I asked my readers which country had the deepest field of women competitors and by a healthy margin Japan was voted as having the deepest field.
Up until around 2006 that was an honor almost always reserved for the United States but skating in Asia and in Japan especially has exploded leading to a changing of the guard. Change can be a good thing.
Some facts: Japanese women have won four of the last six World Titles (Arakawa 2004, Ando 2007, Asada 2008 and 2010). Japanese women have finished 1st or 2nd in the last six consecutive Grand Prix Finals. Also, Japan, since 2003, is the only nation to consecutively qualify three women to the World Championships. Impressive, eh?
I think über-veteran Fumie Suguri got the ball rolling for Japan with some solid results after the 2002 Salt Lake City Games including two consecutive World Bronze Medals. Shizuka Arakawa's 2004 World Championship win further fueled the depth and competition in Japan. I think 2006 was the year Japan finally took over with the exit of Michelle Kwan from competition, Mao Asada's burst into the senior ranks, and of course, Arakawa's Olympic Gold. At that point, to compete internationally for Japan, you had to be one of the world's best and thus the amazing depth of the Japanese program was born.
But can they stay there?
This season Japan will boast an international team which includes the reigning World Champion Mao Asada and the 2007 World Champion Miki Ando. Veteran Fumie Suguri is still in the mix. Akiko Suzuki, will be competing this season and young'n Kanako Murakami makes her senior debut.
But the U.S. doesn't look too shabby either. Rachael Flatt and Mirai Nagasu I think proved last season they could keep up with the big girls. Mirai of course finished 4th at the Olympics and Rachael Flatt was the only skater who managed to defeat Kim Yu-Na in the free skate last season (2009 Cancer.Net Skate America). Ashley Wagner has continued to show promise and was the only American woman to make the Grand Prix Final last season. We also have Alissa Czisny, Caroline Zhang, and a young'n of our own on the move, Agnes Zawadzki.
The key to being the deepest team in the world comes down to one word, consistency. Japan has proven that their competitors are likely to be clutch in competition. With the U.S. it can be hit or miss.
If the U.S. wants to reclaim it's position as the women's skating superpower, they'll have to up the ante, buckle down, and dedicate themselves to solid consistent skating.