Who should you watch during the upcoming Olympic season? Over the next few weeks, Examiner Figure Skating will be going through each of the four disciplines and the skaters to keep an eye on.
The Essential 15: Olympic season
The return of Miki Ando, the new mom, makes the landscape of the Japanese ladies and their three Olympic spots very, very interesting. Since Ando stopped competing after winning her second World title in 2011, it has been about three ladies in Japan. But this season, it looks like there will be four (or more) contenders for those spots in Sochi. Unfortunately, one of these four ladies is going to go home really disappointed at the end of this year.
Worlds (3rd), Nationals (1st), 2010 Olympics (2nd)
You can’t talk Japanese ladies without highlighting the reigning Olympic silver medalist. Since that silver medal, Mao Asada has gotten a new coach and revamped her jumping technique. And toward the end of last season, she unveiled the only free skate currently in ladies’ skating with eight planned triples. It’s a tall (and risky) task, but she’s banking on those eight triples as her ticket to the gold.
Rewind four years, and you may remember that Asada didn’t really hit her hot streak until later in the season – she took silver thanks in large part to hitting three triple axels in Vancouver. You wonder how she will start her Olympic season this time around.
Two-time World champ, 2010 Olympics (5th)
The biggest X factor this season is no doubt the return of Miki Ando, who hasn’t really been in competition – except for a free-skate appearance at the 2011 Japan Open – since she won the 2011 World Championships. She’s trying for her third Olympic appearance and, if she does get that far, her first Olympic medal – all with a newborn at home.
It’s of note that Ando won that World title in 2011 in a field that is not nearly as technically proficient as the one that she will be facing during her comeback season. She certainly took full advantage of that and won it without even attempting a triple-triple combination. If she is to win an Olympic medal, that triple-triple is almost certainly necessary.
Worlds (12th), Nationals (4th), 2010 Olympics (8th)
What happened with Akiko Suzuki when she bombed Worlds earlier this year is still somewhat baffling, especially considering her superb skate at World Team Trophy a few weeks later. But what we have learned over the past couple of seasons is that she’s a streaky skater. Four years ago, she was the breakthrough skater of the season, winning her first Grand Prix title and finishing eighth in Vancouver. At 28, it’s most likely that this will be her last shot at the Olympics – but at 28, she is also putting out the most difficult technical stuff of her career.
Worlds (4th), Nationals (2nd)
Does the return of Ando put Kanako Murakami on the backburner? I don’t think so. Murakami, who had generally been considered fourth-best behind Asada-Ando-Suzuki during a bit of the past four years, finished a career-high fourth at Worlds in March and showed the star quality that propelled her to the Junior World title in 2010. If she gets her underrotations in check, don’t be surprised if this becomes her breakthrough season.
PREVIOUS: American ladies (Part 3)
NEXT: Japanese ladies (Part 2)