Vancouver 2010 hasn't been the constant high that usually comes with the Olympic Games. With the death of the Georgian luge competitor before the opening ceremonies began, a dark cloud formed over Vancouver that hasn't quite departed yet. As many have already heard, Canadian ladies' figure skating champion, Joannie Rochette, lost her mother to a heart attack earlier this week. She decided to compete anyway to show her country she would not let them or her family down.
I couldn't believe Rochette was going to compete, but after watching clips of her practicing during the week, I could tell that skating was helping keep her centered. With the most competitive field in the ladies' event ever to grace the sport, there was much to contend with beyond her own personal challenges. Rising to the occasion would have been tough for anyone, but the Olympic short program event proved to be one of the best ever, showcasing a series of amazing performances.
The first major contender to skate, American Mirai Nagasu, looked like she was really enjoying skating. She had clean lines, gorgeous positions, solid jumps and beautiful spins. Coached by Frank Carroll, known for coaching world champion Michelle Kwan and now Olympic champion Evan Lysacek, Nagasu looked well prepared. Although she seemed nervous and tense before taking the ice, you would have never known it after her skate.
Mao Asada burst into a dramatic short program with a huge triple-axel/double-toe-loop combination, wearing a gorgeous red lace dress. While her spins weren't quite as grand as Nagasu's, her powerful style and command of the jumps impressed the audience. She was incredibly happy after her skate, scoring 73.78 -- 10 points ahead of Nagasu -- who had a great score at 63.76.
The favorite, Yu-Na Kim, coached by Canadian world champion and Olympic silver medalist, Brian Orser, skated immediately following Asada. I think Kim's short program is one of my favorites ever in terms of the choreography and style with a James Bond theme. With a giant triple-triple combination and a seamless elegance, she was dazzling to watch, clearly having fun toward the end of her program with the footwork and musical interpretation. Not surprisingly, she scored a new world record for a ladies' short program with 78.50, taking the lead over Asada. At that point, it was pretty clear no one could top Kim's score.
Joannie Rochette, Canada's champion and the reigning world silver medalist, skated first in the final group. She had a confidence, a level of concentration and a steadiness I don't recall ever seeing in past performances. Skating a flawless program with the audience 200% behind her, cheering and clapping at every possible opportunity, Rochette looked stronger than she had at any other event this season.
The second the program ended, Rochette broke into tears as the audience gave her a standing ovation. Her black dress had a red rose on the back, making it tough not to think of how she must have felt, mourning and competing in the most challenging competition of her life. But she wanted to skate her best for her family and made it through. Still crying as the scores came up on the board, she didn't seem to care at all about them, but she pulled into third at that point, earning a personal best at 71.36. I think just skating her best was all she wanted to do. I hope she can hold it together for the long program, Thursday night's free skate.
Soon Rachel Flatt came out, skating in hot pink to a jazzy number that fits her bright personality. She landed her triple-triple combination, skated cleanly, kept up a great sense of speed and seemed to have a lot of fun. She earned 64.64, a personal best slightly ahead of Nagasu, but still a far cry from the top three. As much as I adore Flatt and Nagasu, their scores were far enough behind Kim and Asada to make it highly unlikely that an American will earn a podium spot this year. (It's still possible, depending on how the others perform tomorrow, but one of them would need an amazing skate, and one of the top three would need to make one or two significant mistakes.)
Miki Ando, 2007 world champion was the last of the top skaters, a giant jumper, completed a triple lutz-triple loop, the most difficult triple-triple of the group. She put her foot down after and the loop wasn't fully rotated, so that was a risk she probably shouldn't have taken. She scored a hair above Flatt at 64.76. I expect she'll make up points in her long program, putting her in a formidable position.
These are the top six who will skate in the final group on Thursday, the best of the best, the ladies to watch. The only skaters who did triple-triples in the short program were Kim, Flatt and Ando (whose didn't count), but Asada's triple axel combination certainly made up for the lack of a triple-triple. Here's the proof that jumps do still make a difference. So get ready for the main event -- the ladies' free skate -- tomorrow night!
By the way, for those who haven't heard, the not-so-new judging system passed its gold test and the Russians were dethroned by Canadians Virtue and Moir, followed by Americans Davis and White. No quads allowed, just pure, clean skating.
Sarah Granger is excited Rachel Flatt will be at Stanford next year, so she'll be able to watch her practice not far from the BlogHer HQ in the San Francisco Bay Area.