The marquee event of Olympic figure skating got underway on Wednesday in Sochi, as 30 women took to the ice for the short program. While it's not expected to see 2010 gold medalist Yuna Kim atop the leaderboard, there were some notable disappointments as well.
Chief among them was Japanese star Mao Asada, who entered as a legit medal contender but stumbled her way to a 16th place standing after the short program, per Joe Lago of Yahoo! Sports.
While the American group of women face an uphill battle to earn medals, the trio of Gracie Gold (fourth, 68.63), Ashley Wagner (sixth, 65.21) and Polina Edmunds (seventh, 61.04) are all still in the top 10. Wagner once again made some waves with her reaction to her score, as she was controversially outdone by 15-year-old Russian Julia Lipnitskaia by 0.02 points.
Christine Brennan of USA Today offered a reason behind Wagner's displeasure.
While the top three finishers have separated themselves from the pack, there's still plenty to be decided on Thursday. Here's a look at the entire leaderboard after Wednesday's short routines, the schedule for the free program and quick takes on the leaders so far. For complete event information, visit Sochi2014.com.
|Leaderboard Women's Figure Skating|
|9||FRA||Mae Berenice Meite||58.63||14|
|23||KOR||So Youn Park||49.14||1|
|24||NOR||Anne Line Gjersem||48.56||5|
Women's Figure Skating Free Program
Date: Thursday, Feb. 20
Time: 10 a.m. ET
TV: NBC Sports Network
Live Stream: NBC Live Extra
Additional TV: NBC Prime time (8 p.m. / 7 p.m. CT)
1. Yuna Kim, Korea
Queen Yuna will have to be sharp on Thursday if she wants to defend her crown from the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.
She's in the driver's seat for now with a score of 74.92, but there's only 0.80 points between her and third place. But on Wednesday, she nailed her high-skill routine without any slip-ups and showed why she's still the gold standard when it comes to women's figure skating.
Nancy Armour of USA Today passed along comments from Kim after she finished Day 1 of the competition in first place:
"I was really nervous when I was in the warm-up," Kim, 23, said through an interpreter. "I just said, `Let's believe in myself,' and that's how I tried to relax. I'm satisfied that I did everything well without a mistake."
As Armour also noted, only Sonja Henie and Katarina Witt have ever repeated as Olympic gold medalists, so Kim is on the verge of joining some elite company. Since she has the 24th and final starting spot in Thursday's order, Kim will know the magic number she needs to win before she even steps on the ice.
That will be a lot of pressure for Kim, but if she masters her long routine, it could serve as the ultimate curtain call to her Olympic career.
2. Adelina Sotnikova, Russia
While everyone was fixated on Lipnitskaia, the 15-year-old starlet of the Winter Games so far, fellow Russian Adelina Sotnikova stole the stage on Wednesday with a flawless routine.
Tony Manfred of Business Insider described the budding rivalry between these two emerging Russian ladies:
Sotnikova actually beat Lipnitskaia at the Russian nationals last year. But with the fanfare around Julia, she was considered the "other Russian" going into the individual event.
Her score of 74.64 was just just 0.32 points behind world record holder Yuna Kim, putting them in a virtual tie going into the long program. Despite a slightly less difficult program than Kim's, Sotnikova outscored the South Korean in the technical score area and stayed within 0.3 points in the subjective component score area.
She could ease the pain from a series of Russian disappointments at this Olympics with a good free skate Thursday night.
Like Kim, Sotnikova will face immense pressure as she starts late in Thursday's competition (21st) in front of her home crowd.
But Sotnikova rose to the occasion on Wednesday and made her home fans proud, as captured by Scott Russell of CBC.
With a career-best score of 74.64, nearly four points better than her previous high, Sotnikova is right behind Kim in the chase for the 2014 gold. A good free program on Thursday would put a lot of pressure on Kim to be perfect in her routine to cap off the evening.
3. Carolina Kostner, Italy
Checking in right behind the two leaders and less than a point off the pace of first place is Italian Carolina Kostner.
The 27-year-old has been a major force in international competition during the 2013-14 season, as she is currently ranked the world's top skater, via ISUResults.com. On Thursday, she was also mistake-free, as she was able to put some breathing room between her and Gold, who sits 5.49 points behind in fourth place.
As Peter Schrager of Fox Sports noted, Kostner is an Olympic veteran but is still seeking her first trip to the podium on women's figure skating's brightest stage.
Given her success this season and precision on Wednesday, it looks like the third time could be the charm for Kostner.