2010 Winter Olympics – The Ladies
The ladies event at the Winter Olympic Games always seems to be the most anticipated, and it is the last of the four disciplines to take place. The short program is on February 23rd, and the free skate on the 25th. While it is likely that the ladies competition will once again be the most viewed of any of the figure skating events, I think that the top group, or medal contenders, are pretty much solidified at this point, with maybe an upset or two sneaking in with a chance to end up on the podium. The same scenario is definitely not likely in the mens competition, where more than 10 competitors have realistic chances at earning a medal. But, that situation is for a different blog post! So, on to some basic rants and thoughts about not only which ladies I think will stand on the podium in Vancouver, but even all the way down to the ladies that I think will have difficulty making it out of the short program. Feel free to post your comments whether you completely agree or think I have no idea what I’m talking about.. that is what makes it fun!
The Medal Contenders
Yu-Na Kim from Korea has probably had the most solid season of any of the top ladies, skating extremely well in her first Grand Prix competition in France and easily winning the title. The short program at her second event, Skate America, earned her the fourth-straight record score she has set in the segment, with 76.28 points. She had a little hiccup in the free skate and lost that portion to American Rachael Flatt, but was still able to hold on to the gold medal based on the huge short program score. In winning both of her events, she qualified as the top skater for the Grand Prix Final in Tokyo. However, a single flip in the short program, along with her first-ever downgrade on her triple Lutz/triple toe loop combination, put her in second place and right in the mix with the other competitors, something she was not accustomed to. Interestingly, the 9-judge panel in that short program all gave Kim at least a 0 grade of execution on the jump combination, with 4 judges scoring it a +2, or very good, element. The judges have to mark the jump elements in real-time and are not made aware of under-rotations as “called” by the three-person technical panel. This caused a huge uproar by many of Yu-Na’s fans, and in my personal opinion, watching the jump in slow-motion (which the judges cannot do), I saw a very slight cheat of the landing of the triple toe loop but nothing to the point of calling it a double [note: a jump has to be more than 1/4 of a turn cheated in order to be downgraded]. But, so goes life. In the free skate, she opted for a triple Lutz/double toe loop to open the program, and skated a somewhat conservative program by her usual standards, receiving another downgrade call on a double Axel/triple toe loop combination. With four clean triples, Kim was still able to hit the 120+ points mark, and she won the competition.
Final thoughts: If Yu-Na Kim skates a clean short program with no downgrade call in Vancouver, she will probably have a decent lead over the next few skaters. If she does get downgraded again, she will probably end up being scored around the same as the other top skaters (in the event that they also skate clean), similar to the 2006 Olympics when Sasha Cohen, Irina Slutskaya, and Shizuka Arakawa were all within 1 point of each other after the short program, creating the possibility of a very dramatic free skate… which didn’t happen. As far as Kim’s programs go, I’m not mesmerized by either of them, but I do like the short program. Her free skate bores me a bit, and I think the transitions and overall presentation of it are not as strong as some of her prior programs. Still, her basic skating is gorgeous and she skates fast. I would definitely consider her the favorite to win in Vancouver.
Miki Ando from Japan has been working to re-establish herself as the top skater from her country this year. The World Champion in 2007 spent a few years in the shadows of teammate Mao Asada, but starting with the 2009 World Championships, where she overtook Asada for the bronze medal, Ando has been on pace to be right in contention for the podium in Vancouver. Like Yu-Na Kim, Miki won both of her early-season Grand Prix events in Russia and Japan, although none of her performances were anything to write home about. Many downgrades on her jumps, including the triple Lutz/triple loop combination she has tried for many years in the short program in Russia, as well as a fall on the triple flip in her home-country Grand Prix short program, have made her a bit of a question-mark. Even though she was winning the events, she was not skating anywhere near what she needs to be competitive. Luckily, most of the other ladies were skating just as poor. Ando skated her first clean short program at the Grand Prix Final, in her home country. It was only enough for less than a point lead over Kim, and Kim had the major error in a single flip and the aforementioned downgrade call in her jump combination. Her free skate featured four clean triples and a downgraded triple Salchow, and was scored well enough to earn her the silver medal overall, and in doing so, became the highest-placed Japanese lady in the event and assured herself of a ticket to the Olympics, no matter what her National Championship result was [she ended up in 4th place there].
Final thoughts: I’m going to start by saying that I think Ando is one of the most over-scored skaters in the components marks. This started last year in the World Championship free skate, when she earned the second highest interpretation score, and I saw little to no interpretation through the four-minute program! She looked like she was falling asleep, honestly. Her components scores at the Grand Prix Final, whether because she was in her home country or not.. who knows, were just a little under those of Kim (.40 in the free skate, to be exact). Yu-Na is better in every aspect of the components by far, in my opinion. I think Ando has a boring free skate this year, and I still think she is one of those skaters that just does not “get” how to feel or attempt to skate to the music. Rather, I see her plowing through jump after jump and having no emotion while doing so. However, she is still managing to score high with the judges and I think if she plays it safe in the short program in Vancouver, with a triple Lutz/double loop combination, she will definitely find herself in the final flight of 6 ladies for the free skate, and within reach of a medal. BUT. I hope that she is scored lower in the components, because there is nothing special about the way she skates.
Joannie Rochette from Canada has had a roller coaster year to say the least. Her weakness has always been the ability to skate a clean short program and keep herself near the top ladies, but she did so at last years World Championships and was able to hang on to the silver medal there, the first medal for Canada in the ladies event in 21 years. In an early season open event, Rochette skated an excellent free skate and easily beat Mao Asada, looking like she was already on track for the season, with the Olympics being in her home country. However, a disastrous short program at her first Grand Prix in China put her in 7th place, making major errors on two of the three jump elements. She climbed back to make the podium there, but in doing so, still had another lackluster skate in the long program. Skate Canada was her second Grand Prix event, and Rochette skated a clean short program, scoring her 70.00 points, even with only completing a triple/double jump combination. She had a big lead going into the free skate, where errors once again crept up, but did enough to easily win the title and also qualify herself to the Grand Prix Final. Typical errors in the short program left her in 4th place, but close enough to have a chance to win the competition in Tokyo if she could revert back to her typical solid free skates. However, she popped three jumps in the long program and under-rotated her final jump, and found herself in 5th place overall, and not looking to be a serious threat for a medal as the season was rolling on. She redeemed herself in the free skate at her National Championship, where, for the second year in a row, skated a 7-triple program with only the slightest of mistakes on a double Axel.
Final thoughts: Rochette is probably the lady I would most like to see step up to the occasion in Vancouver and win the gold medal. I love the way she carries herself, even through simple crossovers. She has complex programs and jump exits, and is finally getting to the point of using her entire body, and face, to express the music. Her problem is that she has never been a strong short program skater, and being in front of her home country in Vancouver could be another factor working against her. In 2006, she fell out of a triple flip in the short program in Torino, and had she not, she probably would have made the top 6 for the free skate. The same could be true here: a botched short program, and she puts herself in the second-to-last free skating group, making it more difficult to get to the podium. Joannie seems like she has revved up the training habits since the poor showings in the fall, and her Canadian Nationals performances (well.. the free skate) give some hope that she could be right up in contention once again.
Mao Asada from Japan has had a rough season. It seems she is not comfortable with her free skate by any means, and I definitely think that trying a triple Axel all season in the short program has unsettled her nerves to an extent. She did not qualify for the Grand Prix Final after a poor showing at the Cup of Russia competition, only placing 5th. In her four short programs (the two Grand Prix events, her National Championship, and the Four Continents Championship), she was downgraded both times she actually tried the triple Axel as part of her combination, and popped the jump the two other times. Aside from Nationals inflated scoring, she has yet to score at least 60 points in the short program, something that could possibly leave her almost 20 points behind the leader in Vancouver. She redeemed herself somewhat in the free skate at Four Continents, receiving credit for both planned triple Axels. The only negatively-scored element in her 6-triple free skate was the back end of her triple Axel/double toe loop combination, as the double was not completely rotated.
Final thoughts: My problem with Asada is the way the Axels are stalked in the first minute of her free skate. If she is not successful with landing them, it seems like the rest of the program becomes heavy and skated with complete disinterest. In comparing Asada with Yu-Na Kim and Joannie Rochette, I don’t think her skating skills are up to par. She goes around corners of the rink almost dragging her feet through crossovers, she skates relatively slow, and most of her jumps have some kind of rough technique to them. I prefer the light and soft programs Mao had a few seasons ago, and I am extremely disappointed in the whole “vehicle” she has been given for this Olympic year. I think she will still be near the medals, but not fighting for gold as we all probably thought two years ago.
Carolina Kostner from Italy has had a very typical season based on her history: wildly inconsistent. Very rarely a great performer at the beginning of the season, Kostner followed suit this year by finishing in 6th place in both of her Grand Prix events, in France and China. She also lost her National Championship title to Valentina Marchei, and would have to place ahead of her at the European Championships to even qualify to Vancouver. Carolina won the title there for the 3rd time in 4 years, and established herself once again as the top European lady heading into the Olympics.
Final thoughts: Carolina is probably the biggest question mark of anyone in any event she is entered. She went from 3rd in the world in 2005 to 12th in 2006, and 2nd place in 2008 to 12th in 2009. If she stays on her feet, she is scored extremely well by the judges, but her jump technique has been reworked by her new coach, Frank Carroll, and that might have been a source of the original problems early in the season. Known for her triple flip/triple toe loop combination, even a triple/double in the short program (along with other clean elements) in Vancouver could put her right in medal contention. The free skate is where she can really lose it, and even though she did win the European crown, a free skate like that in Vancouver will give her no chance. When she is on, the speed she carries, and even into all of her jumps, is really amazing.
Knocking on the Door– in the Event that Several Ladies Decide to Bomb the Competition
They have a small chance, but need a lot of help from the above ladies in order to get onto the podium
Akiko Suzuki from Japan – Maybe the biggest feel-good story of the year. Suzuki was a promising junior 8 years ago who ended up lost in the mix at the Japanese National Championships, also dealing with an eating disorder that she has publicly discussed. Things started to shape up in the 2009 season for her, and she continued it into this season by winning the Cup of China with an excellent free skate, and followed that up with a 5th place finish at Skate Canada, a result reflected by both programs having mistakes. This was just enough to qualify her to the Grand Prix Final, where a 6-triple free skate helped her win the bronze medal, scoring over 115 points in the free skate for the second time this season. She narrowly beat out Yukari Nakano for the third Olympic team spot at her Nationals, and finished a strong 2nd at the Four Continents Championship behind teammate Mao Asada. The problem for Suzuki lies in her ability to lay down a clean short program, something she has not done yet. She has yet to break the 60-point mark in that portion, and another botched skate in Vancouver could leave her way down in the standings going into the free skate.
Rachael Flatt from The United States – Competing in Grand Prix events in China and the United States, Flatt produced the exact same score in both short programs. She attempted the triple flip/triple toe unsuccessfully at Skate America, but still got credit for rotating the combination. However, she did land the combination in the free skate at the same event, along with all of her other triples, to beat an uncharacteristic mistake-filled program by World Champion Yu-Na Kim by over 4 points. Rachael, who has a history of skating well at the most important events (the National Championships the last 3 seasons, and the World Championships last season), is going to have to repeat these solid skates in Vancouver to get herself into the top 5, and a big key starts with the short program, where a clean triple/triple jump combination might enable her to skate in the final free skate warm-up group. However, 2010, in my opinion, is too soon for her. Her strongest suit is her jumping consistency in the big events as mentioned previously, but otherwise there is nothing that really stands out about her skating.
The Rest Fighting For the Top 10
All of them are strong enough short program skaters that one or two could sneak into the final free skate group..
Cynthia Phaneuf from Canada – She has the home country factor working for her. Not a consistent skater in the last few years, but a clean short program, which is usually her stronger skate of the two, could keep her in the top 10. It’s all about the Lutz jump for her, though.
Elene Gedevanishvili from Georgia – As a 16 year old, made the final group for the free skate at the 2006 Olympics and finished with a top 10 placement. She is starting to skate more consistent, as shown by her recent bronze-medal win at the European Championships, but still does not score high enough to be in serious contention… yet.
Julia Sebestyen from Hungary – In her 4th Olympic Games, Julia has had one of her best seasons since she won the European Championship in 2004. Her short programs are typically clean and score well enough that she is in the same position as Phaneuf. A strong skate in the short might be able to keep her in the top 10, as she also typically suffers from popped jumps and other small errors in her free skates.
Laura Lepisto from Finland – Beautiful basic skating and the European Champion last year, she has only had average skating this season aside from her European Championships short program. Like Gedevanishvili, doesn’t usually score well enough in the free skate to fight for a medal.
Kiira Korpi from Finland – Wildly inconsistent. Usually places well in short programs, but then falls apart in the free skates. A clean short here might give her the best shot of any of the ladies to sneak into the top six in that portion.
Alena Leonova from Russia – 7th in the World last season and showed a lot of promise starting this season, even as a possible medal threat!, she has seemed to lose the spark and consistency that earned her a trip to the Grand Prix Final this year. The free skate is where she runs into trouble, and had a poor showing at the recent European Championships.
Sarah Meier from Switzerland – Injuries in the last two years have unfortunately sidelined Sarah from competing, but she showed promise at the recent European Championships. Without a downgrade on a usually very successful triple Lutz in the short program, she would have once again found herself right in the medals.
Mirai Nagasu from The United States- Strong programs at her National Championships and usually a solid short program skater, downgrades in the free skate will probably hold her down.
Somewhere in the Middle
Probably safe to make the free skate, but not enough to come near the top 10.
Elena Glebova from Estonia
Min-Jung Kwak from South Korea
Ksenia Makarova from Russia
Inconsistencies Could Equal Top 15, or Not Even Qualifying for the Long Program
Basically depends on the day for these ladies!
Yan Liu from China
Jenna McCorkell from Great Britain
Ivana Reitmayerova from Slovakia
Tugba Karademir from Turkey
Anastasia Gimazetdinova from Uzbekistan
Probably Need to Skate Absolutely Clean to Make the Long Program Cut
And hope for a few of the skaters in the previous group to make major errors..
Cheltzie Lee from Australia
Miriam Ziegler from Austria
Isabelle Pieman from Belgium
Sonia Lafuente from Spain
Sarah Hecken from Germany
Anna Jurkiewicz from Poland
Teodora Postic from Slovenia
An exact replica of last years World Championships’ top four ladies..
1. Yu-Na Kim
2. Joannie Rochette
3. Miki Ando
4. Mao Asada
5. Akiko Suzuki
6. Rachael Flatt
7. Carolina Kostner
8. Laura Lepisto
9. Sarah Meier
10. Mirai Nagasu
11. Alena Leonova
12. Kiira Korpi
13. Julia Sebestyen
14. Cynthia Phaneuf
15. Elene Gedevanishvili
16. Min-Jung Kwak
17. Ksenia Makarova
18. Elena Glebova
19. Jenna McCorkell
20. Anastasia Gimazetdinova
21. Tugba Karademir
22. Yan Liu
23. Ivana Reitmayerova
24. Sarah Hecken
Tomorrow, possibly the most exciting event at these Games- the mens competition!