The competition for gold in women's figure skating at the Sochi Games figures to be epic. There is just too much talent for it to be anything else.
Defending gold medalist Yuna Kim and Russian teenage phenom Julia Lipnitskaia are grabbing the majority of the spotlight heading into the event, and justifiably so.
Behind them are several skaters with strong medal hopes of their own, including Americans Gracie Gold and Ashley Wagner. Gold is the American champion, and Wagner is a two-time national champ.
I don't see either making the podium, but I do expect strong skates from both.
The following three women will put on performances in the short and free skate that won't allow Gold or Wagner to reach the podium.
Gold: Yuna Kim
There will be no dethroning of the current queen of the ice, South Korea's Yuna Kim.
Kim has the talent, experience and poise to become just the third woman to defend her Olympic figure skating gold.
In Vancouver in 2010, Kim set a world record thanks in large part to the following dazzling free skate:
She took time away from the ice after that spectacular performance and became not just a national hero but also arguably South Korea's biggest star.
Kim then returned to competition and blew away the field while claiming gold in last year's World Figure Skating Championships in London, Ontario.
Nothing seems to faze this fabulous skater, and she's reportedly looked good in practice. A quick scan of Twitter for reports on her practices revealed many tweets like the following from NBCOlympics.com's Nick McCarvel and not many, if any, of her slipping up:
I don't see Kim leaving Sochi with anything less than gold.
Silver: Mao Asada
With an underwhelming showing in the team competition and the rise of Lipnitskaia, Japan's Mao Asada is flying under the radar.
Let us not forget, though, that she took the silver behind Kim in 2010, and she has won numerous competitions in the four years since.
What makes her dangerous is that she has an arsenal of jumps that can't be touched. Obviously, she has to land them, which she couldn't do in her portion of the team competition, but she's been landing them in practice, as IceNetwork.com's Lynn Rutherford tweets:
Mao Asada had great run-thru of her FS: 3Axel, 3flip/3loop (slight 2ft), 2Sal, 3flip2toe2toe, 3loop + terrific step sequence #Sochi2014— Lynn Rutherford (@LynnRutherford) February 16, 2014
Asada has a history of performing well in big moments, and she has been focused on this event since the last 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."
She is going to put on a wonderful performance, but it still won't be enough for her to improve upon her finish from the last Olympics.
Bronze: Julia Lipnitskaia
This 15-year-old phenom grabbed the world by its eyeballs with a mesmerizing performance in the team competition.
She is the recently crowned European champion, but it was her masterful performance and hypnotic spinning in the team competition that announced her chances of taking gold in this event.
Who will take gold?
For the free skate portion of the team competition, Lipnitskaia's score was more than 12 points higher than the next closest skater.
Still, this is not her Olympics to take gold.
Lipnitskaia has been engulfed in hype since her performance in the team competition. She will have the support of the home crowd, but she also has the added pressure that comes with it.
I don't expect her to crumble in the face of that pressure, but it will be just enough to keep her from performing the flawless routines it would take to win this event.