We’re down to the final category of these Olympic Games in Sochi, the all important Ladies division. There are numerous questions that will be answered in the next three days, including how much of a layoff affected Yu-Na Kim? Did US Figure Skating make the right call selecting Ashley Wagner and Polina Edmunds? Will Carolina Kostner bounce back from a poor Grand Prix season and will the 15 year old Julia Lipnitskaia make history on her native soil? Those questions and more will be answered this week.
Analysis: Heading into Sochi, Korea’s Yu-Na Kim is clearly the odds on favorite to win her second Gold medal, and join two other ladies skaters Sonja Henie and Katarina Witt as two time Olympic champion. But there is some talk that the lack of Kim’s Grand Prix participation has turned off some of the judges. Kim participated in only two events all of 2013, the World Championships in London, Ontario, Canada and a non-Grand Prix event, the Golden Spin in Zagreb, Croatia. Both times she came out victorious.
There are other strong contenders vying to take Kim’s tiara. The biggest is her rival, Mao Asada of Japan. She has been dominant all season long in Grand Prix Competition, only losing in her national competition to her teammate, Akiko Suzuki in December.
Asada has beaten Kim once at the World Championships in 2010, but has struggled against the field in recent years. As for Suzuki, her big win at Nationals and a successful 2013/14 Grand Prix season has put her stock up for a possible run at the podium.
Italy’s Carolina Kostner has struggled this Grand Prix season, failing to qualify at the GP final, but she recovered nicely to finish 3rd at Europeans. The Americans have two main contenders skating for gold. Ashley Wagner won her spot by committee after the USFSA selected her instead of Mirai Nagasu in a highly controversial decision. Wagner struggled at Nationals, finishing 4th.
A change in programs should give her a chance to medal. The other is 16 year old Gracie Gold, who has taken the skating world by storm, winning her first senior national championship in January and getting some valuable international experience.
But the biggest contender Kim has to worry about is 15 year old Julia Lipnitskaia of Russia. Her performance in the World Team Competition gave the country its first Gold medal of the Olympics and put everyone on notice of her presence. She’s either finished 1st or 2nd in every competition this season, including a victory at Europeans.
Skaters to Watch: This is a deep field of skaters (30 in all) that will be sure to impress the judges. There are also veterans, many who will look to improve on their season’s best. They include Georgia’s Elene Gedevanishvili, Italy’s Valentina Marchei, Japan’s Kanako Murakami, Great Britain’s Jenna McCorkell, Sweden’s Viktoria Helgesson and Canada’s Kaetlyn Osmond. Also, look for impressive international debuts by young teenagers, American Polina Edmunds and Canadian Gabby Daleman.
Prediction: To quote the words of the “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, “To be the man,” or in this case, the woman, “you gotta beat the man!” Right now, I have no reason to believe that Korea’s Yu-Na Kim can’t repeat as Olympic Champion. Her jumps in practice are solid and she has hardly any flaws in her program. That leads me to believe, she may be subjected to some ridicule for skipping selected ISU events. Her placement in the short program warm-ups, may also work against her. In that case, look for some major surprises in this competition. This may be one of the closest competitions in recent memory. It’s going to be between Kim, Asada, Suzuki, Gold and Lipnitskaia. It’s gonna be close, exciting and devastating for those skaters who will miss out on the podium.
Gold – Julia Lipnitskaia (RUS)
Silver – Yu-Na Kim (KOR)
Bronze – Mao Asada (JPN)