Women's Figure Skating Olympics 2014: Dark-Horse Medal Contenders in Sochi

Alex Espinoza@AlexEspinozaIVCorrespondent IIIFebruary 17, 2014

Polina Edmunds during a skating spectacular following the U.S. Figure Skating Championships Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014 in Boston. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Steven Senne/Associated Press

Figure skating is always one of the premier sports to take center stage at the Winter Olympics, and perhaps no event is more anticipated than the women's individual competition.

As we enter Wednesday's competition at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, we have a good idea of the who's who in this year's field of talented skaters. According to oddschecker.com, Korea's Yuna Kim, Russia's Julia Lipnitskaia and Japan's Mao Asada are the overwhelming favorites to fill out the podium by Thursday's completion of the two-day event. But that doesn't mean another dark-horse candidate can't have a breakout performance and claim a medal.

Both the short program and the free skating portion of this competition will be broadcast live online and on NBC Sports Network in the United States and featured on NBC's prime-time coverage Wednesday and Thursday night at 8 p.m. (7 p.m. CT).

Here's a look at the schedule for the women's individual competition, plus analysis of three women who could sneak their way onto the podium with big performances. For the complete short program skating order and more information, visit 2014Sochi.com.

Women's Figure Skating Schedule
EventDateTime (ET)TV
Short ProgramWednesday, Feb. 1910 a.m.NBC SN
Free SkatingThursday, Feb. 2010 a.m.NBC SN
Associated Press


Polina Edmunds, United States

High-profile figure skaters Gracie Gold and Ashley Wagner have gained a lot of attention stateside as they go for medals in Sochi. Meanwhile, 15-year-old Polina Edmunds has quietly enjoyed success as she enters her first Olympic competition.

Gary Mihoces of USA Today recently detailed the thought process behind Edmunds' decision to stay in Austria to train instead of take part in the opening ceremonies in Sochi: "When the U.S. team came out to march, I walked in front of the TV and I pretended to march as well."

While the rare opportunity to make a lap with the record-setting American contingent was exciting, Edmunds and her coaches decided to focus solely on getting tuned up for the biggest competition of her life.

At this rate, she might be back representing the U.S. at the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea. By then, she'll also be out of high school, where her teachers haven't been giving her any special treatment. In fact, she has three weeks' worth of homework to finish by the time she gets back to class.

For now, she told Mihoces she's enjoying her low-profile role on the U.S. women's figure skating team, despite earning a second-place finish behind Gold at the U.S. nationals in January.

"It just gives me more energy to myself and not all the excitement that's surrounding them right now. … So I can't wait to go and prove myself on that big stage."


Kanako Murakami, Japan

Ivan Sekretarev/Associated Press

The 19-year-old is widely viewed as Japan's heir apparent to Mao Asada in figure skating as she's beginning to round into form as a world-class skater.

Jack Gallagher of The Japan Times detailed Murakami's recent string of success leading up to the Olympics, as she claimed first place at the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships and second at the Japan nationals in January.

Murakami, the 2010 world junior champion, was athletic and graceful in victory at the Four Continents, clearly capturing the imagination of both the judges and audience.

She hit seven triple jumps in her free skate and received level fours on her spins and step sequence.

Only Mao and Russia’s Julia Lipnitskaia have notched higher scores in the free skate this season than Murakami’s 132.18. Her total of 196.91 was more than 10 points better than compatriot Satoko Miyahara, who finished second.

It turns out that a 15-year-old Murakami was strongly influenced by Asada's silver medal at the 2010 Vancouver games, per comments she made to Ice Time (h/t Gallagher).

Before I watched this year’s Olympics, I had no intention to compete in the Olympics, because my dream is to be a figure skating coach in the future.

But by watching her (Mao’s) performance in Vancouver, I was so impressed and moved. Then I felt that I wanted to compete on such a big stage in the future and impress many people.

Now Murakami has a chance to see how she stacks up against Asada and the rest of the world's best on the Olympic stage. Given her current momentum and upward trajectory, Murakami is certainly one to keep an eye on.


Adelina Sotnikova, Russia

Darko Bandic/Associated Press

Lipnitskaia has stolen the spotlight as Russia's most promising youngster in women's figure skating, but 17-year-old Adelina Sotnikova is also very talented and shouldn't be discounted to claim a podium spot.

Looking at her recent results, it seems that Sotnikova has hit another gear as she ramps up for the Olympics. Sotnikova finished second at the 2014 and 2013 European Figure Skating Championships, while she has also been the runner-up at two different Grand Prix events this season.

In January, she set a personal record with a total score of 202.36, which included personal bests in the short program (70.73) and the free skating (131.63).


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