Japanese figure skater Mao Asada heads to Sochi with a focus on an Olympic gold medal. The talented Asada was a silver medallist at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics so she'll be seeking an improvement of one spot.
While it will be exciting to win a medal of any colour in Sochi, the 23-year-old Asada has yet to achieve the top of the podium on the sport's biggest stage, the Olympics. All signs point to this being her final Olympic Games competition, therefore there will be no reason to hold anything back with the idea that there will be another chance at gold.
The additional wrinkle to the storyline is that she will be matching up with her rival since childhood and reigning Olympic champion, South Korea's Yuna Kim. Kim's competitive career is also coming to a close so this could be one of the better battles in Olympic figure skating history with both women still near the peak of their skating prowess.
There is no questioning what the Olympic gold means to the Japanese star as she was quoted recently on the official Olympics website.
In Vancouver, I had the gold medal as my goal,” said Asada in 2013. “I'd worked for it since I was a child, and afterwards I really regretted my mistakes. In Sochi, I'd like to erase those memories by doing everything perfectly. That’s what I've been working for these last three years.
For Asada, this has been a quest since her earliest years and she'll be seeking redemption in Sochi.
Kim is not the only competitor standing in Asada's way. The 15-year-old phenom Julia Lipnitskaia is the recently crowned European champion. Lipnitskaia will have the entire Russian nation behind her and is poised to become one of the stars of the Sochi Games.
One of the keys for Asada's success will be the triple axel. She is the only top female competitor who has this difficult jump in her repertoire.
The issue is that the Axel has eluded her this season at major competitions and she may need to execute it perfectly to win gold in Sochi.
At the Vancouver Olympics, Asada had become the first woman to successfully land three triple axels in a competition. The Axel is especially difficult as it is actually three-and-one-half revolutions as skaters enter the jump forward and land in the backward position coming out of the jump.
The Japanese star has regained the form that made her Yuna Kim's main rival in 2010. Her growing confidence and the maturity she has now should mean that she won't take unnecessary risks in her short and long programs.
The jumps remain her strength, but her spins, and the improving overall artistry in her skating, just might be the elements needed to challenge Kim and Lipnitskaia for the top spot.
The Sochi Games will mark the end of an era with Kim and Asada almost sure to retire soon. There should be no shortage of drama at the Iceberg Skating Palace and this could go down as one of the better women's figure skating battles in Olympics history.
The singles competition will be a wonderful culmination for these gifted stars and Asada would love nothing better than to go out on top against her long-time rival.
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