Every four years, women's figure skating is one of the most hotly contested and well-publicized events of the Winter Olympics.
Oksana Baiul, Katarina Witt, Dorothy Hamill and Peggy Fleming are some of the skating legends who have taken home gold.
This year's field is absolutely loaded. The fact that the U.S. has one of the weaker teams speaks to the overall talent in the international pool. For more casual figure skating fans, the 2014 Olympics are a first chance to see some of the best the world has to offer.
Between the individual and team programs, it should be a thrilling few weeks.
Here's the live viewing schedule for the four women's figure skating events.
|Feb. 8||11:10 a.m. ET||Team Short Program||NBCSN|
|Feb. 9||11:05 a.m. ET||Team Free Skate||NBCSN|
|Feb. 19||10 a.m. ET||Short Program||NBCSN|
|Feb. 20||10 a.m. ET||Free Skate||NBCSN|
Note: All events are available to live stream at NBC Olympics Live Extra.
The five stars listed below will command the most attention.
Stars to Watch
Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold, USA
Two writers on ESPNW debated the question of whether the United States will produce a medal winner in women's figure skating.
Speaking for the "No" side, Jane McManus came to the conclusion that while both Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold are talented skaters, they won't overcome what is a deep international talent pool:
At the 2013 world championships, Wagner finished fifth and fellow American Gracie Gold was sixth. The two aren't yet household names, but are the strongest contenders the United States has had since the days of Michelle Kwan and Sarah Hughes.
But the Olympics are an international event, and as much as we love our favorites, there is a larger field to consider.
As for the Americans' medal odds? Gold and Wagner provide a strong combination for the team event, but individual medal hopes are far from a given.
Although there was some controversy regarding Wagner's inclusion on the American team, she did win back-to-back titles at the U.S. championships in 2012 and 2013. She's a talented skater who had a meltdown at the 2014 championships.
On the other side, Gold took home first place in Boston. She dazzled the fans with a nearly flawless free skate program. She's risen quickly through the ranks, finishing second in her first U.S. championships appearance in 2013 and then first in 2014.
Although these two have an uphill battle to get on the medal podium, they're the best the United States has to offer.
Kim Yu-na, South Korea
Kim Yu-na is the reigning Olympic champion after winning gold at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, so she's the favorite heading into Sochi.
However, winning gold can go both ways. While it gives Kim invaluable experience, she may find it hard to motivate herself like she did four years ago. If even the slightest bit of complacency creeps in, the 23-year-old could be overtaken.
Kim has admitted that she has already done it all.
"I've already achieved my goal of winning an Olympic gold medal so I don't have any burden or feel greedy about results," she said back in December, per The Sochi Network.
If Kim's on her game, though, nobody will stop her.
Mao Asada, Japan
Like Kim, Mao Asada will be bringing previous Olympic success with her to Sochi. She earned silver in Vancouver.
Asada is also heading into Russia off the back of a strong 2013 campaign. She won her second straight Grand Prix Final title in Fukuoka in December, and prior to that, she earned first at the 2013 Skate America competition and third place at the world championships.
Kim's shadow looms large, but if Asada pulls off great performances in the free skate and short programs, there's little question she could unseat her Asian counterpart.
Julia Lipnitskaia, Russia
It's always fun to watch a competitor do well on home soil. The crowd becomes electric, and you see exactly why it's such an honor for an athlete to represent his or her country at the international level.
Russia's best hope of medaling in women's figure skating is Julia Lipnitskaia. The 15-year-old is the reigning European champion after her victory in Budapest earlier in the year. She also finished second at the Grand Prix Final.
Speaking to Patrick Reevell of The New York Times, former Olympic champion Tara Lipinski said she thinks Lipnitskaia could emerge and shock everybody.
"I think Lipnitskaia could be the surprise of the Olympics," she said.
As Lipinski added, the entire Russian team is very strong, but the question is who will break out from the pack
"They all have the goods," she said. "It’s just who is also the competitor and has the mind-set for it."
Lipnitskaia is the hot hand, and this could be her chance to shine on a grand stage.
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