All eyes will be on the Olympic Champion Kim Yuna from South Korea in Torino as she tries to follow up her record-setting performances in Vancouver with a second consecutive World Championships title. Kim has made easy work of the rest of the field all season, and has essentially reduced them to the role of bridesmaids time and time again. In the past two seasons, Kim has lost only once, and that was at the Grand Prix Final back in December of 2008. Since then, the three times Grand Prix Final Champion has been unbeatable, and that record should remain in tact after Torino.
Winning the Olympic title was a huge relief for Kim, and she is relaxed and confident heading into Torino.
“I feel at ease more than ever because the biggest competition is over, but not just because I became Olympic Champion,” Kim told Goldenskate.com. “That could have affected my mental state and made me more relaxed than other skaters, but I feel comfortable during skating due to lessened the pressure.”
Kim has resisted the temptation of skipping the World Championships in order to cash in on her Olympic title, and has taken a familiar approach to training heading into Torino.
“Right after Olympics, it was little bit busy but after getting back to Toronto, everything is just same as usual,” Kim explained. “There’s no difference before and after Olympics in training schedule.”
Though Kim may run away with another title in Torino, there will be a group of ladies chasing her, and who just might have a bigger appetite for success at these championships.
Kim cannot be discussed without mentioning Japan’s Mao Asada in the same breath. The two have developed a strong rivalry that began on the junior circuit just about five years ago. Asada was the one who did everything first, winning both the Junior World and World title as well as the Grand Prix Finals on both levels exactly one year before Kim won each of the same. Asada, however, has faded since winning her World title in 2008, and has a huge deficit to make up in Torino if she wishes to win her second.
Asada skated extremely well in Vancouver, and as we all know, was the first female skater to land three triple axels in one competition. But as Evgeni Plushenko also knows, titles are not won by successfully executing one single element.
The World Championships will be a great test of Asada’s intestinal fortitude, and will speak volumes about her competitive nerve. Two great performances could get the ball rolling for Asada in terms of confidence, and then maybe the rivalry will really start to be re-ignited.
Olympic bronze medalist Joannie Rochette from Canada withdrew from this competition earlier this month citing her lack of preparation time since competing in Vancouver. Rochette has not made a final statement concerning her intention to compete next season, but she will surely be missed in Torino.
Rochette’s absence opens the door for a small group of ladies who could step up to the challenge of becoming a World Championships medalist. The obvious contender is American silver medalist Mirai Nagasu who was fourth in Vancouver. Nagasu has all of the sudden developed confidence in her skating, and is fast becoming a strong competitor in high-pressure situations.
Nagasu was a breath of fresh air in Vancouver, captivating everyone with her effervescent personality on and off the ice. To be a serious medal contender, however, Nagasu must focus on getting full rotation on all of her jumps as well as getting a triple-triple combination out there. Coach Frank Carroll has worked miracles with Nagasu in such a short time that one has to believe that she could bring home Team USA’s first medal in the ladies division in four years.
Should Nagasu not live up to her potential in Torino, her teammate US Champion Rachael Flatt could step in and win her first World Championships medal. Everyone knows that Flatt is one of the most consistent skaters in the ladies division, and that has always served her well in competition. Like Nagasu, Flatt has been hindered by jumps called short of rotation by the technical panel, and will need to fix that to challenge for the podium.
Finland’s Laura Lepistö, the 2009 European Champion, has recently emerged as a medals hopeful on the world level, finishing sixth last season and equaling that placement in Vancouver.
The Finnish champion has some of the cleanest and purest basic skating in the competition, and is beginning to become a strategic technical skater as well. Never the most gifted jumper, Lepistö is finding creative ways to earn points with less difficult programs that are competitive with the top echelon of skaters. Because of her lesser jump content, Lepistö has less room for error, and must skate clean to win a Finland’s first ladies World Championships medal in Torino.
Asada’s teammates Miki Ando, the 2007 World Champion, and Akiko Suzuki also have a shot at the podium in Torino even in this tight field. Ando has struggled since winning her World title, but is the reigning bronze medalist in this competition. In Torino, Ando would serve herself well to pay attention to the choreography in her programs which was sorely lacking in Vancouver. Also, the Grand Prix Final silver medalist will have to earn full credit for her jump combinations, which has been somewhat problematic for her this season.
Suzuki is enjoying her first full season on the world scene, and won the bronze medal at the Grand Prix Final behind Kim and Ando. In Torino, Suzuki will have to go back to the formula that propelled her to her first win on the Grand Prix in China earlier this season. It is likely that the Japanese silver medalist would have to depend on other skaters’ mistakes to move into contention for a medal.
Other skaters to watch include Italy’s Carolina Kostner, a former World Championship medalist, Russia’s Ksenia Makarova in her debut at the World Championships, and her teammate Elena Leonova, the 2009 Junior World Champion.