Olympic Figure Skating 2014: Biggest Threats Facing Gold-Medal Favorites
Figure skating is one of the most highly anticipated Winter Olympics events every four years, and there's sure to be some stiff competition for the gold in 2014 at Sochi.
South Korea's Yuna Kim is the gold-medal favorite on the woman's side, while Canada's Patrick Chan carries the same distinction in the men's competition.
Both skaters have impressed heading into the Winter Games, but they'll need to continue putting their best foot forward to live up to expectations.
Upsets are a natural part of competition, and it won't be surprising in the least if Kim or Chan is overtaken by one of their top challengers.
Here's a look at the men and women who will put Kim and Chan to the test when the action commences in Sochi in the 2014 Olympic Games.
Top Challengers to Yuna Kim
Kim won gold at the 2010 Olympic Games, smashing a world record in the process. She took time off but came back strong before these upcoming Games, winning the world title in 2013.
Here's a look at the women with the best chance of beating her in Sochi.
Mao Asada, Japan
Japan's Mao Asada was the silver medalist in the 2010 Winter Games behind Kim, and she'll be her top challenger once again in Sochi.
She earned a bronze medal in the 2013 World Championships and gold medals in both the Four Continents Championships and the 2013-14 Grand Prix, showing continued development throughout.
Former coach Tatiana Tarasova believes Asada has what it takes to bring home the gold, as relayed by Ryusuke Hirai of The Asahi Shimbun:
My dream is to have an athlete reach the pinnacle at the Olympics by performing a perfect routine to the great music of Rachmaninoff. I’m confident that Mao is the only one who will be able to allow me to realize my dream.
While Tarasova is no longer Asada's coach, she did help choreograph her free-skate routine, which features “Piano Concerto No. 2” by Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff, per Hirai.
Asada has the chops to pull it all together and make a perfect run. Now all she has to do is make it happen with the world watching.
Yulia Lipnitskaia, Russia
It's going to take a fearless performance from 15-year-old Russian sensation Yulia Lipnitskaia to take down the two heavy favorites in Sochi.
She won a silver medal in the 2013-14 Grand Prix Final behind Asada and most recently claimed gold at the 2014 European Championships in Budapest on her way to the Winter Games.
“I think Lipnitskaia could be the surprise of the Olympics,” said Tara Lipinski, the American who won the gold medal at age 15, via Patrick Reevell of the New York Times.
It will be fascinating to see how the teenage star handles the immense pressure of competing on the world's grandest stage. Young phenoms like her and Lipinski must conquer their fears in order to utilize their superior skill against the world's best.
Top Challengers to Patrick Chan
Unlike Kim, Chan has yet to win an Olympic medal of any color. However, after finishing in fifth place in his native Vancouver in 2010, the Canadian star has rattled off three straight world titles.
He's gotten even hotter heading into Sochi, too, breaking three records in an amazing display at the 2013 ISU Grand Prix in Paris, France.
These are the men who have the best shot at derailing Chan's Olympic dreams.
Denis Ten, Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan's Denis Ten burst onto the international scene at the 2013 World Championships, finishing in second place behind Chan.
It was a shocking showing that included a win in the free program, prompting Brian Cazeneuve of SI.com to make this statement: "Kazakhstan's Denis Ten...is now considered a threat to take gold in Sochi, especially if Canada's Patrick Chan, the world champ and Olympic favorite, falters again like he did at the end of his long program."
A couple of minor gold medals highlight Ten's recent activity. The talent is surely in place for the Kazakh to win the gold at Sochi. He'll need to put on the show of his life, however, to take down the surging Chan.
Yuzuru Hanyu, Japan
Speaking of skaters who are surging, Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu comes into Sochi fresh off his gold-medal performance at the latest Grand Prix Final in Fukuoka.
He set a new world record in the short program as part of his phenomenal showing, earning a score of 99.84, beating Chan's mark of 98.52, per Yahoo! Sports.
Head coach Brian Orser, who guided Yuna Kim to her gold in 2010, discussed how Hanyu has thrived under the pressure of becoming a favorite, per Wakako Yuki of The Japan News, via TheStar.com:
I think it is really good for Yuzuru’s mentality, as he wants to be considered a contender. He’s better when he is considered a contender and works harder. I think it is also good for the sport and makes it more interesting, as there has been a clear favourite the last couple of seasons.
Another huge performance matching his Grand Prix Final routine will surely give Hanyu a reasonable shot at achieving the gold medal in Sochi.
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