Menu

Olympics

Olympic gold latest prize in Kim-Asada rivalry

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Kim Yu-na circled the ice in one direction, Mao Asada the other.

Their paths are almost sure to converge at the Vancouver Olympics medals podium Thursday night, with one wearing the gold medal.

It always seems to be these two trading titles and records in figure skating's version of leapfrog. Kim took away the world title from Asada last year. Asada scored the highest marks ever, only to have Kim surpass them. When Asada nails a triple axel, Kim tops her with showmanship worthy of a Tony.

It happened that way again Tuesday night in the short program, with Kim setting a world best with 78.5 points to take a nearly five-point edge over her main rival.

"We have a little bit of a cushion," said Brian Orser, Kim's coach. "But Yu-na will put the short program aside and focus on the free skate. This is no time to hold back."

Kim never does — not that her South Korean countrymen would give her a chance to relax.

South Korea is still looking for its first Winter Olympics medal in a sport other than speedskating or short track, and fans there are expecting — demanding — Kim to deliver.

Anything but gold is unthinkable to them. Finishing behind Japan's Asada would be devastating to a nation that already has nicknamed Kim "Queen Yu-na."

"There's so much emphasis on the short. It's do or die," Orser said. "When that pressure is gone, there's like a lightness to your skating. There's an extra weight that is off your shoulders.

"I think she's just going to soar after this, she's just going to fly."

Kim might need to.

Asada is one of the few women in the world who attempt a triple axel, and she's the only one to do two of the 3½-revolution jumps in the free skate. If she lands a good one Thursday night, she might leap right over Kim.

A triple axel has a base value of 8.2 points, but Asada plans to do one in combination. Throw in the style points, and those two jumping passes alone could be worth almost 20 points.

"Usually, I think there's like a 10-point difference," Asada said after the short program. "So I feel good there's only this difference between myself and Yu-na."

Canada's Joannie Rochette is third, but she trails Asada by almost 2½ points, leaving little doubt one of the two most popular skaters in Asia will be wearing a gold medal when the time comes.

Miki Ando, the 2007 world champion, is fourth, followed by young Americans Rachael Flatt and Mirai Nagasu.

"I'm not surprised at all," said Frank Carroll, who coaches Nagasu and Vancouver men's gold medalist Evan Lysacek. "They're both world champions and they're both amazing."

Kim skates right before Asada in the final, a reversal of their order in the short program.

Kim skates to Gershwin's "Concerto in F," a light, classical piece that highlights her artistry. Its gentle melody is the perfect fit for her whisper-soft edge quality, and she appears to float above the ice in her footwork sections. And unlike her James Bond short program, there is no character to portray.

"Yu-na has her own style, she's not trying to emulate anyone else," Orser said. "She just has a style that's very generous and is open for everyone to appreciate."

Asada, meanwhile, skates to Rachmaninoff's "Bells of Moscow." It's bold and strong, demanding that everyone recognize the advantage she has athletically — not that it could be missed with those two triple axels planned for center ice.

"I like it," Orser said, referring to Kim and Asada skating back to back. "It's a nice comparison of the two programs because they're different, different styles. Mao's program is a little darker, has more drama. Yu-na's is a little lighter."

And if they both deliver, look out.