Figure skating

Kim Yu-na heads into free skate the heavy favorite for figure skating gold

South Korea's Kim Yu-na wins the women's figure skating gold medal after shattering her previous world record score by more than 18 points.
By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 25, 2010

VANCOUVER, B.C. -- Japan's Mao Asada is the only woman on the planet who can land the difficult triple Axel jump. When she hit it cleanly in the women's Olympic short program Tuesday night, she drew cheers and gasps from the crowd.

But she still finished second to South Korean wonder woman Kim Yu-na.

As she ponders how to erase Kim's 4.72-point lead in Thursday's deciding free skate, she must be wondering: Now what?

"What Yu-na has is what the judges are looking for," three-time world champion Michelle Kwan said after watching Wednesday's practice session.

"Every little girl in the world is going to want to be her," '84 Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton said.

"She'll be known as one of the all-time great technical skaters," said Kwan's former coach Frank Carroll, the coach of American skater Mirai Nagasu.

Of course, it's not over yet. The competition between Kim, the reigning world champion, and Asada, the woman who owned the title the year previously, takes shape with some hints of the quad-versus-no-quad argument that dominated the men's event -- only the breakdown of this matchup is far more complex.

It's not that Asada, 19, has elevated technical achievement in the sport and Kim, 19, is lagging behind. Though Asada intends to bring out two triple Axels in the free skate, Kim will counter with her triple Lutz-triple toe combination -- which is so challenging, Kwan said Wednesday, she could not imagine attempting it in an Olympics.

"What's harder, a triple Axel-double toe, or a triple Lutz-triple toe?" Kwan said. "How do you compare them?"

The judges Tuesday gave the advantage to Kim; they rewarded her with 12 points for her combination, 1.90 points more than Asada got for hers. Kim can be described, basically, as executing everything she does better than anyone else that does it. You don't need to know a thing about the sport to see that her jumps are higher, faster, cleaner. She has scored off-the-charts "grades of execution" -- bonus points that help a skater crush the field.

Kim took a significant lead, 78.50 to 73.78. Canada's Joannie Rochette, 24, stands in third place with 71.36, Japan's Miki Ando (64.76) is fourth, and American up-and-comers Rachael Flatt (64.64), 17, and Nagasu (63.76), 16, are next.

"Usually, I think there's more like a 10-point difference" between Kim and second place, Asada said late Tuesday night through an interpreter. "It's a little closer than what is usually the difference between myself and Miss Kim Yu-na, so I hope for the free program, I can do my best."

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