SOCHI, RUSSIA – Defending Olympic and world champion Yuna Kim took a narrow lead after the short program at the Sochi Games on Wednesday night with an exquisite performance.
Kim skated to “Send in the Clowns” and was truly poetry in motion on the way to a total of 74.92 points. She began with a triple lutz/triple toe loop combination jump, then landed a triple flip. She then did a beautiful spread eagle before hitting a double axel.
The crowd was absolutely spellbound as Kim glided across the ice in a beautiful yellow outfit on her step sequence before ending with a sublime combination spin.
“Well, I’ve been practicing very well in Sochi, and Korea, a clean short every day,” Kim said. “And I had confidence in my short program here.”
Kim confessed that she had butterflies during the six-minute warmup.
“In the warmup, I was very nervous, I couldn’t jump at all,” she noted. “But I tried to believe in myself and believed in what I’ve done before.”
Kim said she had a special feeling while skating.
“I felt like I was dreaming,” she commented. “I had a lot of thoughts when I was giving my performance.”
What had been anticipated as a showdown between the gold and silver medalists from four years ago at the Vancouver Games didn’t materialize.
Mao Asada performed to “Nocturne” and had what can only be termed a disastrous outing considering the stakes. She fell on her opening triple axel, underrotated a triple flip, then botched her combo jump by doubling the front end of a planned triple loop/double loop.
Mao looked to have cleanly landed the triple axel, but as she was coming out of the jump she tripped herself and went down.
She earned a score of just 55.51 and stands in 16th place. Any hopes for a medal have disappeared.
“I didn’t skate anywhere near as well as I could,” said Mao. “I don’t know what to make of this now. All I can do is give it everything I have tomorrow. I can’t comprehend any of this.”
Mao acknowledged she was completely out of sorts.
“I couldn’t do any of the things I’ve been working on in training,” she stated. “Once I started the program, I couldn’t control my emotions and my body. My only option is to skate the free to the best of my ability.”
Russia’s Adelina Sotnikova was the surprise of the evening, tallying 74.64 to stand in second place behind Kim heading into Thursday’s free skate.
Sotnikova competed to “Habanera” and gave the home crowd a big lift after compatriot Julia Lipnitskaia struggled earlier. Sotnikova started with a triple toe loop/triple toe loop combo, then executed a triple flip and double axel with good flow throughout.
Sotnikova was very content with her marks on this night.
“I’m very happy the first (technical element score) mark was so high,” she said. “I skated really well and I got good levels on everything so I think they reflected my skate.”
Italy’s Carolina Kostner, the 2012 world champion, is in third at 74.12.
Kostner used the music of “Ave Maria” and was sharp from beginning to end. Looking elegant in a white dress, she hit a triple flip/triple toe loop combo, followed by a triple loop, and then a double axel.
She said it wasn’t easy taking the ice after Kim and Lipnitskaia had already skated.
“I have to admit, I was quite afraid of what I was going to do with myself, skating after Yuna and after Julia,” she said.
Gracie Gold, the U.S. champion, is fourth on 68.63
Lipnitskaia who helped lead the host nation to the team title, is fifth with 65.23.
Lipnitskaia skated to “You Don’t Give Up on Love” and started out well. She began with a triple lutz/triple toe loop combo, then landed a double axel. But following her step sequence she fell hard on a triple flip.
“I don’t know what happened,” said the 15-year-old. “My preparation was all fine. I wasn’t nervous. I didn’t feel too much pressure. The crowd helped me.”
Lipnitskaia said her scores were better than she thought they would be.
“The marks weren’t as low as I expected,” she said. “I can still fight for a medal tomorrow.”
Akiko Suzuki is eighth at 60.97.
Suzuki competed to “Hymne a l’amour” and badly two-footed the landing on her opening triple lutz on what was supposed to be a combo jump. She came back to land a triple lutz/double toe loop combo and a double axel.
The Japan national champion said she did the best she could after the miscue at the start.
“I did what I could on the ice today,” Suzuki said. “Considering I messed up my opening jump, I thought I made the most of it. I feel so bad about my performance.”
Suzuki, who struggled in the free skate during the team event, said she has been having difficulty with her jumps.
“I was having trouble with my jumps in practice and it spilled over into the competition,” she noted. “I was trying too hard.”
Kanako Murakami is 15th with 55.60.
Murakami performed to “Violin Muse” and looked like she was on her way to a good score after starting with a nice triple toe loop/triple toe loop combo. But after a flying sit spin, she singled a trip flip. She recovered to land her double axel, but the damage was done.
“I made one mistake which is just gnawing at me,” Murakami admitted. “I’ve been skating clean in the short program but now this. It really annoys me.”
Despite the disappointment, the 19-year-old struck an optimistic tone.
“Compared to the crowd at Saitama (at the Japan nationals), the crowd here isn’t as tense so I didn’t feel that nervous,” Murakami said. “I’m going to have a great free program tomorrow no matter what.”
Kim was the 17th of the 30 skaters in the short program.
Mao skated last, while Murakami went 20th and Suzuki 24th.
The top 24 skaters will advance to the free skate.