5:22 PM EDT, October 26, 2013
So what do we know about the state of women’s figure skating after the first two Grand Prix events of the Olympic season?
1. Put Russia’s Julia Lipnitskaia in the mix for a 2014 Olympic medal – maybe even gold? – after her stunning free skate Saturday at Skate Canada. Technically brilliant, graceful throughout the four minutes, Lipinitskaia’s performance to music from the film “Schindler’s List” could be truly remarkable by the end of the season if she can add some emotion and skate at more than one speed.
Lipnitskaia, 15, won Skate Canada in Saint John, New Brunswick, with a total of 198.23 points to 193.25 for Akiko Suzuki of Japan, a woman of a certain age (28) by skating standards. Short program leader Gracie Gold of the United States wound up third overall (186.65) after a free skate with a fall on one jump, a two-handed landing on another and negative grades of execution on four jumps.
2. Gold has made significant improvement in her month with Frank Carroll, but she still has a way to go. Her jumps came apart in the middle of the free skate – wonky triple flip, fall on triple lutz, under-rotated triple salchow.
“There were a lot of good things,” Gold said. “I let my mind slip a little bit and g ot a little bit out of focus heading into the triple lutz and the triple sal, but I was able to regain concentration for the last combination.”
Carroll also accentuated that positive.
“I was pleased she held it together,” he said. “I’m not unhappy at all, and she’s not unhappy. We know we have work to do, and we certainly are encouraged.”
3. At this point, Ashley Wagner is again – and clearly – the top woman in the United States. At the end of last season, Gold had edged ahead in my estimation, even if Wagner was placed ahead of her at nationals (1-to-2) and worlds (5-to-6).
Wagner’s solid second place at Skate America last week put behind her the shaky performances she had at the Grand Prix Final, nationals and worlds last season. She is the most reliable U.S. woman.
4. The whole picture should be clearer after next week, when two-time world junior medalist Agnes Zawadzki (U.S.), 2012 world champion and 2013 runner-up Carolina Kostner (Italy) and 2013 world fourth placer Kanako Murakami (Japan) make their Grand Prix season debuts in Beijing.
Zawadzki has become the successor to Wagner as “the almost girl” after missing the two-member U.S. women’s world team by one place the past two seasons. With a third spot available at the Olympics, the inconsistent Zawadzki would make herself the choice to earn it with a strong showing at Cup of China.
5. Suzuki, world bronze medalist in 2012, looked good enough Saturday to make what she says will be her final season a memorable one. There is a mesmerizing grace and charm about her skating, particularly the spins, but she made errors on four jumps in the free skate.
6. Hovering in the background is Yuna Kim of South Korea, the reigning Olympic and world champion who finished last season as far and away the world’s best woman singles skater. Kim withdrew from her two scheduled Grand Prix events with a foot bruise that was called not serious. Her competitive return could come at a second tier international event late this fall or the Korean Championships in early winter.
7. Mao Asada of Japan won Skate America and, with even a little uncertainty over Kim’s health, is likely the current favorite for Olympic gold, even though Kostner has beaten her at the last two worlds.
8. The last word(s) of any story about the state of women’s figure skating still have to be. . . Yuna Kim.
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