Kim Yu-Na Tough to Beat Going into World Championships Final

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Friday's Ladies Short Program event at the 2009 World Figure Skating Championships in Los Angeles left former champions Mao Asada and Miki Ando in third and fourth place respectively, coming into the final event, making room for a possible new winner, who will immediately become the Olympic favorite.

American Alissa Czisny opened with a strong triple lutz combination but fell on her other jumps, putting her at a distinct disadvantage, down as far as 14th place.  Soon after, '07 champ, Ando, skated a solid program but with one error.  Rachel Flatt, talented American 2008 Junior World Champion and first-timer at Worlds skated an endearing "Moon River" program, slipping out of her first jump but looking beautiful the rest of the program, moving into seventh.

I'll say it before and I'll say it again - Canadian champion Joannie Rochette skates in a style very similar to Michelle Kwan.  She's athletic, solid and artistic and she just moves like Kwan.  She's also a fast skater and her power put her in second place after the short, along with an entertaining and endearing style.

Mao Asada, the reigning champion, doubled a triple lutz, losing a significant amount of points, placing her third coming into the long program, but nine points behind Yu-Na, a wide gap.  However, even if Asada ends up in tenth place, she's still a favorite for 2010 - she had a huge growth spurt this year along with injuries, so she's needed a bit of time for adjusting to that.

Carolina Kostner of Italy, the 2008 silver medalist, followed Asada but put a hand down on her first jump combination and skated well, but just not well enough.  She's in fifth coming into the freeskate.

For Kim Yu-Na, after mistakes by the others, all she needed to do was skate a clean program.  With two bronze medals under her belt from 2007 and 2008, Kim won the Grand Prix Final in '06 and '07 and has been formidable since she hit the senior scene.  Her first jump was gigantic and she skated with an intensity like Brian Boitano's.  She also looked to be really enjoying her program, smiling throughout. 

Scott Hamilton kept raving about Yu-Na's great positions in his commentary, but it was her energy and flow that brought the house down.  If Yu-Na wins, she will be the first Korean skater to win a world title, an achievement in itself.  Not to mention her stellar Olympic prospects.  She broke her own world record for short program score.

Both Yu-Na and Asada have a breathtaking style with incredible jumps and and artistry on the level of Sasha Cohen.  They're incredible to watch.  The new generation of skaters will make tomorrow's long program truly exciting going into the Vancouver Olympic season.  And really, of the top skaters on the scene right now, any of them has a chance at winning next February.

So far, the American standings at Worlds don't bode well for the American ladies to earn three Olympic berths.  (Czisny and Flatt need no more than 13 placements total between them.)  American ladies have held three spots for as many Olympics as I can remember.  However, Flatt is one of those skaters that can never be counted out.  Although it's her first Worlds, she's got that Sarah Hughes sparkle, talent and drive.  Remember her name.  And don't count out Japan's Fumie Suguri, who has a knack for comebacks and could still end up on the podium as could Kostner.

And by the way, in case you missed it, American Evan Lysacek rocked the house in Los Angeles, winning the mens' title and securing 3 spots for U.S. men at the Olympics.

Sarah Granger misses the days when she could perform an axel with only a two minute warm-up.


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