November 16, 2009 11:19
Korean figure skating star Kim Yu-na claimed her seventh consecutive Grand Prix title on Monday (Korean time) by winning the 2009 Skate America in Lake Placid, New York, with a combined score of 187.98 points. Although she finished second in the free program after Rachel Flatt of the U.S., with 111.70 points versus Flatt's 116.11, Kim was able to take home the overall title thanks to a world-record short program score of 76.28 points which she set a day earlier.
Kim is the clear favorite for the gold in February's Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. The 2009 world champion seems to be in a league of her own, handing her rivals crushing defeats by wide margins. In the season's first Grand Prix event, the Trophée Eric Bompard in Paris last month, Kim set a world record for women by surpassing the 210-point mark. Her strongest rivals, 2008 world champion Mao Asada and 2007 world champion Miki Ando, have each barely topped the 170-point mark just once this season. Asada earned 173.99 in Paris, and Ando scored 171.93 in the second event of the season. Skaters from the traditional powerhouses Europe and the U.S. are all around the 160-point mark. The U.S. is currently experiencing an unprecedented drought in top-class women skaters, having never missed an Olympic medal from 1968 to 2006. Europe has also been suffering a dearth of leading women skaters since Russia's Irina Slutskaya left competitive skating in 2006.
There are two important variables that could affect Kim's chances for the gold in the Olympics. The first is how well her rivals can step up their performances over the next three months. "We never underestimate what Mao [Asada] can do. She has a lot of time [to train]; she's not going to the Grand Prix Final," Kim's coach Brian Orser said, according to Ice Network. "Joannie Rochette is a very strong skater. You can't rest on your laurels or these big scores," he added.
The next lies in how Kim maintains her top condition until the Olympics. She faces the Grand Prix Final in Tokyo from Dec. 3 to 6, and then she will carry the Olympic torch on Dec. 19, running about 300 meters in downtown Hamilton, an hour's drive from her training camp in Toronto. At the recommendation of official Olympics partner Samsung Electronics, it will be Kim's second consecutive Olympics to run with the torch.
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