The figure skating events at the Winter Olympics are the highlight of the Games for many viewers. The 2014 Sochi Olympics features a few stars who are heavily favored to win gold in their respective disciplines, and they'll be difficult to knock off when the competitions begin.
There's a new twist to the format this time around. For the first time ever, a team contest will take place (it began on Feb. 6, the day before the opening ceremony). Brian Cazeneuve of SI.com breaks down the event and provides a bit of perspective about what it could mean:
Ten teams will choose an entry from each of the four disciplines (men, women, pairs and dance) with the top five advancing to a set of long programs in the final. The new event will give another chance for some of the sport's traditional powers (the U.S., Canada, Russia and Japan, among others) to battle for another medal.
It's not surprising that another big event was added, considering the immense global popularity of figure skating.
Upsets occur every four years as the world's best come together for these Winter Games. Pressure sometimes forges an unbreakable will to win, while other times it can cause elite athletes to wither and wilt when it's time to perform.
It's unlikely this year's events will be any different. While there are heavy favorites to win in every discipline, fans should expect to see at least one surprising winner emerge from the fray.
That said, favorites are favorites for a reason. Here's a look at the top gold-medal figure skating favorites for the 2014 Winter Olympics, ranked according to their overall level of dominance leading up to the Games.
1. Kim Yuna, South Korea
Kim Yuna is the top women's figure skater in the world, and she'll be defending her gold medal at this year's Games in Sochi.
She completely blew away the field back in 2010 at Vancouver, winning the overall competition by more than 23 points over Japan's Mao Asada while breaking a world record in the process. As noted by Juliet Macur of the New York Times, Kim's final score of 150.06 in the free skate broke her previous world record by 16.11 points.
She was simply stunning in Vancouver, and there's nothing to suggest she won't be just as dominant at Sochi in 2014 after her resounding win (more than 20 points better than Carolina Kostner) at the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships.
At this point, it seems the only thing that will derail Kim's quest for a repeat gold is her own health, which betrayed her late in the 2013 season. However, she's been looking strong heading into the Games and still has the passion to compete.
“I love figure skating. It’s what I’m good at. That’s why I decided to come back," she said about returning to competition, as noted by Olympic.org. “The Olympics is the biggest competition for all athletes and an unforgettable event. I wanted to experience all that again.”
2. Patrick Chan, Canada
There are many top skaters on the men's side who could come away with the gold in 2014, but the overwhelming favorite is Canada's Patrick Chan, who has won the gold at the World Figure Skating Championships three years in a row.
Chan competed in the 2010 Winter Games in his home country at the age of 19 and came away with a disappointing fifth-place finish at Vancouver. Since that time, the Canadian star has become the world's premier male figure skater, and he's primed to avenge his poor showing from four years ago.
Rob Brodie of O.Canada.com breaks down why he has a shot:
Chan, who’s nearly four years older now and has three world crowns on his resume, is a different, more mature athlete and person heading to Sochi. He will be the gold-medal favourite and he embraces that possibility fully. It is his ultimate goal and dream.
Chan recently smashed three world records during a brilliant run at the 2013 ISU Grand Prix in Paris, France. Afterward, he looked ahead to Sochi, noting the record-breaking performances were nothing but a step toward that goal, as relayed by Vlad (fskating.com).
Another performance like the one he put on display in Paris will certainly earn Chan the gold at the 2014 Winter Games.
3. Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, Canada, and Meryl Davis and Charlie White, USA
The battle between the Canadian duo of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir against USA's Meryl Davis and Charlie White in the ice dance competition has been red-hot for the better part of five years, and it doesn't appear to be letting up anytime soon.
The dynamic Canadian duo claimed gold in 2010, scoring over six points more than the Americans, who claimed silver. The rivals have split the past four World Figure Skating Championships—going No. 1 and No. 2 in all four—with the Americans having won most recently in 2013 by more than 4.5 points.
Barry Wilner of the Associated Press, via the StarTribune.com, called Davis and White America's best chance to win a gold at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, noting the duo's long experience and recent success.
But Canada's darling duo isn't going to make it easy, and they'll be fighting for an Olympic legacy. Virtue and Moir won't likely be back to compete in 2018, according to Lori Ewing of Canada.com, who relays Virtue's thoughts on the pressure involved in this likely final appearance:
I feel a lot more pressure this time because it’s almost as if anything other than a gold medal is a disappointment. I think that’s what people are expecting of us and I think that’s what we’re expecting of ourselves, and so that’s daunting, it’s a little bit scary and frightening and sometimes I stop and think ‘Why do we put ourselves through this?’
Well to make all of us smile, of course.
This long-term rivalry between these four athletes will come to a head during the weeks of competition at Sochi. Emotions will certainly run hot, and it'll come down to which duo can focus the best during crunch time.
Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78