando, who retired last year, urged Asada to give it all she had.
"It is really great that you keep trying the triple Axel jump..." she said on Twitter.
"You still have tomorrow. I hope you can skate to shine with confidence and no regret."
Asada became the first woman to land the triple Axel three times at one event in Vancouver.
"There is some risk involved with the Axel but I want to do it. I don't consider the triple Axel to be a burden at all. It actually gives me something to shoot for and it defines me," she has said.