Ice Network

Borscht Belts: One triple Axel's enough for Asada

Under-the-radar Kostner looks to control speed in "Bolero" free
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Japan's Mao Asada has high hopes for the lone triple Axel in her free skate. -Getty Images

Mao Asada is known for her triple Axel, and in Vancouver, she became the first woman to land three in one Olympics (one in the short program, two in the free skate). 

In Sochi, however, she decided that one triple Axel in the free skate will be enough.

Following the team event, she went to train in Armenia. She has been landing gorgeous ones in practices since her return to Sochi but said having two in the free skate might be too much.

"If I include two triple Axels in my program, it can be a big burden," she said at a press conference Monday. "At this Olympics, I want to show all my jumps."

Asada grew up idolizing Midori Ito, the first woman to land the triple Axel, and has discovered that being able to follow in the figure skates of her idol has been both thrilling and frustrating.

Although Asada has entered skating's record books, she has not had much success with the jump this season. She has tried unsuccessfully to land it cleanly in international competitions this season and then fell on it in the team event short program.

Should she find lightning in a bottle and land one during the ladies competition, she would be the first woman to land a triple Axel in consecutive Olympics.

"I don't think it's a big burden for me," Asada said of attempting one in the free skate here. "I want to stay strong because I want to do the jump. I really want to do the jump this time."

Petrenko's practice perch

Viktor Petrenko has seen Yu-Na Kim practice ever since the South Korean Olympic champion arrived. That's because he's been rink side with Ukraine champion Natalia Popova, who is in the same practice group.

"What I see is that Yu-Na looks strong and consistent," Petrenko said following practice Monday. "She is the perfect jumper. I don't see the weakest link in her skating. She is ready to compete."

That said, Petrenko, an Olympic gold medalist himself, doesn't believe Kim is the only one who could win the gold medal here.

"She doesn't have a priority pass to the podium," Petrenko said. "There are several girls who can challenge her.

"They all came here and they are all in shape, and they came to compete," he added. "It comes down to who can handle the pressure."

Julia Lipnitskaia of Russia could pose the biggest roadblock in Kim's path to a second consecutive gold medal. Lipnitskaia dazzled in the team event, in which Russia captured the gold medal, and has become quite the sensation in Russia. She has been in Moscow since the team competition.

Petrenko, originally of Ukraine, represented the Soviet Union in 1988 and then the Unified Team in 1992, when he won the gold medal. Although he's lived in the United States for years, he clearly understands the importance of winning a gold medal in the ladies event for Russia, but he thinks Lipnitskaia can handle it.

"She's got a lot of pressure for someone who's 15 years old," Petrenko said. "But it seems like she's strong. She's got the support of her home country."

Another one he's watching is American Gracie Gold, who impressed Petrenko with her performance in the team event free skate.

"Technically, she is as strong as Julia," Petrenko said. "She's polished."

Bringing Bolero back

At the 1984 Olympic Winter Games in Sarajevo, ice dancers Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean performed to "Bolero," and anytime that music is played in a skating arena, it brings back memories.

Italy's Carolina Kostner will be skating to the famous piece by Maurice Ravel in her free skate, and she has a special connection to Torvill and Dean.

"The music keeps memories for me of very special skating with the way Jayne and Christopher skated it in 1984, and knowing my dad was in the ice rink when they skated," said Kostner, whose father, Erwin, was a hockey player for Italy in the 1984 Winter Games. 

"That music helped me get through the whole season last year when I didn't want to compete, but it is such a cool program, and I did want to skate to it. I feel now that it is my music that is my program."

The music is also a brilliant choreographic decision. Kostner is known for her incredible speed, and she is so fast that sometimes the speed can be a detriment. But the pacing of "Bolero" is something that cannot be sped up.

"I've learned that skating slow can also be fun," Kostner said with a smile. "The music has the same rhythm all through it, but it rises toward the end."

Kostner left Sochi on Feb. 10 to train at her usual base in Oberstdorf, Germany. Although Kim and Lipnitskaia have dominated the gold-medal discussion in the ladies event, Kostner is not someone to discount. She enters these Olympics having won the silver medal at the 2013 World Championships and is a former world champion (2012).

"The individual event now is a completely new competition," Kostner said. "It starts from zero for everybody. I have a strange feeling, and I do not know what to expect, especially since it did not go so well for me [in Vancouver]. But, I am so happy to be here, and it was cool that I had the opportunity to be here before."

Short program draw

The final group of ladies to skate the short program will compete in this order: Lipnitskaia, Kostner, Ashley Wagner, Maé Bérénice Méité, Adelina Sotnitkova and Asada. Gold is in the second-to-last group (22nd), and Polina Edmunds will be the first American, taking the ice as the 12th skater in the event.

Birthday wishes

After Madison Chock and Evan Bates finished their free dance, Bates sent out happy birthday wishes to his mother, Nancy, who was in the stands. He couldn't have given her a better birthday gift, as he and Chock performed a heartfelt program to music from Les Misérables.

"I think it is was one of our best we've done," said Bates, who was competing in his second Olympic Games after having skated with Emily Samuelson in Vancouver.

When asked if they planned on staying in Sochi through the Closing Ceremony, Bates smiled. They will; after all, the Closing Ceremony will mark Bates' 25th birthday.

No Russian roulette

Russia has long been an ice dancing power, as teams from Russia/Soviet Union/Unified Teams have won 18 of 33 medals in the Olympic Winter Games. Seven times, its teams have won the gold medal.

The team of Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov brought the crowd in the Iceberg Skating Palace to its feet with its riveting performance to Swan Lake. As soon as the music played, the crowd began to cheer, and the team fed off the audience's energy to win a bronze medal. Their medal ensured that a team representing Russia, the Soviet Union or the Unified Team has won an ice dance medal in every Olympic Winter Games dating back to 1976 when the sport was first introduced to the Olympic program.  

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