Feb 19, 2014, 7:45 AM EST
SOCHI, Russia – Once again the Olympics comes down to the ladies’ figure skating event in the closing days, and once again the ladies won’t disappoint in a dramatic flurry of sequins, Salchows and on-ice storylines that are brought to life – this year, in particular – with plenty of drama.
Defending Olympic gold medalist and reigning world champion Yuna Kim is the favorite in many books, but also a largely unknown entity after having not competed in the Grand Prix season in the lead-up to Sochi, instead only skating at a small event in Croatia in December, and then the South Korean National Championships last month.
The runner-up to Kim four years ago, Mao Asada factors into the medal conversation should she bring her patented (and unmatched) triple Axel to the table, while a 15-year-old Russian named Yulia Lipnitskaya has already captured the imagination of the host country, winning the ladies’ portion of the inaugural figure skating team event.
And Americans Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold – fifth and sixth, respectively – at the World Championships a year ago, are outside hopes for the podium.
Below, a full rundown of the ladies’ event, set to begin Wednesday night at the Iceberg Skating Palace and concluding Thursday.
It’s highly unlikely that there will be a gold for Gold – or for Wagner – though the American women, along with 15-year-old Polina Edmunds, bring a strong presence for Team USA onto Olympic ice in Sochi.
Gold has improved significantly since placing sixth at the World Championships last March, joining forces with legendary coach Frank Carroll in September and then winning the U.S. Championships in January, registering the event’s highest-ever overall score.
“The women’s field is so packed this year with veterans and young Russians,” Gold, 18, told reporters leading up to the Olympics. “I definitely think that I have a chance at winning a medal. It’s about who’s going to focus and leave everything out on the ice.”
The same goes for 22-year-old Wagner, who has long been a top-five contender in the world ranks but was fourth at the U.S. Championships, a performance that brought about doubts of her ability to perform under Olympic pressure in Sochi. She was clean yet tentative in the team competition short program, where Gold was a bit stronger in the free skate for the U.S.
“I feel like technically Gracie has a really good shot at the podium,” said Tara Lipinski, the 1998 Olympic champion and a NBC Sports commentator. “When there’s pressure involved, it changes a lot of performances. Ashley is coming back as a little bit of an underdog. It might set her up nicely, actually.”
Edmunds was the surprise at Nationals, where she skated in her first senior event and vaulted herself to second place. The San Jose-based skater has the triple-triple combination like Gold and Wagner, and will be skating in her first-ever senior international in Sochi.
“The fact that this is her first senior international doesn’t really change anything,” said Edmunds’ coach, David Glynn. “Even though this is the Olympics, what she has to do on the ice is the same.”
Can Yuna Kim do the same as she did in 2010 and make figure skating history? She leads an internationally eclectic list of names that could top the podium, and if she wins a second straight Olympic gold she’ll be just the third woman in history to do so, and the first since Katarina Witt did so in 1984 and 1988.
“Yuna is just so secure with who she is on the ice because she’s been through everything in her career, and that makes her exude confidence,” Lipinski said. “It’s what sets her apart from all the others.”
Asada, the Japanese 23-year-old who was second to Kim four years ago, will look to swap places with the South Korean here. Asada won three gold medals on the international circuit this fall, utilizing her rare triple Axel (no other top woman even tries the jump) as her biggest weapon. Asada re-tuned her skating after the Vancouver Games, re-building her jumps from the ice up and suffering through two seasons of poor finishes as a result.
There have been no poor results for 15-year-old Lipnitskaya, who won two Grand Prix events this fall and the Russian National Championships in December. The lithe, ballet-like skating of the uber-flexible Lipnitskaya is what helped her win the ladies’ portion of the new team event, though no other medal contender skated both programs. (Yuna Kim didn’t participate at all.)
“Lipnitskaya is just so well organized and thoughtful out on the ice,” said Lipinski, who won her Olympic gold at 15 in Nagano. “If you look at the peak process for an athlete in a season, it’s working out perfectly for Yulia. Winning the team event portion sets her up really nicely for singles.”
Four years ago as the Sochi Olympics were being promoted across Russia, Adelina Sotnikova was the face of the Games for figure skating. Now 17, the teen is playing second fiddle to Lipnitskaya, but still brings a strong resume to the ice and – if she skates lights out – can be in the medal conversation.
The same goes for 27-year-old veteran Carolina Kostner. The Italian veteran has a flowing style that few others can match in their programs, though the 2012 world champion hasn’t been able to rise to the occasion at the Olympics, placing ninth in 2006 and then crashing to 16th in Vancouver.
Also keep an eye on: Akiko Suzuki and Kanako Murakami of Japan; Valentina Marchei of Italy and Canada’s Kaetlyn Osmond.
What to watch for
The aforementioned triple-triple is big for every lady on the ice, usually performed at the beginning of both the short program and free skate. It’s especially important for Wagner, who struggled on the combination at the U.S. Championships last month.
The crowd will play a major part in the competition, as it has roared for Russian skaters throughout the Games. Lipnitskaya and Sotnikova both skate in the final group Tuesday night, and will be looking for an extra boost inside the boisterous Iceberg Skating Palace.
How will Yuna Kim fair? That will be on everyone’s mind as the 2010 Olympic champion takes to the ice. She said it herself on Tuesday after practice: “I’m not as good as I was four years ago.” But will she be good enough to win gold?
Feb 26, 2015, 4:48 PM EST
U.S. Olympic legend said yes. Top U.S. gymnast says no.
Feb 26, 2015, 10:48 AM EST
Meanwhile, the Olympic champion is well back in Winterberg.
Feb 25, 2015, 3:34 PM EST
“Would I really slow down that much that I wouldn’t make the (Olympic) team? I don’t think so.”
Feb 25, 2015, 12:17 PM EST
The U.S. is undefeated in six editions of the Ryder Cup-style event.
Feb 25, 2015, 10:37 AM EST
The Opening and Closing ceremonies will be held at a venue separate from the Olympic Stadium for track and field.
Feb 24, 2015, 1:13 PM EST
Powell says he hasn’t competed since 2001.
Feb 24, 2015, 11:08 AM EST
The only NCAA Player of the Year winner since 1997 not to play for the U.S. at a Worlds or Olympics.
Feb 24, 2015, 10:35 AM EST
Olympians nearly double the previous U.S. tally for World Championships medals.
Feb 24, 2015, 10:30 AM EST
Inside the locker room with the players and more.
Feb 24, 2015, 9:32 AM EST
Liukin is the third U.S. Olympic champion gymnast to go on the show.
Feb 22, 2015, 8:51 AM EST
Shiffrin won her 13th World Cup race as a teen, bettered by only one woman in history.
Feb 22, 2015, 8:19 AM EST
Ross joins a long line of Olympic women’s gymnasts to choose UCLA.
Feb 22, 2015, 8:06 AM EST
Phelps is expected to return to competition following his suspension in April.
Feb 21, 2015, 11:45 PM EST
All living members joked and reminisced in the “Relive the Miracle” ceremony at Herb Brooks Arena.
Feb 21, 2015, 4:00 PM EST
Look for more on the Miracle on Ice reunion on NBC’s Hockey Day in American coverage on Sunday at noon ET.
Feb 21, 2015, 8:14 AM EST
Vonn “looked in pain and limped,” according to The Associated Press.
Feb 20, 2015, 12:39 PM EST
All living members of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team will gather for just the third time in 35 years on Saturday, and the first time in Lake Placid.
Feb 20, 2015, 12:37 PM EST
The event on Saturday night will be bittersweet, Mike Eruzione said.
Feb 20, 2015, 12:31 PM EST
Hendrickson was defending her 2013 title, following her August 2013 crash and Sochi Olympic comeback.
Feb 20, 2015, 11:10 AM EST
London Olympian is one of the top U.S. weightlifters.
- Is Simone Biles unbeatable? 0
- Rio Olympics could have multiple cauldrons 0
- Mike Powell eyes masters world record, possible Olympic trials run at age 51 0
- Behind the scenes of Miracle on Ice reunion 0
- Nastia Liukin adds to history of Olympians on ‘Dancing With the Stars’ 1
- Mikaela Shiffrin wins Maribor slalom, snags World Cup lead in teenage finale (video) 1
- Michael Phelps gets engaged (photos) 3
- Emotional Bode Miller medals in race that mattered most (61)
- Russian women kissing after relay victory at World Championships causes stir (60)
- IOC drops wrestling from 2020 Olympics (47)
- South Korea filing official complaint over Yuna Kim’s Olympic silver (39)
- Zola Budd, 47, dominates college runners in 5K (33)