Russian Irina Slutskaya missed most of the 2003-04 season because of a mysterious illness that caused great pain in her legs and was eventually diagnosed as vasculitis, an inflammation of the blood vessels. The sickness came at a dreadful time because Slutskaya's mother, Natalya, began battling kidney disease shortly before Slutskaya's problem developed. Natalya received one kidney transplant but continues to wait for another, receiving dialysis three times a week.
Despite her continued worries about her mother's health and her own, Slutskaya put together one of her best seasons ever in 2004-05, winning the International Skating Union Grand Prix final and the world championships in Moscow. Slutskaya's surprising dominance last season made her the pre-Games favorite to claim the gold, particularly considering that Japan's Mao Asada, 15, did not meet the age requirement. Asada topped Slutskaya at this winter's International Skating Union Grand Prix Final.
Slutskaya should be challenged by American Sasha Cohen, the runner-up to Slutskaya at the 2005 world championships who seemed to be rounding into top form in January after missing the early part of the season with a hip injury. Michelle Kwan, who has battled hip and groin injuries and made the U.S. Olympic team by virtue of an injury petition, was considered a major question mark. American Kimmie Meissner, 16, could be a contender if she unveils her triple axel and skates without mistakes.