The ladies should be a little more cut and dry than the other divisions, but recent Olympic history has taught us that the favorite hasn’t been so lucky as of late. We’ve had Olympic champions with the names Lipinski, Hughes, and Arakawa, while the favorites like Kwan, Slutskaya, and Cohen failed to step up to the challenge. Korea’s Kim Yuna should take note of this little tidbit; it’s likely that her competition has.
Kim came into this season as the overwhelming favorite to win the title in Vancouver, and started out with a bang in her season opener by breaking the record for total competition score on the way to winning Trophée Eric Bompard. At Skate America, and then again at the Grand Prix Final in December, the World Champion made mistakes and started giving other ladies a glimmer of hope heading into Vancouver.
For Kim the path to the title is simple: she just has to do what she is so good at doing- building a huge lead in the short program. Kim has the potential to build an eight to ten point cushion over the rest of the field with her slinky James Bond short program, and can relax in the freeskate while the others try to catch her.
Kim will face stiff competition from two other World Champions: Japanese skaters Miki Ando and Mao Asada. Both Ando and Asada have had their problems since winning their world titles, but Ando seems to be on the rebound this season. After winning both of her Grand Prix events in the fall, Ando nearly defeated Kim in the Final. Asada on the other hand, failed to qualify for the Grand Prix Final for the first time in her career, and is a shell of the skater that won the world title in 2008.
Ando seems the most poised to mount a challenge to Kim’s dominance. Not only are her programs aesthetically beautiful this season, but the Grand Prix Final silver medalist is also jumping with the same explosiveness that propelled her to the 2007 World Championships gold medal. Her free skate includes everything that could be asked of an Olympic champion, and the only thing that Ando has to do to seal up a medal is stay on her feet.
The 2006 Olympian, who trains under Nikolai Morozov, has a different view going into the 2010 Olympic Games. At Turin in 2006, “it was so exciting and fresh,” the 22-year-old told the New York Times. “Now I feel that I am representing my country, not just myself.”
Asada has given up on the Lutz and the Salchow this season, and has put all of her eggs into the triple Axel basket. So far this strategy has been hot and cold for the 2008 World Champion, and it might be too late for Asada to rethink her competitive plan.
Asada’s success in Vancouver could hinge solely on her short program, which has taken her out of contention for several titles already this season. A clean short in Vancouver might be the shot in the arm that Asada needs to help her win a medal in this very challenging field of competitors.
Canadian Joannie Rochette could be a medal contender, but she will have to deflect her trend of skating shaky short programs that has hindered her success this season. The World silver medalist doesn’t skate with the same technical prowess as Kim, Ando, and Asada, but she does have beautiful basics that often keep her in medal contention. Rochette will have the weight of a nation on her narrow shoulders, and will have to be at her best if she wants to be the first Canadian lady to medal at the Olympics since Liz Manley in 1988.
“I think that one of the main things that has been common among the great skates when I look back on them is that I was having fun,” Rochette explained. “Of course there is stress when you take your opening pose, but most of the time I was enjoying the competition itself. That is the kind of feeling that I want to have at the Vancouver Olympics. I’ve watched some of the great performances from other skaters at the Olympics, and I saw that they had some pressure on them, but they always looked like they were having fun. I am in this for the whole experience, and so I am just hoping to skate well and have a lot of fun.”
Newly-crowned American champion Rachael Flatt is the likely beneficiary should any of the top contenders make mistakes. Flatt is the most reliable of performers, and a win in the freeskate over Kim at Skate America this season has shown that she has the ability to run with the big dogs. Flatt will be the skater who takes everything in and enjoys every moment of the Olympic Games. She will be focused as a competitor and will embody the Olympic spirit with her usual joie de vivre.
“I would love to be at the top when everybody skates their best,” Flatt said of her hopes for the Olympic Games. “That’s the true spirit of competition. I think that my consistency has served me well over the past few years, and I think that we will just have to wait and see. I hope that everyone is at their best, and I looking forward to a fantastic competition.”
In this deep field, there are several others who have a shot at winning a medal as well. Japan’s Akiko Suzuki has burst onto the scene this season, qualifying for her first Grand Prix Final, and setting herself up for a run at the podium. Former world medalist Carolina Kostner has worked with coach Frank Carroll this season, and has recaptured some of her former glory with a win at the European Championships last month. Russian Alena Leonova has been moving up the ranks since winning the World Junior Championships last season. While it would be a stretch for the Russian silver medalist to win a medal in Vancouver, she should be somewhere near the podium if she skates up to her potential.