Friday, April 22, 2011

2011 World Figure Skating Championships: Ladies Preview

The big story next week in Moscow on the ladies front will be the competitive return of World and Olympic champion Yu-Na Kim. Thickening the plot, her biggest rival, Mao Asada, struggled for the majority of this season but returned to her top form back in February at Four Continents. Then there is Miki Ando who dominated most of the season, but will she be able to remain in tip top shape with the long break in the season. And Americans Rachael Flatt and Alissa Czisny are certainly not to be counted out either.

The Top Contenders
The Queen, Yu-Na Kim, will take her first strokes across competitive ice this season at Worlds. That would be a tall order for anyone other than Yu-Na, who has recently switched coaches. If she says she is ready to compete for the top spot then I fully believe she is. I'm excited to see her new programs, particularly her Giselle short program which will be interesting because it is a ballet and Yu-Na is not known for her turnout or pointed toes. Her free skate is a love letter to Korea and I expect a very emotional performance. There has been much speculation as to her jump layout but none of that means anything to me. In my opinion, if she lands her jumps and goes clean in both programs, she'll win...she is just that good.
 One of the few women in the world who has beaten Yu-Na Kim is Mao Asada, the 2008 and 2010 World Champion. She had a disastrous Grand Prix after re-learning her jumping technique, a strategy which ultimately proved effective as she overcame her earlier struggles to win a silver at Four Continents in February. Only time will tell if revamping her jump technique will help her in the long run, but to my eye her jumps do look fully rotated now and that will help her hold onto the precious technical element points that she needs to overtake Yu-Na Kim. One great thing that Mao has going for her is that her teammates are some of the best in the world. Because the Japanese field is so deep, some of their greatest challenges of the season come at Nationals and even making the World team is a great triumph for her, especially with the way her season started.
Many would argue that Miki Ando is the favorite for the World title because she won both of her Grand Prix events, Japanese Nationals, and Four Continents. Her only off competition was the Grand Prix Final, due in part to a poor short program which she was debuting at that event. I too would have picked Miki to win back when Worlds were in Japan in March, but I have no way of predicting how the downtime has effected her. I'm not going to say that the extra month has necessarily hurt her, but I do believe that it will prove advantageous for her two biggest competitors, Kim and Asada. Regardless of the color, I do not see Miki Ando leaving Moscow without a medal of some color around her neck unless she makes some major mistakes.
Alissa Czisny definitely gets the award for comeback kid this season, returning from several disappointing seasons to win gold medals at Skate Canada, the Grand Prix Final, and US Nationals. She showed signs of "old Alissa" when she fell several times at Four Continents but let's just hope that was a sigh of exhaustion rather than returning to old patterns. What I love about Alissa is that even though she doesn't have a triple-triple or a triple axel, she still often beats the "more technical" ladies in the technical elements scores with her high level and well executed spins and spirals. She is also just gorgeous to watch when she is 'on'. I'm praying that she can maintain her focus and just relax and skate the way she has the majority of the season. If she does that, I truly believe that she could find herself on the podium next week.
If you've been following my blogs or my twitter at all this season, you'll know that Rachael Flatt is the sentimental favorite for me. For some reason I relate to her and my heart goes out to her for how much she has struggled to impress the International judges. I've even said many times that "Rachael Flatt is my home girl", I've been on #teamflatt, and I've even lent her my signature catch phrase "kick it and stick it" via twitter. Rachael was quoted this week as saying that this World podium will come down, not to who goes clean, but to who wants it most and fights for it the hardest. If this proves true, Rachael has an advantage because I've not seen anyone fight as hard as she has this season, especially in that gorgeous new short program to East of Eden. Many criticized how freely she skated it at Nationals but I thought it was phenomenal and she needs to skate that short program, as well as her free skate, with the same reckless abandon next week in Moscow and she could find herself fighting for the podium. I only hope that the judges give her the marks she deserves and don't hold her down in the program components scores based on expectations and previous competitions.
Kanako Murakami, the youngster from Japan burst onto the senior scene this year in wonderful fashion, winning two Grand Prix medals, one of them gold, and a bronze at the Final. She also beat Japanese favorites Akiko Suzuki and Fumie Suguri at nationals to qualify for Worlds and she has a legitimate shot at the podium. I love that she is so mature and has not been phased by the high level of ladies she's competed against this season, yet she also maintains the youthful exuberance that won her the World Junior title last year, particularly in her Jumping Jack short program. She has struggled slightly with consistency in the free skate and that will be a huge factor in how she finishes next week. Nonetheless, because of her age she has a technical edge over most of these ladies and that will be a huge advantage.
As much as it pains me to say it, Carolina Kostner is always a threat for the podium. I have seen my fair share of figure skating and am fairly confidant in the ins and outs of the judging system, yet everything I see Kostner's scores I'm baffled. People complain that her PCS are too high, which I agree with, but what really confuses me are the technical elements scores, especially in the earlier events this year when she performed a very simple jump layout. Nonetheless, she will be a factor in the top group of ladies next week and now that she is supposedly performing the flip and lutz again, she'll be a threat for the podium in Moscow next week. I think she can finish anywhere between second and tenth depending on whether she keeps it together and how kind the judges are to her.

In The Hunt
Kiira Korpi is one of those ladies who will probably be in the second to last group after the short, but could also easily be in the first group. She did win Grand Prix Paris this season, was the first alternate to the Grand Prix Final, and also medaled at Europeans. She is a gorgeous lyrical skater and also has that triple-triple in her arsenal. One thing I think she lacks is the fight and the grit that it takes to make a champion, but she very well could bring that out and this would be the time to do it. 
Cynthia Phaneuf of Canada is another dark horse because she can triumph of self-destruct on any given occasion. What Korpi lacks in grit, Cynthia more than makes up for. She is ferocious and she is a fighter. She finished a surprise 5th at Worlds last year, 4th in both Grand Prix events this year, and 6th at Four Continents so she is definitely a threat to make the final group of ladies for the free skate.
Amelie Lacoste, also of Canada, is similar to Phaneuf in that she has a lot of fight in her. She too has had varied results this year with a bronze at Skate Canada, 5th at Skate America and a disappointing 9th at Four Continents. Actually, she is only competing at Worlds because Myrianne Samson withdrew, so this is her golden opportunity if she can grab on to it.
Elena Gedevanishvilli has been all over the place in the past few seasons and this year she took 6th at NHK Trophy, 7th at Skate America, and 8th at Europeans. Though her skating doesn't do much for me, she has my favorite coach ever, Robin Wagner, so I have to give her credit for that.
Sarah Hecken of Germany is another skater that seems to hang just below the ladies at the top level. Most of her Grand Prix finishes are 6th-8th and she was 12th at Worlds last year and 11th at Europeans this year. She'll have to go all out and make big moves to improve those placements this year.
Alena Leonova of Russia is someone who I think will go into the free skate in the second to last group and finish somewhere in that group as well. She is good enough to keep on that pace, but I don't see her finishing in the top 6. She did place 5th at Europeans this year, but she'll have a handful of Japanese, American, and Canadian women to contend with at home in Moscow  next week.
Ksenia Makarova is a skater I think could really benefit from home field advantage in Moscow next week. She certainly has Johnny Weir's support, that much is for sure. This is a big year for her as it is her last chance to go into World as the top Russian lady before the phenomenal juniors move up to the senior level.
The Rest of the Field
Cheltzie Lee (AUS): 20th at 2010 Olympics; 17th at 2010 Worlds; 10th at 2011 Four Continents
Belinda Schonberger (AUT): 18th at 2010 JGP Austria; 19th at 2010 JGP Germany; 12th at 2010 Coup de Nice; 11th at 2010 Ice Challenge Graz; 2nd at 2011 Bavarian Open; 6th at 2011 Mont Blanc Trophy
Ira Vanut (BEL): 4th at 2010 JGP Austria; 3rd at 2010 JGP Germany; 4th at 2010 Coup de Nice; 2nd at 2011 Junior European Olympics
Hristina Vassileva (BUL): 18th at 2010 Ice Challenge Graz; 12th at 2010 Golden Spin; 23rd at 2011 Europeans
Bingwa Geng (CHN): 5th at 2010 Cup of China; 5th at 2011 Asian Winter Games; 13th at 2011 Four Continents
Melinda Wang (TPE): 18th at 2011 Four Continents
Karina Johnson (DEN): 35th at 2010 Worlds; 6th at 2010 The Nordics; 10th at 2010 Nebelhorn Trophy; 15th at 2010 Ice Challenge Graz; 7th at 2011 The Nordics; 17th at 2011 Europeans
Elena Glebova (EST): 21st at 2010 Olympics; 21st at 2010 Worlds; 6th at 2010 Finlandia Trophy; 10th at 2010 Cup of Russia; 7th at 2010 NRW Trophy Singles Pairs; 7th at 2011 Winter Universiade
Juulia Turkkila (FIN): 5th Junior at 2010 The Nordics; 10th at 2010 JGP Germany; 7th at 2010 Ice Challenge Graz; 3rd at 2011 The Nordics; 15th at 2011 Europeans
Mae Berenice Meite (FRA): 7th at 2010 Triglav Trophy; 3rd at 2010 Coup de Nice; 8th at 2010 Skate America; 9th at 2010 Grand Prix Paris; 9th at 2011 Europeans
Jenna McCorkell (GBR): 29th at 2010 Olympics; 14th at 2010 Worlds; 5th at 2010 Nebelhorn Trophy; 11th at 2010 NHK Trophy; 10th at 2010 Skate America; 14th at 2011 Europeans
Georgia Glastris (GRE): 44th at 2010 Worlds; 21st at 2010 JGP Great Britain; 18th at 2010 JGP Czech; 18th at 2010 Golden Spin Zagreb
Tiffany Packard Yu (HKG): 25th at 2010 Merano Cup; 25th at 2011 Four Continents
Viktoria Pavuk (HUN): 8th at 2010 Crystal Cup; 11th at 2010 Golden Spin; 19th at 2011 Europeans
Clara Peters (IRL): 47th at 2010 Worlds; 22nd at 2010 Coup de Nice; 24th at 2010 Merano Cup; 27th at 2011 Europeans
Roberta Rodeghiero (ITA): 4th at 2010 Mont Blanc Trophy; 6th at 2010 O Nepala Memorial: 15th at 2010 Merano Cup; 16th at 2010 NRW Trophy Singles Pairs; 6th at 2011 Winter Universiade; 3rd at 2011 Mont Blanc Trophy
Fleur Maxwell (LUX): 33rd at 2010 Worlds; 13th at 2010 Merano Cup; 9th at 2010 Ice Challenge Graz; 21st at 2010 NRW Trophy Singles Pairs; 10th at 2010 Golden Spin Zagreb; 22nd at 2011 Europeans
Mary Ro Reyes (MEX): 22nd at 2010 JGP Germany; 21st at 2010 Coup de Nice; 29th at 2011 Four Continents
Mericien Venzon (PHI): 23rd at 2010 JGP Japan; 11th at 2010 Asian Winter Games; 22nd at 2011 Four Continents
Min-Jeong Kwak (KOR): 13th at 2010 Olympics; 22nd at 2010 Worlds; 9th at 2010 Cup of China; 11th at 2010 Skate America; 3rd at 2011 Asian Winter Games; 8th at 2011 Four Continents
Sabina Mariouta (ROU): 27th at 2010 JGP France; 21st at 2010 JGP Brasov; 6th at 2010 Crystal Skate; 11th Junior at 2010 Santa Clause Cup; 21st Junior at 2010 European Youth Olympics;
Marina Seeh (SRB): 46th at 2010 Worlds; 18th at 2010 Triglav Trophy; 15th at 2011 Bavarian Opeh;
Lejeanna Marais (RSA): 7th at 2010 Crystal Skate; 20th at 2011 Winter Universiade; 15th at 2011 Four Continents
Sonia Lafuente (ESP): 22nd at 2010 Olympics; 20th at 2010 Worlds; 10th at 2010 Skate Canada; 6th at 2010 Merano Cup; 7th at 2010 Grand Prix Paris; 1st at 2010 Golden Spin; 2nd at 2011 Winter Universiade; 12th at 2011 Europeans
Joshi Helgesson (SWE): 7th at 2010 Cup of China; 4th at 2010 Skate America; 6th at 2011 The Nordics; 2nd at 2011 Mont Blanc Trophy
Viktoria Helgesson (SWE): 10th at 2010 Worlds; 9th at 2010 NHK Trophy; 6th at 2010 Skate America; 1st at 2010 Merano Cup; 1st at 2011 The Nordics; 6th at 2011 Europeans 
Bettina Heim (SUI): 32nd at 2010 Worlds; 8th at 2010 Mont Blanc; 14th at 2010 Triglav Trophy; 9th at 2010 O Nepala; 4th at 2010 Crystal Skate; 13th at 2011 Winter Universiade
Taryn Jurgensen (THA): 20th at 2010 JGP France; 27th at 2011 Four Continents
Birce Atabey (TUR): 19th at 2010 Triglav Trophy; 22nd at 2010 JGP Austria; 24th at 2010 JGP Germany; 16th at 2010 Ice Challenge; 28th at 2011 Europeans
Irina Movchan (UKR): 40th at 2010 Worlds; 6th at 2010 Ice Challenge; 16th at 2011 Winter Universiade; 26th at 2011 Europeans

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