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Figure skating: Kim Yu-na, Mao Asada and long program

By Elliott Almond
Wednesday, February 24th, 2010 at 6:39 am in Uncategorized.

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – It doesn’t always work out this way in the high-stakes atmosphere of Olympic figure skating. But for one magical night Tuesday the world’s best skaters performed almost flawlessly, forcing the judges to score them on their merits, not their faults.

The six who will skate in the dramatic final group Thursday night in the all-important free skate put on a compelling show for the 11,000 spectators at the Pacific Coliseum.

About the only flub came from Arcadia’s Mirai Nagasu, 16, who had planned to try a triple lutz-triple toe loop combination jump. She did only two rotations on the second jump after landing the lutz a bit awkwardly. “I think I made the smart choice,” Nagasu said of backing off the difficult triple jump.

Nagasu seemed resigned to the fact she has little chance of earning a medal at the Vancouver Games.

“The next Olympics I’ll know how to feel,” the teen said.

These Olympics belong to Canada’s Joannie Rochette. Her moving skate overshadowed everyone else because of the sudden death of her mother here two days ago. Everyone’s heart went out to the Canadian champion for obvious reasons. No matter what happens Thursday Rochette will be a celebrated Olympian.

The audience also was treated to two of the greatest skaters of their generation competing back-to-back. Mao Asada and Kim Yu-na have gone toe loop to toe loop since they were juniors. “She’s my rival, but in a good way, because we are kind of friends as well,” Asada said. “We have been skating together for a long time and we are the same age, but once you hit the ice and you start skating you just concentrate on your own skating.”

Japanese champion Asada went first, making a powerful statement. She skated to a harsh waltz that seemed incongruous to the free flowing lines she cut across the ice in a wine-colored lace costume.

Then came reigning world champion Kim of South Korea who represents the modern marriage of artistic and athletic skating, a Michelle Kwan with an arsenal of high-flying jumps. The short program performed to a medley of music from James Bond films was superb in every way. Kim, in an elegant black gown, fell into character while gliding effortlessly across the Coliseum surface. The short program was worthy enough to recall Kwan’s famous Rachmaninoff of 1998. Kim, 19, blew away her rival, building a lead of almost five points.

When asked if it was too much to overcome, Asada, also 19, laughed. “She usually has a 10-point lead,” Asada said.

Now the skaters will have to repeat their efforts in an intense, four-minute segment. One misstep could change the dynamic completely. Kim is not immune to errors even though she has lost only twice –both times to Asada – since 2008.  “My goal is to focus on each performance. I have one more day to practice, and I’m not worried because I think I have the best coach,” Kim said of Brian Orser, a two-time Olympic silver medalist for Canada.

Colorado’s Rachael Flatt, the U.S. champion who is fifth, has perhaps the best American chance to snag a bronze medal should Rochette (third) or Miki Ando (fourth) falter. Flatt, 17, is known for her consistency. If she does as expected it could add to the pressure of the two in front of her.

One of the biggest question marks in the long program will be how Rochette recovers from her emotional night Tuesday. She elevated her skating just two days after her mother Therese died of a heart attack then broke down in tears when it ended.

“’I watched her before she skated, it looked like she was struggling emotionally, then she pulled herself together,” said William Thompson. CEO of Skate Canada. “Her performance was magical.

“She’s on a difficult emotional roller coaster that’s not going to end tonight. No matter what she does, she’s already done enough. I think her mother is up there jumping up and down.”

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