- - Monday, February 17, 2014

SOCHI, Russia — Every time Yuna Kim has taken the ice in Sochi, the cameras have been flickering at Olympic-record speeds. Kim, known to her many fans worldwide as “Queen Yuna,” is competing in what she said will be her final Olympics, and some believe she will win her second gold medal.

But as soon as you are ready to plan the queen’s second coronation, you realize there’s Julia Lipnitskaia. The ridiculously flexible 15-year-old became the darling of the Winter Games, having helped guide Russia to the team gold medal.

Then there’s Mao Asada of Japan. If she can land a triple axel, the 2010 silver medalist could vault to the top of the podium.

PHOTOS: Julia Lipnitskaia among those giving Yuna Kim a run for the gold in Olympic figure skating

There’s also Italy’s Carolina Kostner. Although she is erratic, she has earned five world medals and was the world champion in 2012. Could 2014 be her year?

Not to mention the American contingent, which includes Ashley Wagner, who has finished third and second in the past two ISU Grand Prix finals, Gracie Gold, whose free skate helped lead the U.S. team to a bronze medal in the team event, and Polina Edmunds, a 15-year-old who has two triple triples in her long program.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, speaks with Julia Lipnitskaia of Russia after Russia placed first in the team figure skating competition at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, speaks with Julia Lipnitskaia of Russia after ... more >

It is a packed crowd in the women’s figure skating competition set for Wednesday and Thursday. Although Kim and Lipnitskaia are considered the front-runners, there is no such thing as a guarantee for an Olympic gold medal in this sport.

“The ladies’ field here is so deep,” said Michelle Kwan, a two-time Olympic medalist and five-time world champion who is in Sochi working with Fox Sports 1. “You look at Yuna, and if she does every element in her program I think she has the edge. But then there’s Julia, and her program has the same elements as Gracie‘s.”

Kimmie Meissner, an Olympian who placed sixth in Turin in 2006 and went on to win the world title that same year, called the depth in the women’s event “amazing.”

“So many of the competitors have triple triples,” said Meissner, the Bel Air, Md., native who is in Sochi working for NBC. “It’s not even a question whether the top lady will do one. And there isn’t just one country coming in with a strong force. The Japanese team is strong, the Russian team is strong, the Americans, etc. So instead of just looking at one skater and saying, ‘They are going to win it,’ you have to look at an entire team and think all of their skaters can potentially step up.”

There were naysayers for Kim leading up to the 2013 world championships mainly because she had skipped the Grand Prix series of international competitions. But then she arrived in London, Ontario, and in a workmanlike way, won the world crown. She has competed twice since, at one smaller international event and at South Korean nationals, and has the ability to make quick work of the competition in Sochi.

Ever since she flew in from Seoul, she has looked solid in practices. Her jumps are as huge as ever, and although she cannot match Lipnitskaia with her spins, Kim is displaying remarkable consistency and is not ready to hand over the throne.

Should Kim win the gold medal, she would be the first woman to claim back-to-back Olympic titles since Katarina Witt did so in 1984 and 1988. Sonja Henie won three in a row for Norway in 1928, 1932 and 1936.

“Previous athletes have won two times in a row, but it was a different time and it was very different,” Kim said after her first practice in Sochi. “It means a lot for me to take part in the Olympics.”

Kim seems to come to these Winter Games seeking some closure to her career. Even though the 2018 Olympics will be in her home country of South Korea, she said, Sochi will be her last Olympic trip as a competitor.

The Russians have never had a woman win an Olympic gold medal, but history could be rewritten with the Winter Games on Russian soil. In addition to Lipnitskaia, the Russians sent Adelina Sotnitkova, a four-time Russian national champion and two-time European silver medalist. She beat Lipnitskaia in the short program last month at Europeans but was a runner-up overall. The Russian women left Sochi after the team competition and have been in Moscow for practice sessions since.

Story Continues →