A few weeks ago I would have said that Korea's Yu-na Kim was the overwhelming favorite in the Vancouver Winter Olympics ladies figure skating competition. I still think she's the favorite, but I'm starting to think that anything can happen in these Olympics. And it's not like Kim is without competition. I am just hoping the ladies skate cleaner here than they have been this season, so that it is at least a good show.
Miki Ando (Japan): Ando is the 2007 world champion, and the 2009 world bronze medalist. She has been skating well here. She has a very difficult combination planned for the short program - the triple lutz/triple loop. If she lands it cleanly, she brings in a lot of points. Remember, Ando is the only skater to beat Kim in a short program this season, a the Grand Prix Final. She sometimes gets underrotation calls but she is a very strong jumper and she's had the most successful international season of anyone other than Kim. Ando's major weakness is the artistry, although her short program is not too bad and there are some good moments in her free skate. Still, even Ando acknowledges that there are important presentation traits that Kim possesses. Still, I wouldn't expect Ando to score too low in program components; I just don't think she'll come anywhere near Kim. Which means she'll have to outjump her if she wants the gold.
Mao Asada (Japan): Four years ago, if Mao Asada had been old enough to compete in the Olympics, she may very well have won. Unfortunately, things haven't gone according to plan in the ensuing years. Although Asada won the 2008 world championships and followed that up with a Grand Prix Final victory in which she landed two triple axels in the free skate, things haven't been so sweet since. She finished off the medal podium at the 2009 world championships. And she botched all of her short programs this season. She didn't just make mistakes, she had disasters that put her in serious holes. Additionally, both of her programs are kind of downers and they don't make her skating appear any lighter. Still, she looked very strong in her free skate at Four Continents championship, and she received credit for her triple axels there. If she can somehow manage to stay in contention in the short program, her free skate can score very high indeed. And she has better presentation than Ando.
Yu-na Kim (South Korea): I know that Kim is the best skater at this competition. She may not have the hardest jump (Asada does). She may not have the hardest combination (Ando does). But overall, her jumps are the cleanest, and while I don't think her spirals or spins or even maybe her footwork are individually the best we'll see, the fact is that no one has a package like she does. She truly is good at everything. And technically, she is pristine. The only thing I fear are the nerves. Kim has not been clean this season, and she seems to have trouble with her nerves. Her advantage is that she has been winning with a few errors here and there because she scores so high overall. Her particular nemesis is the triple flip, and all eyes will be on Kim when she attempts it in her short program and free skate. Kim's short program is the best one we'll see (with maybe Nagasu a close second) here. Her free skate is not as exciting, but quite lovely as well. It should also be noted that Kim is one of the hugest celebrities in her home country, and she is under ridiculous amounts of pressure to win here. She is also one-half of the nastiest skating rivalry (between fans) that I've ever seen, with Mao Asada. Whoever wins here will hopefully put an end to all the nasty youtube video attacks, at least (but probably not). Kim also trains in Canada with Brian Orser, so she'll likely get some support from the home crowd.
Joannie Rochette (Canada): I'm fairly sure that a clean Joannie Rochette would medal here. But right now, it is probably no longer about the medals or even skating clean for Joannie Rochette. It's a courageous decision for her to even be here, since her mother passed away on Sunday. But Rochette has good presentation and strong jumps when she is on. She's had a bad season, but her recent free skate at Canadian nationals proves she can deliver. Hopefully, she can do it here. No matter what happens, she is inspiring, and she'll have the support of people all over the world tonight.
The Dark Horses
Rachael Flatt (USA): Although reports are that Flatt has been a bit nervous in practice here, if she skates her short program and free skate here like she did at U.S. Nationals, she could vault herself right onto the podium. Flatt is known for her clean jumps, but she has an absolutely crowd-pleasing short program that should get everyone in the building excited tonight. She'll need help by way of other skaters if she wants to medal here, though, since her presentation and some grades of execution may lag behind those of other skaters. Still, she had a great finish (fifth) at her first world championships, so she may very well be adept at dealing with high pressure situations. Additionally, Flatt is the only skater who can say she beat Kim in the free skate this season (at Skate America).
Carolina Kostner (Italy): Kostner is apparently the quickest skater in ladies skating, and that counts for a lot, including a 2008 world silver medal. She had a memorable implosion in the free skate at the 2009 worlds, and she has not been very clean this season, but she made a mark last month by winning the European Championships to make herself relevant again. I'm not sure how she's going to skate here, but the judges definitely like her and I don't think you can count out Kostner when she is skating clean.
Laura Lepisto (Finland): I don't quite understand Lepisto's appeal, but the judges do seem to appreciate her. She won the European championships last year and came in second this year. She was also sixth at last year's world championships, so she should be in the mix. She has a unique style. And anyone who lands jumps here may end up being a threat, so she is one to keep an eye on.
Mirai Nagasu (USA): Here is how it shakes out. If the 2008 U.S. National champion does not fall and does not underrotate her jumps, we may have a shock on the podium. Nagasu is adorable, and although she hasn't had much senior international experience (nor has she been very successful on the Grand Prix scene), she has great presentation and is planning some difficult jumps and moves here. She could light up the arena and steal the spotlight. There are major questions as to whether she is going to be able to fully rotate her jumps, though, as that has been her achilles heel this season. Hopefully she will be fun to watch, no matter what.
Akiko Suzuki (Japan): The third best skater in Japan is still one of the best skaters in the world. Suzuki doesn't have the difficulty of some of the other skaters but she has two very entertaining skates, including her free skate to West Side Story. I hope we get to see both of her programs here, she is just exhilarating. If the top girls make mistakes, do not be surprised to see Suzuki in the mix. She recently came in second at Four Continents and she has won two Grand Prix events over the past couple of years.
And don't forget about: Russia's Alena Leonova, Finland's Kiira Korpi, Georgia's Elene Gedevanishvili. Any of these ladies could make a mark here, all it takes is a clean skate.