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Asada, Kim on top of ladies world rankings

Rest of world has a long way to go to catch the top two

Mao Asada secured the No. 1 spot with her world title in Sweden last March.
Mao Asada secured the No. 1 spot with her world title in Sweden last March. (Getty Images)

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By Todd Hinckley
(10/20/2008) - Of all four skating disciplines, the ladies might be the most clear cut at the top of the polls. Japan's Mao Asada, the defending world champion, and Korea's Yu-Na Kim are 1-2 in icenetwork.com's season-opening World Figure Skater Rankings.

Asada took a firm grip on the No. 1 spot when she won the world title last March in Gothenburg, Sweden. Her performances were not flawless, but she showed her resilience when she regrouped in her free skate after falling on her opening Axel. She came back to garner enough points to earn the gold medal. Asada hopes that her coaching change to Tatiana Tarasova will help her achieve a level of consistency that will make her very difficult to beat.

Kim was the best skater in the world for the first part of the 2007-08 season, but a hip injury seriously affected her abilities down the stretch. She seemed to regroup during the free skate at worlds, winning that segment and earning her second straight bronze medal. Training in Toronto has really helped her preparation for the 2008-09 season, giving her a little more breathing room than she's allowed back home in Korea. If she's fully healthy, it's very possible that she could overtake Asada on top of this list.

There are several other ladies that hope to skate at the same level as Asada and Kim. Italy's Carolina Kostner has distinguished herself among that group. Her breakthrough 2007-08 season was capped off with a silver medal at the 2008 World Championships, really distancing herself from the other skaters chasing Asada and Kim. She struggled to win gold at the Karl Shafer Memorial last week, so she'll need to get back on track if she wants to challenge the top two.

Following Kostner is a group of veterans separated by fewer than 13 points. Kimmie Meissner of the U.S. (No. 4), Joannie Rochette of Canada (No. 5), Sarah Meier of Switzerland (No. 6) and Miki Ando of Japan (No. 7) all have something to prove. For Meissner and Ando, it's that they can put subpar 2007-08 seasons behind them and regain their world championship form. For Rochette and Meier, it's that they haven't peaked and can challenge for the worlds podium in Los Angeles.

Meissner, in particular, who won the world title in 2006, made some major adjustments to gear up for this year. She has moved away from home for the first time in order to train with Richard Callaghan and Todd Eldredge in Florida. She has already regained a lot of her confidence and hopes to defend her title at the Grand Prix Series-opening Skate America.

Yukari Nakano of Japan is eighth in the rankings. She could easily join the group of veterans in front of her this year, and perhaps even challenge the best in the world in Los Angeles in March. Her third-place short program last season in Gothenburg, and fourth-place finish overall, showed that she's not afraid of hanging with the best. In two trips to the world championships, she's finished in the top five both times. There is no reason to think she can't continue that streak this season.

2007 world junior champion Caroline Zhang of the United States had a strong first international season at the senior level in 2007-08. She enters this season at No. 9 and will only improve that standing if she can make the Grand Prix Final again.

Finland's Laura Lepistö rounds out the top 10. After a slow start to her season, she announced her arrival on the world stage with a bronze medal at the 2008 European Championships. She's added two silver medals in her two tune-up events thus far this season, so she could be rounding into form just in time for the Grand Prix Series.

Mirai Nagasu had a strong showing on the Junior Grand Prix Series in 2007, capping it off with a win at the JGP Final. Then, at the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, she surprised a lot of people by winning the title. The 15-year-old is moving up to the senior level internationally this year and will be able to test her mettle against the best in the world. Starting at Skate America, we'll see if she's deserving of the No. 11 spot in the rankings.

Another young American who had a breakout season in 2007-08 is 12th in the rankings -- world junior champion Rachael Flatt. The 16-year-old had a full summer, keeping up with her schoolwork while learning two new programs. She's ambitious too, hoping to include two triple-triple combinations this season. If she can do that, she won't be in the second half of this list for very long.

Julia Sebestyen of Hungary is No. 13. The 27-year-old veteran will have to improve on her performances in the Grand Prix Series last year if she wants to maintain her position in the world. Since winning the world title in 2004, she has not placed in the top 10 in that event, so it seems that her best years are behind her.

Finland's second skater on the list is Kiira Korpi at No. 14. The elegant 20-year-old did not compete at her planned tune-up event, the 2008 Finlandia Trophy, but she should be ready for her Grand Prix assignments. Her main goal for this season could be to win that elusive Finnish national title; she's won two silvers and a bronze medal in the last four years.

U.S. bronze medalist Ashley Wagner is 15th in the rankings. She was the only medalist from the U.S. Championships to be old enough to skate at worlds, but she finished a disappointing 16th. If she can skate as well on the world stage as she did in Saint Paul, Minn., last January, she should have no trouble climbing this list.

The bottom quarter of the rankings starts with four veterans, with one of the 2008 JGP stars coming in at No. 20. Japan's Fumie Suguri (No. 16) insists that she's not finished with competitive skating and continues to put forth quality efforts on the ice. Canada's Mira Leung (No. 17) got back on track in the 2007-08 season, rebounding from a 24th-place finish at the 2007 worlds.

Americans Bebe Liang (No. 18) and Emily Hughes (No. 19) are next. Liang broke through last year, reaching her first world championship, where she finished a very respectable 10th. Hughes, on the other hand, hopes to rebound in 2008-09. She missed most of last season due to injury and struggled on the ice while adjusting to her freshman year at Harvard.

Another American, Kristine Musademba, holds the bottom spot in the rankings, thanks to two gold medals on the Junior Grand Prix Series this season. A high finish at the JGP Final will legitimize her spot here and provide some hope for a future rise.