The women ice skaters of the 2014 Sochi Games will look to seize the moment and capture a spot on the podium with the short program Feb. 19 and the free skate Feb. 20.
In other words, they will try to do what the men couldn't.
Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu took the men's gold and set a world record for points in the short program, but he had two falls in the free skate.
He wasn't alone. All of the top competitors were struggling to land clean jumps.
With the experience and the talent on display on the women's side, I expect a far more impressive competition.
Some of the women contending for medals have already strutted their stuff during the team competition. Here are the relevant scores from that portion:
|Free Skate Team Competition Women's Scores|
|2||Gracie Gold||United States||129.38|
Julia Lipnitskaia certainly put the world on notice, and she definitely deserves a spot on this list. As you'll see below, however, my top two contenders were not among the leaders of that free skate.
No. 1: Yuna Kim
The defending gold medalist Yuna Kim is approaching these games with professionalism and experience.
The Associated Press' Barry Wilner (via ABCNews.go.com) passed along this quote from Kim:
I don't think these Olympics are special for me like Vancouver was. Those were my first Olympics and I wanted to win them very badly, and I did win them. Now I am experienced in the Olympics. I want to win them just the same, yes, but the experience is not the same.
I have learned from the first Olympics, of course. When I went to my first Olympic Games, I experienced all of the pressure and was able to win the gold medal. I try not to feel the pressure and I try not to be nervous when I am on the ice and when I compete.
Kim, who didn't just win gold in Vancouver but set a world record in doing so, is in a unique position to handle the pressure.
Not only does she have all of her winning experience from big events to draw from, but she is one of South Korea's biggest stars. In other words, this 23-year-old knows what it's like to be under the bright lights.
As NBC's Nick McCarvel points out, Kim certainly wasn't showing signs of pressure during practice:
Kim took time away from the ice after her gold medal, but that time away did nothing to slow her down.
She returned at last year's World Figure Skating Championships in London, Ontario and took the gold. Again, she left her competitors in the dust.
Only two women have ever defended their Olympic figure skating gold, but Kim certainly has what it takes to make that three.
No. 2: Mao Asada
Taking her customary backseat to Kim, and now Lipnitskaia, Mao Asada is flying under the radar. She shouldn't be. Asada hasn't had consistent success in the four years since Vancouver, but she's focused the peak of her training for the coming moment of the Olympics.
Asada was quoted on the official Olympics website as saying:
In Vancouver, I had the gold medal as my goal. 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.
Although Asada suffered a fall in the team competition, as the moment approaches, she looks to be dialed in. Check out this report from IceNetwork.com's Lynn Rutherford:
Notice the triple Axel. Asada is a masterful jumper. She will likely be the only top female competitor to attempt this difficult jump.
If she is jumping as she did in practice, her difficult jumps will make her very difficult to beat.
No. 3: Julia Lipnitskaia
Russia's 15-year-old phenom Lipnitskaia made the world take notice with a beautiful performance in the team competition.
Of course, the performance didn't come completely out of left field. She is the recently crowned European champion.
Lipnitskaia isn't capable of pulling off the most difficult jumps, but she is competent and has been landing everything clean.
Where she really stands out is in her spins. They are hypnotic and gorgeous.
All of this has put her in the spotlight for medal contention in the women's competition, and when she takes the ice, she will have the raucous support of her home fans.
She certainly has the routine and the talent to win gold.
I just cannot get past her lack of experience, and while the love, the adulation and the support of the Russian fans can help fuel her to new heights, it also increases the pressure.
Lipnitskaia has had plenty of time to reflect on her performance in the team competition and look ahead to the individual portion. She will have done all of this while in the center of a media blitz.
I'm not saying this talented youngster cannot overcome all of this and offer fans another flawless performance, but forced to choose, I'm taking the more accomplished skaters.
Mostly, however, I just hope these three come through in the clutch far better than their male counterparts.
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