Winter Olympics Figure Skating 2014: Top Women Contenders Entering Free Skate

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Winter Olympics Figure Skating 2014: Top Women Contenders Entering Free Skate
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An extremely close short program leaves several top women's figure skaters in the medal hunt heading into Thursday's free skate.

Nobody stood out on Wednesday, as three competitors exited within a point of each other. Yuna Kim holds the narrowest of leads after the first of two events to decipher a winner, but Russia's Adelina Sotnikova and Italy's Carolina Kostner are both breathing down her neck.

There are also several big names trailing those three. Gracie Gold stayed in medal contention at 6.29 points behind Kim. Fellow U.S. skater Ashley Wagner was again not too pleased at her score, but she's not to be forgotten at sixth place.

The big favorite, Julia Lipnitskaia, could not live up to her dazzling displays that led Russia to gold in team play. She fell at the end of her program, cutting her score to 65.23, which places her in fifth. 

With the medal race wide open, here are some of the top figure skaters to watch during the final portion of the women's event.

Women's Short Program Results
Rank Name Country Score
1 Yuna Kim South Korea 74.92
2 Adelina Sotnikova Russia 74.64
3 Carolina Kostner Italy 74.12
4 Gracie Gold United States 68.63
5 Julia Lipnitskaia Russia 65.23
6 Ashley Wagner United States 65.21
7 Polina Edmunds United States 61.04
8 Akiko Suzuki Japan 60.97
9 Mae-Berenice Meite France 58.63
10 Nathalie Weinzierl Germany 57.63
11 Zijun Li China 57.55
12 Valentina Marchei Italy 57.02
13 Kaetlyn Osmond Canada 56.18
14 Kexin Zhang China 55.80
15 Kanako Murakami Japan 55.60

Yuna Kim, South Korea

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Kim has etched out an odd path to Sochi, but she is now looking to reclaim her figure skating throne that Lipnitskaia has threatened to seize.

After winning gold during the 2010 Vancouver Games, she looked poised to dominate the discipline for years to come. But after capturing the 2011 world championships, she decided to sit out a season.

She returned without a hitch, winning the 2013 world championships in London, but she battled a foot injury that cut into her training regimen last fall.

According to the Chicago Tribune's Philip Hersh, the 23-year-old admitted to experiencing some pre-event jitters:

I did a lot of clean shorts (short programs) in practice. And I was sure I could do a clean short in the competition. (But) in the warmup, I was very nervous. I couldn’t jump at all. I just tried to trust in me and believe in myself.

Now that Kim has dusted off any potential rust and reminded everyone of her presence, she has to be considered a top threat to successfully defend her crown.

Julia Lipnitskaia, Russia

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Let's not write off the 15-year-old sensation just yet.

After earning a high score in both the team free program and short program, Lipnitskaia was tabbed as figure skating's new superstar. The host nation could not wait to see what its prodigal daughter would do in her encore.

Unfortunately, she slipped while finishing her routine with a triple flip. Throw in the men's hockey team receiving an early elimination, and Russia, as Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Passan playfully points out, had a rough day.

Just remember that she set a record in her last free skate, scoring a 141.51 to earn Russia the gold. Ten points suddenly seems less insurmountable while looking at the 141.51 points she earned a week ago.

People fall. It happens. Especially kids. And especially people twirling around on ice. She's just lucky that the mishap did not cost her too dearly like it did to Mao Asada, who sits in 16th after her fallshe entered as a top medal contender.

If Lipnitskaia can avoid a fatal error, she can deliver another magical performance that catapults her past the four ladies blocking her path to gold.

Carolina Kostner, Italy

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Going into the short program, Kostner had to fear proceeding Lipnitskaia. Had she duplicated her routines from the team event, the crowd would have been too excited to care about Kostner's outing.

But the fall subdued a stunned arena, and the Italian skater capitalized by vaulting herself into the top three. After her successful performance, she confessed to Hersh that she was not excited about her draw.

“I was a little afraid going after Julia,” Kostner said. “I tried to think positive and light things. I am very relieved.”

Kostner finished second behind Lipnitskaia in the short program, but she received no medal for her efforts since Italy tallied the fourth-most total points. Now on her own, she's one more strong routine away from capturing her first Olympic medal.

The 27-year-old has constantly fallen short of top billing, but she is routinely among the top competitors in her field. She isn't the strongest contender to win gold, but she has a great shot of leaving Sochi with a medal around her neck.


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