(Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images)

SOCHI, Russia—It has been nearly three decades since Germany’s Katarina Witt won back-to-back gold medals at the Olympics, following her 1984 triumph in Sarajevo with the title at the 1988 Calgary Games.

Now 48, Witt is in Sochi covering the 2014 Winter Games for German TV. She believes that South Korea’s Kim Yu-Na, who leads heading into Thursday’s free skate, has the requisite skill, talent and maturity to join figure skating’s exclusive club of Olympic gold repeats, which was started by Norway’s Sonja Henie, who followed her 1928 and 1932 triumphs with a Hollywood film career.

“She seems to be at ease with everything, and she is in really good shape,” Witt told the Olympic News Service of Kim. “We know she is mentally always very strong.”

Despite missing most of the season heading into Sochi with a foot injury, Kim performed a beautiful short program to “Send in the Clowns,” in which her technical skill was equaled by her artistry and grace. But with Wednesday’s top three scorers bunched within eight-tenths of a point, the medals are very much in play.

Kim leads with 74.92 points. Adelina Sotnikova, the “other” Russia teen, stands second (74.64). And three-time Olympian Carolina Kostner of Italy is third (74.12).

The 18-year-old U.S. figure skating champion, now competing in Sochi, says being on the ice is all about breathing and bending your knees. (Lee Powell/The Washington Post)

American Gracie Gold, 18, is a distant fourth, 5.49 points out of a podium finish. But as she said after a solid if unspectacular short program, the free skate is Gold’s “bread and butter.” Tapped to perform the long program in the team event that opened the figure-skating competition, Gold was second only to Russia’s Julia Lipnitskaia.

“I’m all about the long program; I’m all about momentum,” Gold said, confident she can close the gap Thursday. “When you have seven jumps, it’s a lot easier to get momentum than with just three.”

Despite a disappointing performance at the U.S. figure skating championships, 22-year-old Ashley Wagner is headed to Sochi as a medal contender. (Lee Powell/The Washington Post)

Alexandria’s Ashley Wagner, a two-time U.S. champion, stands sixth (65.21). She’s taking a major gamble Thursday, unveiling a free skate she and her coaches and choreographer cobbled together in the last five weeks, after she fell twice at nationals last month. She ended up tossing out that music and premise, based on “Romeo and Juliet,” and resurrecting last season’s “Samson and Delilah” free skate in which she had more confidence and earned higher marks. The 11th-hour switch entailed whipping up a new costume, as well as mashing together elements of her new and old choreography.

Wagner, a West Potomac High graduate, was bullish about finishing strong in her Olympic debut.

“Going into tomorrow night, I worked so hard the past month,” said Wagner, 22. “I really just owe it to myself to go out there and do what I’ve been doing in training. Honestly I worked my butt off every single day since Nationals. I’ve been way too tired, way too sweaty, way too exhausted and angry with training to not go out there and just do it. So this is really for me, this is my Olympics experience. There is nothing to lose.”

Thursday’s free skate will give Lipnitskaia, 15, a chance to redeem herself after falling on a triple flip late in a short program that had been near spotless to that point. The tiny Russian’s score, 65.23 placed her fifth, between Gold and Wagner.