After a very interesting Japanese National championship, the ladies field for the Vancouver Olympics has become a bit more clear. Japan will be sending three very strong competitors to the Olympics: a resurgent Mao, an experienced and potent Ando and a fearless Suzuki. Ladies from other nations should breath a sigh of relief that Japan is only allowed 3 skaters because Nakano is just as strong as Suzuki. Not to mention the up and coming Murakami with her triple-triple.
Mao had an excellent nationals... cleanest she have skated in a long time. Even her downgraded 3A in the short looked pretty good and might not have been downgraded if the technical specialist wasn't as strict. Granted that her total score of 204.62 might be somewhat inflated but probably not more than 5 points. And that was with a downgraded 2T and 2 downgraded 2Lo's in the FS in addition to the downgraded 3A in the SP. This shows the points potential of her programs even without the third 3A. Most of all, she looks confident of herself and her "game" seem to be back on. This is why I have seen saying all along that she should never have been counted out. She's going to be formidable at the Olympics. I think all her hard work on the 3A is finally paying off and she seems to be peaking at the right time.
Going to 4CC might help her peak for the Olympics. Since it's in Korea, just a hop skip and a jump from Japan, it won't throw her off her training too much and no jet lag. Japanese ladies might even sweep the podium there since most of the Olympics bound skaters won't be there, giving them additional confidence.
Suzuki had another great competition at the nationals. She banged out another 7 triple FS and in spite of the one fall, she did very well. The only thing that may hold her back at the Olympics is the PCS score... her PCS score from international judges have never been as high as the ones she got at this nationals. In my opinion, her PCS score has always been a bit underscored at international competitions. Perhaps that's about to change. I think one thing that will help her at the Olympics is that she will not feel any pressure due to no expectations and will skate another spirited and fearless performance at the Olympics. I thinks she has a decent chance for a medal.
Ando did not have the best competition at this year's nationals. However, she didn't need to since she already qualified through the GPF placement. I thought perhaps she would try to put in a couple of the more risky elements (3L/3Lo or 4S) but I guess she didn't want to look bad in front of the home audience. However, I think she will regroup and come back strong for the Olympics. She's already shown that she can hang with Yuna at the GPF. She's always potent and will be ready pounce on mistakes of any of her rivals.
That brings us to Yuna. Yuna had an unprecedented run of five almost flawless programs stretching from the 2009 Worlds SP to the 2009 Skate America SP. All of them either record breakers (Worlds SP, Worlds combined, TEB FS, TEB combined, SA SP) or near record breakers (Worlds FS and TEB SP). Has there ever been a run like this in the history of ladies singles competition? The problem is that she may have peaked too soon. Her performances at SA and GPF were less than spectacular. Not only that but her most potent weapon, the triple-triple, seem to be deserting her in competitions. She had three programs (SA FS to GPF FS) in a row when her triple-triple (3L/3T) was not successfully completed. That's a lot of points lost.
Even if the downgrading of her her triple-triple during the GPF SP was questionable, it shows that she is indeed vulnerable to downgrading of her second triple in the triple triple combination. Not only that but her 3F has also been quite inconsistent this season, only 3/6 (50%) this season... which is not good for a jump that she relies heavily for points (especially GOEs). Even her 3T seem to be giving her some problems lately, either as the back end of a triple-triple or a 2A-3T. And her triple Salchow has never been a big point getter. Only her 2A and the non-combination 3 Lutz seem to be consistent this season. Thankfully her non-jump elements have been solid this year.
During that interview after the GPF FS programs, she acknowledge that while she was happy to have won the competition, she wasn't satisfied with her performance. In addtion, she said she was really nervous during the competitiion. This led Scott Hamilton to remark that "If she's feeling the nerves here, how's she going to feel in Vancouver when she sees those Olympics rings on the boards?" While I don't always like Scott's overly effusive commentary, he can be quite incisive in his analysis and he does have Olympics experience. Perhaps all the attention and pressure is really getting to her. If she skates like she did in Skate America or Grand Prix Final in the Olympics, she might even be off the podium. She really needs to make sure that her triple-triple's are unquestionably solid at the Olympics or she might be in a lot of trouble. Perhaps her seclusion from the press for the next couple of months will help her refocus before the Olympics.
Then we have Rochette, the hometown girl. While we haven't seen her at the Canadian nationals yet, she had a quite uneven season. First the disastrous SP at Cup of China and barely scratching out a bronze there. Then a triumphal return to form at Skate Canada's short program only to have a stumble-strewn FS that was help up by generous home cooking PCS. Then the awful outing at the GPF. Where did the skater who looked so strong at 2009 Worlds go? I'm afraid that the pressure of the Olympics in her home country must be getting to her. Hopefully she'll recompose herself at the Canadian nationals and make her country proud at the Olympics. She still has the potential to medal at the Olympics. Maybe she can really use the home crowd energy to fuel her performance.
And the Americans... I really don't think they have much of a chance at the Olympics in Vancouver. The most consistent American skater is Rachel Flatt even if she didn't make the GPF. She is a stronger skater than Wagner or Czisny overall. And there's Cohen who haven't showed up at either of her assigned Grand Prix competitions. Who know what we can expect from her at the nationals but I'm not counting on her to make the Olympic team. If she does come to the nationals, she should be able to place top 2 if she can land some triples. We'll see if she can surprise all us. As for Flatt, she is a nice skater who can perform a solid 7 triples FS. That should be worth something at the Olympics. Her PCS is lower than the top Japanese skaters (except for perhaps Suzuki), Kim, Rochette and perhaps the Finnish ladies plus Kostner (if she makes it to the Olympics) and that will make it hard for her to medal unless some of the top skaters have multiple problems (which is definitely possible). If she can skate without worries and inject her energy and spunk, she might have an outside chance at a bronze medal. I don't see her a silver or gold medal threat. Of course this is assuming that she makes it to Vancouver.
As for the other Americans, probably the only ones who might have a realistic shot at making the Olympic team are Wagner and Czisny. Wagner put herself in contention by placing fourth at the GPF. She still has the Flutz issue but gotten some good international experience and has a good coach. Her program content is probably not strong enough to win a medal at the Olympics, however. As for Czisny, while her spins are painfully beautiful and has great lines, her jumps often seem to abandon her, especially in the long program. She could still make it to the Olympics by placing top two at the nationals but she won't have a chance at any medals at the Olympics unless she has a fall-less performances in both the short and the long. That's something that she hasn't done in a long time. It would be nice to see her at the Olympics, though. Such a lovely performer. Zhang is having a horrible season and probably has very little chance for making the Olympic team. Nagasu is another story as she has a lot of potential but her jumps are so prone to downgrades (especially during the free skate) and she seem so downhearted during Skate Canada's long program, her chances of making the Olympic team is not too high. She can only make it by winning the natioinals. Maybe she'll have to wait till Sochi.
Lepisto won the Finnish nationals but not in a totally convincing manner. We'll see how well she does at the European championship. While a lovely skater, she is also prone to popping jumps and her technical content is not nearly enough to give her a great chance for a medal at the Olympics. Kiira Korpi won the silver at Cup of China but I'm not convinced that she's a medal contendar at Vancouver.
Kostner is a big question mark. Will she even make it to the Olympics? While unimaginable a few months ago, her less than stellar outing at the Italian nationals has now made the European championship the tie breaker between her and Valentina Marchei. However, I believe she will outperform Valentina at the European to punch her ticket to Vancouver. It is rather strange as she was so powerful only a year ago and now her jumps have seem to deserted her. She is still a fast and elegant skater but if she keeps falling down, she won't even be near the podium at the Olympics. European championship should serve as a good harbinger for the Olympics.
Also, let's not forget Leonova. However, can she recover from her tearful last place finish at the GPF? Will we see her brilliant smile at the Olympics or sorrowful tears? Nevertheless, she is unlikely to medal at Vancouver.
I think we are going to have a very exciting ladies competition at the Olympics, unlike what many people were saying in the beginning of the season. It's going to be a dogfight between the Japanese ladies, Yuna and Rochette. If Yuna and Rochette falters badly, it might even be an all Japanese podium. That leaves a couple of Americans and Europeans lurking at the edges of the podium. They can sneak in if the top ladies falter. What I hope is that all the competitors have a good performances and that the medals are not determined by who has the least number of falls and mistakes. I would love to see a lot of great performances at the Olympics. That would be great.