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Mao Asada's Redemptive Olympic Free Skate Reduces Japanese Skating Star To Tears (PHOTOS)

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After star figure skater Mao Asada came in a shocking sixteenth place in the ladies short program at the Olympic Games in Sochi, no one knew what to expect of her Thursday free skate.

But Asada, a medal favorite heading into the Olympics and the silver medalist at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, delivered. Skating twelfth of the 24 competitors in the event -- well more than an hour before contenders include Korea's Yuna Kim and Italy's Carolina Kostner -- she laid down a breathtaking free skate to Rachmaninoff's "Piano Concerto No. 2," landing all of her jumps including the triple axel she fell on in her short program.

Asada scored a season's best in her free skate -- by more than seven points -- 142.71 on her free skate, bringing her total score to 198.22. That total score had only ever been topped by two other skaters competing in Sochi prior to the 2014 Games: Kim and Russian teen phenom Julia Lipnitskaia. It would only be topped by five competitors in Sochi as Asada surged into sixth place. Although her overall score didn't land her on the medal stand, Asada's sterling free skate score was only topped by two other skaters on Thursday: gold medalist Adelina Sotnikova and Kim, who earned silver.

Commenting on Asada's emotional performance on NBC Sports Network, Johnny Weir put it best: "This is why we love watching figure skating."

These triumphant photos of what is expected to be Asada's final Olympic performance tell it all. Bravo, Mao. Bravo.

(Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images)

(Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

(Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images)

mao crowd

(Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

asada wave

(AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

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Ladies Figure Skating Short Program
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