The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia will feature a much-anticipated figure skating competition, with several athletes realistically competing for the gold medal.
Several skaters have impressed as we head into the event, but anything can happen during competition. In the Olympics, the unsung heroes of sports often step up and capture glory. Whether that will happen is impossible to predict, but it's fair to say we should prepare ourselves for upsets and surprising performances.
Figure skating is divided into men's and women's competition. Here are your top competitors for the gold medal in the 2014 Winter Olympics from each side.
The women's side is a very competitive field, though there are two athletes in particular who stick out as favorites for the coveted gold medal.
Yuna Kim, South Korea
Yuna Kim was the gold medalist at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, Canada. She didn't just win gold, however. She absolutely destroyed the rest of her competition en route to breaking the world record for highest score.
Her score of 150.06 broke the previous record (set by her) by 16.11 points. That type of performance was unprecedented, and it's likely one we'll never see again. Or is it?
There's a reason Kim is considered one of the favorites yet again this year. She is fresh off a world championship in 2013 and is poised to make a run for the top in Sochi. Even though she stepped off the ice for 20 months following her Vancouver showing, Kim is in top shape.
Kim told Philip Hersh of the Chicago Tribune that she no longer feels the pressures of competing: "The way I think about skating and how I feel and worry about competitions certainly changed. I don't feel the pressure that much anymore after winning the Olympic Games because I have accomplished all I wanted to.”
With no pressure put on herself, Kim may very well take gold again.
Mao Asada, Japan
Mao Asada finished second in Vancouver to Yuna Kim's incredible performance, and she'll be looking to flip the scores in Sochi.
Asada is currently all business regarding the games. She told the Bangkok Post exactly what her plans are for the early stages of Sochi: "My physical fitness and skating have been very good since the start of the year. I will adjust my condition after arriving in Sochi and go out competing with a positive attitude."
The Olympic careers of Asada and Kim are strikingly similar, even if their respective collections of medals are a bit different. Both skaters are 23 years old and have vowed to retire from the Olympics after this year's events.
Kim has already accomplished it all—that's what she told the Chicago Tribune, after all. Asada is still looking to grab that Olympic gold. Look for Asada to use that extra motivation to make a run at the top of the leaderboard.
The men's field is slightly less congested, but that doesn't mean the top competitors aren't extraordinarily talented. Look for the following two skaters to compete for the gold.
Patrick Chan, Canada
Patrick Chan has never medalled in Olympic competition, but his fifth-place finish in Vancouver in 2010 should be enough fuel to motivate him for more in Sochi.
Chan is also on a hot streak of sorts. He has taken home three straight world titles and even broke three world records at the 2013 ISU Grand Prix in Paris, France. That type of hot streak would appear to make him the favorite for gold at Sochi.
The Canadian has struggled landing his triple axel at times—though Steve Buffery of the Toronto Sun claims he executed one perfectly in practice on Feb. 5—and he'll need to land one in competition to impress the judges. Historically, he has struggled with it, but it should be enough to put him over the top if the rest of his routine is sound.
Buffery also points out the pressures on Chan this Olympics:
The three-time defending world champion is hoping to become the first Canadian male to win the Olympic gold in men’s singles. A win would be possibly be the biggest story for Canada at these Games (barring another victory in men’s hockey). A loss and the curse of Canadian men in Olympic figure skating continues.
It will be interesting to see if Chan can handle the pressures during competition.
Denis Ten, Kazakhstan
Denis Ten was the second-place finisher at the 2013 World Championships behind Patrick Chan. Even though he is a relatively unknown contender, that type of finish suggests he should be Chan's main competition in Sochi.
Brian Cazeneuve of SI.com echoes that sentiment: "Kazakhstan's Denis Ten, who won the free program at Worlds, is now considered a threat to take gold in Sochi, especially if Canada's Patrick Chan, the world champ and Olympic favorite, falters again like he did at the end of his long program."
Chan's recent hot streak may be too much for Ten to handle. Chan has been the most decorated international men's skater since the 2010 Olympic Games, while Ten has only a handful of minor gold medals to his name.
Ten can certainly step up and take this gold away from Chan, but he'll need to pull out all the stops and pray that Chan falters somewhere along the way.