- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 19, 2014

SOCHI, Russia (AP) - Yuna Kim sighed when she drew the ball with the No. 24 out of the bag.

The reigning Olympic gold medalist will go last in Thursday’s free skate, and she’s not thrilled about it. Kim dislikes the long wait between warm-ups and her performance.

“But I have such experience that I don’t think it will be a problem,” she said.

The South Korean star carries the slimmest of leads into the final day of the figure skating competition at the Sochi Games. She earned 74.92 points in winning the short program Wednesday; Russian teen Adelina Sotnikova has 74.64 and Italy’s Carolina Kostner 74.12.

Kim, 23, is the only one of the three who knows how it feels to nail a perfect free skate at the Olympics. But what she is seeking to accomplish this time is still daunting: Just two women, Sonja Henie and Katarina Witt, have won two straight golds.

Kostner, 27, fell apart during her free skate at the 2010 Olympics and plummeted to 16th. Sotnikova, a decade younger, was ninth in her first world championships in March.

For one night, at least, Kostner embraced the pressure. She decided Wednesday morning to swap out a triple toe loop for a more difficult triple flip in her short program.

“I told myself I have to be courageous,” she said.

And she said she feels a “special energy” in Russia, where she has twice won bronze at the world championships.

Sotnikova will energize the home fans when she takes the ice Thursday. While the other Russian teen, Julia Lipnitskaia, was winning hearts with her two performances in the Olympic team event, Sotnikova kept practicing.

Sotnikova said she wasn’t disappointed with being passed over for Lipnitskaia in both programs in the team competition.

“I was concentrating and focused on performing well in the individual,” she said through a translator.

It worked, as she skated cleanly while Lipnitskaia fell. On Thursday, though, Sotnikova won’t be sneaking up on anybody.

Lipnitskaia skates first in the final group, followed by Kostner and Sotnikova. Then comes U.S. champion Gracie Gold, in striking distance of a medal with 68.63 points. But she will likely need a mistake from the leaders to move up to the podium.

Gold turned out a clean free skate in the team event, and as she wrestled with frazzled nerves Wednesday, she wished she was doing her long program instead of her short. She loves how she can build momentum through the seven jumping passes.

She described the attitude needed to thrive on this tense stage in terms that sounded more like hockey than figure skating: “It’s about throwing it down,” she said.

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