The ladies competition is the highlight for many skating fans at the Winter Olympics. The US Women, who historically dominated this event, have not medaled at an Olympics or World Championship since Sasha Cohen and Kimmie Meissner in 2006. As a result, the field is considerably more international this year than in past Olympics, although the US does have a few bronze medal contenders and is bringing considerable drama. In order to really understand the competiton, you’ll need to know who the top contenders are.
Yu-Na Kim: Yu-Na Kim, hailing from South Korea, is a figure skating legend. She is the 2010 Olympic champion, and a two-time World champion (2009, 2013). She is the biggest celebrity in South Korea and has been primarily responsible for figure skating’s boom in popularity in Asia. She’s known for her high-scoring triple lutz-triple toe combination as well as her strong skating skills and ability to connect with the audience. She’s back to cement her status as an all-time great and win another Olympic championship, becoming only the second woman since Sonja Henie to do so.
Mao Asada: Where Yu-Na goes, so does Mao. Mao Asada, representing Japan, is also a two-time world champion (2008, 2010) and the 2010 Olympic silver medalist. Her past few years have been a bit rocky, but she looked great on the Grand Prix circuit this year. Mao’s hopes ride on her triple axel. She one of the few female skaters to regularly compete the super-hard jump, and Mao’s performances often hinge on its success. Mao will attempt two in her free skate. If she lands them, look for her to challenge for gold. If she falls, where she might end up is anyone’s guess.
Julia Lipnitskaya: Julia is a fast-rising Russian teenager who at the beginning of the season looked like she would be a challenger for the bronze medal. As the season has gone on and Julia has turned in performance after performance full of solid jumps and emotion, she looks to be in a position to contend for gold. Julia’s jumps are as good as anyone’s in the field, and her program to Schindler’s List, dressed as the girl in the red coat, is an excellent showcase for her skills. If Mao and Yu-Na skate clean, Julia might have to settle for bronze, but if either of them make even small mistakes, she will be right behind them. Competing for a hometown crowd might inspire her too.
Carolina Kostner: Carolina might have just peaked too early. A world champion and recent world medalist, Carolina is Italy’s only top skater, but she has been struggling this year. Her jump content is nowhere near the other top ladies, and although her spins, footwork and artistry are all top qualities, without the jumps, she won’t be able to challenge for a gold. If others make mistakes, she could find her way on the podium, but don’t hold your breath.
Adelina Sotnikova: I’m only putting Adelina here because she beat Julia at Russian Nationals (while Julia beat her at the European Championships) and because this Olympics is in Russia, anything can happen with the top Russian ladies. Her jumps are big, but her skating is cold and sloppy.
Ashley Wagner: America’s best hope for a medal. Ashley is a beautiful skater with the potential to do extremely well. She recently added a triple-triple combination (flip-toe) to her long program in order to increase her medal chances. Ashley will return to her Samson and Delilah program in Sochi after struggling with her Romeo and Juliet one at US Nationals. She had a lot of luck with that program in 2013, winning a silver at the Grand Prix final and coming in fifth at the World championships. With a triple-triple and a clean skate, she will challenge for bronze, more than proving her selection to the team after a bumpy US Nationals. Ashley is also the only American skater to come out strongly in opposition of Russia’s antigay legislation.
Gracie Gold: Gracie Gold always struck me as a skater with enormous potential, and it seems like Frank Carroll was the perfect coach to realize it. Her jumps have always been great, but Frank has given her a sense of artistry that was on full display at Nationals last week. It doesn’t hurt that she’s got a picture-perfect name to boot. This isn’t Gracie’s golden Olympics, but she looks like a real challenger in 2018, and could sneak in for bronze this year if others falter.
Stories to watch:
Can Yu-Na Kim become the first woman since Katerina Witt to win back-to-back Olympic gold medals?
Can Mao Asada land two triple axels in her free program? Can she defeat longtime rival Yu-Na Kim?
Can Julia Lipnitskaya sneak ahead of Mao or Yu-Na for gold?
Can Ashley Wagner or Gracie Gold sneak in for bronze? Will Ashley quiet the naysayers over her selection to the Olympic team?
A word on Ashley’s selection: Nationals are not Olympic Trials. Mirai Nagasu has been a poor skater for the past four years, and former coaches have repeatedly complained about her work ethic. Her program this year was not of international caliber and she does not have a coach. Ashley Wagner has medaled at the last two Grand Prix finals, finished fourth and fifth at the worlds, and is a threat for the bronze medal. Mirai is a fan favorite for her expressive skating, but sending her would be rewarding years of poor skating and bad work, as well as sending a message that it’s okay to not be your best for four years as long as you stand up at Nationals. She’s nearing the end of her career and her best would still be outside of the top 10. Better to use the spot for a medal threat, or a newbie who could turn into a medal threat down the line, like Polina Edmunds. I have no patience for people who believe otherwise. Get yourself to your social justice tumblrs.