Finesse and polish? If anything Marlie was so polished you could accuse them of lacking spontaneity. That's a more valid argument in my book. But YMMV and all that.
And yes, Marlie's influence can already been seen--and not just in ice dancing. Which pair did Phantom this year--and wore costumes that were such close copies of Marlie's from Vancouver their costume designer should sue? And I definitely saw a marked Marlie influence in the FD by Yanovskaya & Mozgov. Go and see it again yourself and tell me they haven't watched Marlie's programs and gone through them with a fine tooth comb.
Both Marlie AND Voir upped the technical difficulty for ice dancing. And in the process they've made it something it very very rarely was before: interesting to the general public. Don't recall anyone saying either of their programs were the punch line to the inevitable "but how is ice dancing a sport" criticism. They're not innovators in the same sense as Torvill & Dean, but influential? You betcha.
In Japan, it would be Midori Ito because she got alot of media attention for her jumps. Shizuka also got a great deal of attention but really, only after she won OGM.
Before Shizu won the gold medal, Mao was already the darling of Japan and she has done so much for Japanese figure skating. She was almost single-handedly the reason for Chukyo University building two ice skating rinks for athletes to practice on. Mao's star power has provided the majority of the financing of Japanese skating fed for the past 10 years or so. And it's because of Mao that skating is so popular in Japan as a spectator sports right now.
I somehow think that Mao has also had a huge impact on the formation of CoP which seemed to target all her weak points so that she really had to work hard to improve them. If the 6.0 era had continued, she would likely have been unbeatable.
To be honest, it's pretty lame and rude to call any female skater trying quads and triple axels "a joke". They are attempting elements that men have difficulty mastering and they should be lauded for pushing the technical envelope, not ridiculed for it or being unable to measure up to the great Ito.
Harding was no sweetheart and was very unrefined but her lutzes were huge and her axel was a feat of athleticism that no American woman has even come close to achieving, even Meissner.
Many of us also forget, aside from triple axel, Mao also did 3-3 combination jumps in her career till 2008: triple flip-triple toe loop and triple flip-triple loop. And I will never forget that she really push FS to technical (since her junior years to first two seasons during Vancouver quad) and together with artistic boundaries (starting this year, with insane 8 triple layout plus level 4 in all non-jump elements)
Harding was only known for her knee whacking incident with Kerrigan, ask a casual viewer and they will not even know what achievements she has had or if she landed a 3A