Midori Ito- an iconic skater far ahead of her time. Figures screwed her in 88, and in 92 the pressure form the Japanese media probably cost her the gold.
Irina Slutskaya- I know she has her detractors but for her incredibly long career at or near the top, should have managed the gold in atleast 1 of 2002 and 2006, both which she would have won with even a clean and cautious 6 triple effort.
Mao Asada- if she doesnt win in 2014 (and I dont think she will). Would probably have won in 2006 had it not been for the age rule keeping her out, and had a long career at the top like Irina, but Yu Na Kim emerged. A skater who pushed the envelope technically, landed 3 clean triple axels in some competitions, and is also a beautiful spinner and artist.
Ito also got screwed in 1992 by Bonaly on practice. She backflipped right where Ito was setting up her 3A for the SP which she ended up crashing on in practice. This got in her head for the balance of the week.
What a chain of events Ito winning in 92 would have set up too. Kristi was always planning on staying for 94, in part since her defeats to Harding and Ito early in the 92 season made her feel like she wasnt going to win without the triple axel (which she tried hard to acquire in practice but never could) despite being reigning World Champion. After winning in 92 I think she was initially still planning on going to 94, but the pro opportunities came and pro life was just too cushy and lucrative to want to bother with amateur skating having done it all, especialy as an amateur she wasnt getting near the endorsements Kerrigan did due to her Asian American heritage. Had Ito won in 92, Krist would have dominated 93 and 94, and the whole Baiul fairytale rise, Kerrigan vs Harding drama, would have never happened. Then others like Baiul, Sato, who wouldnt have won their big titles almost certainly stay, and does this interfere with the rises of Kwan, and even moreso Lipinski. Does Tara even still win in 98, and if she does does she too stay until 2002 too. So many what ifs.
I also forgot if Kristi doesnt win in 92 and stays for 94, and the whole Kerrigan-Harding thing never happens, pro skating never takes off so much from 94-99 so Baiul, Lipinski, and almost everyone probably stays amateur alot longer which changes everything too. Then again maybe Harding clubs Kristi now, or hires someone to club both.
Sasha Cohen - 2004 Marshalls Swan Lake
Perfect (for once in her life). Never seen a better program. In the words of Dick Button . . . "Stunning, beautiful, gorgeous, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, oh gully!"
I was watching some of the performances from the 92 and 94 Games on YouTube and I was struck by how flawed some of them were. I guess because of Nagano, Salt Lake, and Vancouver I've come to expect Olympic medalists to do clean 6- or 7-triple free skates to get on the podium. Even Kristi Yamaguchi, Oksana Baiul, and Nancy Kerrigan had multiple errors in their free programs. The pitch perfect Olympic moment is rarer than I realized.
It gives one a greater respect for what these skaters do, doesn't it? It's a good thing no one can monitor their blood pressure during an Olympic skating performance. Can you imagine how high the readings would be? (They'd be high enough just in the fans and the coaches!)
I think the Japanese Media circus in 1992 is to blame. It put so much pressure on Midori that she didn't skate to her potential and beat Kristi, which kept Kristi from staying amateur through 1994, which led to only two US Olympic spots in 1994, which led (probably) to 'the whack heard 'round the world.' (DISCLAIMER: this is all sarcasm.)
On topic, I've been lurking in this thread, because there are so many performances that I find to be great for different reasons, that it's tough for me to decide. It's like my favorite food...depends on how hungry I am. For example, Naomi Nari Nam, although objectively not the greatest ladies' performance, showed her talent and youthful exuberance so well in 1999 at Nationals...I find myself youtubing it from time to time just to smile. I also find myself drawn to somewhat underdog skaters who have their one great performance: Caryn Kadavy at the 87 worlds, Angela Nikodinov LP at 2001 Nats, Fumie Suguri at 2002 Worlds...none of those are in the running, but they're great to me because those are the performances where the skaters, for that one moment, overcame everything else and skated their best. One other performance is Sasha Cohen at Cup of Russia in (I think) 2002 when she skated her Rach program mostly cleanly.
As far as (what I would call to be objective) bests: Midori Ito's 1990 worlds LP, Kristi Yamaguchi's 1992 Nats LP, Lu Chen's 1995 worlds LP (especially if she hits the 2nd lutz), Lu Chen's 1996 Worlds LP, Michelle Kwan's 2001 Worlds LP, and now I'm letting the list get too long.