The article by The Yomiuri Shimbun
Four of the five competitors who will seek to keep Japan’s Mao Asada from repeating as women’s champion at the ISU Grand Prix Final share several things in common.
They are all Russian. And they are all teenagers.
And Julia Lipnitskaia, Adelina Sotnikova, Anna Pogorilaya and Elena Radionova will all be making their debuts in the final meet of the season, which brings together the top six skaters and pairs based on the standings in the Grand Prix series.
American Ashley Wagner completes the field.
The heavy Russian presence in the competition, which gets under way tonight at Marine Messe Fukuoka, reflects a drive to build a strong team as host country of the upcoming Sochi Olympics.
Standing out among the group is Lipnitskaia, who finished second in the Grand Prix standings to Asada.
Lipnitskaia captured her first Grand Prix title when she finished ahead of Japan’s Akiko Suzuki at Skate Canada, where she also scored a career-best 198.23 points. She later added the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow, topping world silver medalist Carolina Kostner of Italy.
Lipnitskaia, who had to withdraw from last year’s Grand Prix Final due to injury, said she is ready for the challenge on Asada’s home ice.
“It will be difficult to beat Mao in Japan, but I’ll go all out,” she said.
Sotnikova has been marked for greatness since winning the Russian championship at 12. Now 17, she has been a bit erratic in her jumps the past two seasons, but put it together enough to chalk up second-place finishes at both the Cup of China and the Trophee Bombard in Paris.
Pogorilaya, 15, skating in her first year on the senior circuit, topped the field in Beijing for her first career title.
With the Fukuoka meet serving as a national team qualifier and only two spots available for Russia, the intensity level will be sky high for the three.
At 14, Radionova, who finished ahead of Lipnitskaia and Pogorilaya to win the world junior title last March, is ineligible to compete at the Sochi Olympics.
It is the same situation that Asada found herself prior to the 2006 Turin Games, when she won the Grand Prix Final crown for the first time but was too young for the Olympics.
“It’s just like me in the past,” said Asada, making the competition between the two another aspect worth watching.