VANCOUVER, British Columbia—It’s ladies’ night at the Pacific Colisuem. What will it take for any of the other skaters to dethrone Korea’s “Queen” Yu-Na Kim? Nothing short of an anti-monarchy revolution. In other words, a miracle.
The reigning world champion delivered a show-stopping performance in the short program on Tuesday night that put her nearly five points ahead of Japan’s Mao Asada. Short of a total meltdown, which would be unprecedented—Kim has won every competition she has entered this season—the Olympic crown is hers for the taking. She simply needs to skate like she usually does. And with record scores in both the short program and free skate, it shouldn’t be hard for her to do.
The real competition will come in the battle for silver and bronze. Asada, the 2008 World Champion, will have to fight off emotional and crowd favorite Joannie Rochette of Canada, who enters tonight’s competition in third place, just 2.5 points behind Asada.
It’ll be tough. Asada is the only woman in the competition who throws a triple axel—the holy grail of women’s figure skating, much like the quad for men. On Tuesday, she became the first woman to land the triple axel in an Olympic short program. And she has two of them on tap in her free skate tonight.
But Rochette is the current World silver medalist, and will certainly have the crowd behind her. Her story has quickened the hearts of everyone watching; her mother died suddenly on Sunday, just after arriving in Vancouver to cheer on her daughter.
Also in the medal hunt is Miki Ando of Japan. She’s the 2007 World Champion and is sitting in fourth place. Right behind her are Americans Rachael Flatt and Mirai Nagasu. Only one point separates the skaters in fourth through sixth places. These ladies are a long shot for a medal at this point, but any one of them could sneak onto the podium if any of the frontrunners fail to perform.
The crowd is still filing in, but I can already see an array of Korean, Japanese, American and Canadian flags ready for the waving. To quote another royal—Prince—it’s gonna be a beautiful night.
5:30 p.m.: Do I spy tassels? Elena Glebova of Estonia is on the ice and I’m pretty sure her costume is tasseled. They fly when she spins. It’s too much. The high-neck collar, the tassels, the busy print. I’m going to vote nay on this one.
5:40 p.m.: Wow, we have a woman on the ice. Anastasia Gimazethinova of Uzbekistan is 29 years old. And she’s rockin’ a Joan Jett hairdo. Oh, but she just fell. I wonder what’s harder—falling or having to hear the crowd intone “Ohhhh” when you do.
Speaking of Joan Jett, there’s a Kristen Stewart-Dakota Fanning Joan Jett biopic coming out in March called “The Runaways.”
5:45 p.m.: I like watching the skaters in the early groups bow. They’re 20 spots out of the medals, but they really take their Olympic moment all around the arena, as well they should.
5:55 p.m.: Group 2 is warming up on the ice. The groups are positioned according to their rank from the short program, so we’ll see the top six skaters in Group 4.
So just what do these gals have to do out there on the ice? The women’s free skate is four minutes and 10 seconds long, and contains 12 required elements: seven jumps, including an axel; three spins, including a combination spin, a flying spin and a single-position spin; one step sequence; and one spiral sequence.
The axel is the toughest jump and the only one that takes off from a forward position. Thus, it involves one and a half turns. So a triple axel is three and a half turns. It’s so difficult that only Asada will even attempt one in this competition.
6:05 p.m.: I love Canadian Cynthia Phaneuf’s costume. If you can’t guess based on that, she’s skating to “Mission Cleopatra,” which is apparently a soundtrack to a French Asterix and Obelix movie. I don’t love the score, but I love her earrings.
6:11 p.m.: A reporter sitting near me just commented that Finland’s Kiira Korpi looks like Grace Kelly. I can kind of see that. Her music, “Crooked Room,” is certainly evocative of an era gone by.
6:19 p.m.: Earlier today someone asked me if I think figure skating is really a sport. I answered that I absolutely do. I think the only reason it ever gets questioned is beacuse the athletes wear “costumes” instead of “uniforms,” and those costumes are often sparkly. Really, what are the other arguments against it? Like other sports, figure skating requires athleticism and a skill set that can only be attained with rigorous training. One argument is that it’s judged and not a more measurable competition like a race or game. Well, other sports that are rarely called into question, like halfpipe and aerials, are also judged. So what gives? I think there is a place for sparkles in sports.
6:28 p.m.: Sarah Meier of Switzerland’s costume looks like what I imagine a figure skating wedding dress would look like.
6:35 p.m.: The crowd is very subdued tonight. It’s the quietest Olympic crowd I’ve seen yet. I know it’s still early in the evening, but they’re feeling a little sleepy to me. The house is nearly packed, so I feel like there should be a little more energy in the air, but all they can seem to muster is polite applause.
6:41 p.m.: Okay, there’s a little life from the crowd. Lots of flags for Min-Jung Kwak of Korea. She’s skating to “Les Miserables” in a very un-“Les Miserables” turquoise and black outfit.
Ah, the crowd has finally come alive for Kwak! A lovely skate.
7:15 p.m.: After the Zamboni break, Group 3 takes the ice. Alena Leonova of Russia has finally brought us a routine that wasn’t set to sleepy classical music or movie scores. Chicago was a breath of fresh air. And with it she moves into first place.
7:20 p.m.: And now another Broadway classic: “West Side Story” courtesy of Akiko Suzuki of Japan. I miss the days of yore when more skaters used Broadway scores.
One of my all-time favorite routines that has stuck with me through the years was Brian Boitano’s performance to “Carousel.” The “Carousel Waltz” is one of Broadway’s great instrumentals and he used it beautifully. I wish more skaters would dig into the Broadway canon. There are some gems—both well-known and more obscure—to be found.
And what a way to get the crowd engaged in your routine. The audience was shouting “Mambo!” along with the music at the appropriate times, just like in the play. Awesome! The crowd loved that one and Suzuki looks delighted after such a great skate. And she moves into first place.
7:30 p.m.: Carolina Kostner of Italy has now fallen three times. That’s got to hurt. But the crowd is finally waking up and rallying behind her. She is skating to “Air” by Bach and “Concerto” by Vivaldi. She finishes and after holding her head in her hands for a while, finally takes her bows. The crowd really cheers her on.
7:36 p.m.: Laura Lepisto of Finland has a little false start. He music starts, then stops. She shakes it off and begins again when the music resumes. She’s skating to “Adios Nonino” and “Fuga Y Misterio.” So far, she’s had an elegant skate.
I have to say, overall, the women’s costumes all feel a bit “safe.” Compared to the men—who I think had many more fashion-forward and risk-taking looks, whether good or bad—the ladies’ are not too noteworthy. The only exception so far has been Canada’s stunning Cleopatra look.
And with that, Lepisto takes over first, but there are still eight skaters to go, including the top six.
7:45 p.m.: Up now is Ksenia Makarova of Russia. Her parents are the 1984 Olympic bronze medalists in pairs skating, so the ice is in her blood. She’s the reigning Russian champion, but has lived in the U.S. since she was 8, another in the long line of athletes who live and train in the U.S. but still compete for their home countries. She is skating to the “13th Warrior” soundtrack.
7:53 p.m.: Ah, Carmen. If memory serves me, Katarina Witt skated to Carmen in 1988. Another iconic performance. Now, Elene Gedevanishvili is skating.
That’s the end of Group 3. Up next will be the medal contenders in the final group.
7:57 p.m.: First up in Group 4 is Team USA’s 17-year-old Rachael Flatt. She the reigning national champion and is in fifth place after the short program, where she earned a career-best score.
“I’m savoring each moment,” she said about her Olympic experience. “You never know if you’re going to have an opportunity like this again.”
She’s a long shot at a medal at this point, but she did once beat Kim in the free skate at the Grand Prix Skate America. If neither American medals, it will be the first time since 1964 that the USA women haven’t taken home some Olympic hardware.
8:10 p.m.: Flatt is skating to “Rhapsody on a Theme of Pagnini.” And so far, a gorgeous skate. She’s got to be happy with that performance. And she looks it. That will easily move her into first place. I don’t think she could have done better.
The crowd is not happy with her score of 182.49, which puts her into second place. A bit puzzling.
8:15 p.m.: Now we have Miki Ando of Japan, who is in fourth after the short program. She placed 15th in Torino in 2006 and will certainly best that here. She’s the only women to ever attempt a quadruple jump in competition, but she won’t do one here. She is also skating to “Cleopatra.”
There’s a large Japanese contingency to my right who are all clapping along and waving flags—at the same time no less. She moves into first place.
8:20 p.m.: Enter the Queen. Yu-Na Kim could wrap up the gold right here if she executes a flawless skate. Korea has never won an Olympic figure skating medal before. It looks like Kim is poised to make history for her country.
“As with any other athlete, I have dreamed of winning the Olympic gold,” Kim said. “But I have watched a lot of Olympics and I have seen a lot of unexpected results. I will need luck and God’s blessing. If I don’t get the gold, I’m ready to accept that.”
If she doesn’t win, it would be typical of Olympic history. In the past three games, the favorite woman did not win. Kim is looking to break that streak.
“She skates from her soul,” said her coach, Canada’s 1988 men’s silver medalist, Brian Orser. “There is nothing selfish about her skating. She reaches the last row in the building.”
She trains in Canada, so isn’t too far from home here. She’s skating to “Concerto in F” by George Gershwin. And wow, with her opening triple jump combo, she shows why she’s number one.
Her jumps seem higher and longer than all the other skaters. She moves with grace and executes all the way through her fingertips. I’m already looking forward to her exhibition skate on Saturday night. Ladies and gentlemen, I think we have a winner. Still three skaters to go, but I feel safe calling it. She’s got a standing ovation from the crowd. i can easily see 50-plus Korean flags waving.
Her score is off the charts! 228.56! The crowd gasps. If that doesn’t win her the gold, I’ll be floored by what I see next.
8:28 p.m.: Kim’s main competition, Asada, is next. A Japanese skater won gold in 2006 and Asada is looking to be just the second to do so here.
She opens with her famous triple axel and lands it! Then she nails her second triple axel. That’s what she’s known for and it’s her biggest weapon against Kim. A gorgeous and dramatic skate to “Bells of Moscow” by Rachmaninov. Ooh, a little wobble. A second wobble and a missed jump. That will cost her the gold and maybe the silver medal. The crowd is behind her, but she looks disappointed. She moves into second place.
8:35 p.m.: Next is Canada’s Rochette who said “words cannot describe” what she is feeling. The crowd is on their feet for her. She might be able to steal the silver from Asada. She enters tonight’s competition in third place, skating to “Samson and Delilah.” She’s a powerful skater, but trips a little coming out of her triple flip. Will it be enough to overtake Asada? Either way, I don’t think the crowd cares. Everyone, except the Japanese delegation to my right, is on their feet. Her score keeps her in third place.
8:45 p.m.: Only one skater left: USA’s Nagasu, who is in sixth place after the short program. It’s unlikely she’ll be able to get enough points to medal. She’s also skating to “Carmen.” She has a gorgeous layback spin, perhaps my favorite move in all of ladies’ skating. To me, it is quintessential. A dazzling skate by Nagasu. She really does sparkle. Just waiting for her score and then it will be official. Nagasu’s score moves her up to fourth place and she is ecstatic with that.
It looks like the Queen finally has her crown. Yu-Na Kim wins Korea’s first Olympic figure skating medal. Asada of Japan takes silver and Rochette of Canada wins bronze. Kim blew the other skaters away, finishing 23 points ahead of Asada. She had two spectacular skates and will no doubt go from being a huge star in her home country to a legend. Who needs a Wheaties box when you have a cell phone named after you?
9:03 p.m.: It’s the medal ceremony and Rochette comes out to accept her bronze. What an emotional roller coaster for her and her family. As someone who has lost a parent, I don’t know how she’s keeping it together. My heart really goes out to her.
Kim gets nice applause, but not as loud as Rochette. She is beaming. The expectations placed upon her were so great, I don’t know what would have happened had she not won. Sometimes I think it is harder to be the favorite than the underdog.
I can’t help but think that Asada looks disappointed. Or maybe that’s what she looks like when she’s overwhelmed? Smile, you just won a silver medal!
That’s all for tonight, but that’s not all for figure skating. I’ll be coming to you live from the fun night: the exhibition skate on Saturday, when all the skating medal winners let loose.
Follow Karla’s Olympic coverage right here and Twitter@KBruning.
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