Mao Asada (JPN) - After a super bumpy start to her season where she failed to medal at Rostelecom Cup and make the Grand Prix Final, she seems to have put the train back on the tracks with solid performances at both the recent Japanese Nationals and Four Continents Cup. In the free skate at Four Continents Cup she was credited with landing two triple axels in the free skate, making the 2008 World Champ a clear technical threat. The big problems for Asada this season, aside from some technical issues, have been the fact that her programs this season (her free skate in particular) leave many people cold. She skating to the very heavy Bells of Moscow which doesn't give her a chance to show off the usual lightness in her skating. Instead we are treated to what feels like a stage-tragedy on ice. If she can find a way to draw the audience in with the heavy dramatics and hit the technical content, she'll be formidable.
Miki Ando (JPN) - Miki is the only member of the Japanese ladies team that has Olympic experience, albeit a disastrous outing in Torino. She says she has learned her lessons from that experience and is prepared for this event:
This time I know what I have to do; I know what the goal is, so of course it's different.Miki was one of two Japanese ladies to qualify for the Grand Prix Final where she took the Silver Medal in a close contest between herself and reigning World Champ Kim Yu-Na. However, she was just 4th at Japanese Nationals. She made the team on the strength of her Grand Prix outings. Miki is a solid technician but like Asada, her Cleopatra free skate leaves many cold. In this packed field of women it will take more than a series of triple jumps for the 2007 World Champ to strike Gold. If she can excite with her choreography (something she has yet to do this season) and hit the jumps, then she'll have a shot.
Rachael Flatt (USA) - The newly crowned U.S. Champion enters her first Olympics and is seen by many (if not most) to be a longshot for the podium. However, while many write her off, I think she is in a great position to be a factor in Vancouver. She will not be dealing with all the expectations and pressures of many of the top contenders and will be free to cut loose and just go for it. Rachael is extremely consistent technically and recently has managed to get a triple-triple combo back into her short and long programs. I think she can be a factor here and I would love to see her defy her many detractors.
Kim Yu-Na (KOR) - Kim Yu-Na will be one of (if not the most) talked about athletes at these games. The reigning World Champ is the biggest sensation in her native Korea and enters these Olympics as the heavy (HEAVY!) favorite for Olympic Gold. She turned heads at the Grand Prix opener in Paris where she beat her own record score and set a new high benchmark. Her short program, set to music from James Bond, is one of the sassiest and sexiest things ever put to ice and her free skate is a quiet clinic in elegance. Kim Yu-Na's biggest competitor will be herself. She will have media in her face constantly, heavy expectations from her fans, and I think personal expectations she's likely put on herself. If she can manage all of that and skate clean she will have accomplished a great deal (including a likely Gold Medal).
Carolina Kostner (ITA) - Until the European Championships, Carolina's season had been a disaster. When she lost the Italian National Championships, it became a question if she would even qualify for the Olympics. At Europeans, she not only managed to claim Italy's lone ladies Olympic berth, but she did so with a win. However, her win was unimpressive with a free skate marred with mistakes (in fact, almost all the women at Europeans had unimpressive free skates). But, it at least stopped the momentum hemorrhage that was happening and put her on the path of recovery. Now, the question is if the win has put her confidence back in place? Carolina Kostner, while I've never been a big fan, has always been good at constructing programs that are point getters. If she can be confident and land her jumps she'll be in the mix in Vancouver. If she falters...well...she'd be out (How very Heidi Klum of me).
Alena Leonova (RUS) - Recently I'm scratching my head going "What happened?" At World's last season she was this bubbly, effervescent breath of fresh air that simply reveled performing on the ice. She continued that trend this season with big Grand Prix performances that earned her a ticket to the Grand Prix Final. There, however, things came unglued and the troubles began. She bombed that competition, lost Russian Nationals, and was member of the splat fest that was Europeans. She seems to have lost her spark. I suspect with her success came the pressure of expectation, something she had skated free from up until this season. If she can find a way to enjoy what she is doing and use the electricity of the crowd to her advantage, she'll be far better off than if she worries about placement.
Laura Lepisto (FIN) - The 2009 European Champ hasn't had quite the season she had last year, but she still remains one to keep an eye on. This season she has tackled more challenging technical content in her free skate. Like Kostner, Laura didn't have a great skate at the European Championships in Tallinn despite taking the Silver Medal. Laura has very strong component scores but will need to hit the harder jumps to be competitive with the top ladies in Vancouver. Like Rachael Flatt, she may benefit from having fewer expectations and less pressure placed upon her. Laura is one of those skaters that just seems to grab points from nowhere and if she can keep her cool she may find herself in the running for an Olympic medal.
Mirai Nagasu (USA) - She skated up a storm in Spokane on her way to taking the Silver Medal. She kept insisting that she just wanted to skate great and was looking to the future for greater opportunities. Apparently the future is now! She's a gifted skater with the ability to draw audiences in but her main trouble this season has been pesky downgrades. They plagued her at Samsung Anycall Cup of China, HomeSense Skate Canada, and at U.S. Nationals. With a chance to win at all three events, she received downgrades in the free skate killing her chances. If Mirai can get those jumps 'around the corner' as I say she'll be a tough little competitor.
Joannie Rochette (CAN) - The reigning World Silver Medalist was not looking great in the early part of this season. Two scrappy performances in her Grand Prix events and then a botched Grand Prix Final left many questioning her chances this season. She shut everyone up at Canadian Nationals with a brilliant skate that brought the house down and set herself up for success in Vancouver. Joannie, like Kim Yu-Na, will have tremendous pressure and expectations upon her. The media will no doubt be following her every step. If she can keep herself grounded, shut everything out mentally, and reproduce what she did in London, she could find herself on a Wheaties Box. They do have Wheaties in Canada...right?
Akiko Suzuki (JPN) - All season long you just got the sense that she really wanted to go to Vancouver...she really wanted it! She came out smokin' hot at Samsung Anycall Cup of China with a big unexpected win. She qualified for the Grand Prix Final and took the Bronze Medal with another sassy performance. She was finally able to stamp her ticket to Vancouver by besting Yukari Nakano at Japanese Nationals. She doesn't have the same kind of abilities as Kim, Asada, or Rochette but she has heart and guts and a competitive tenacity that's so fun to see on the ice. She's the only Japanese skater to get my blood really pumping this season and I know many others feel the same. I think she is the sentimental favorite here in Vancouver...Miss Congeniality if you will...and hopefully she can use that support to her advantage.