Figure skating preview: Yuna Kim, Yulia Lipnitskaya, Mao Asada lead the way

Leave a comment

SOCHI, Russia – Once again the Olympics comes down to the ladies’ figure skating event in the closing days, and once again the ladies won’t disappoint in a dramatic flurry of sequins, Salchows and on-ice storylines that are brought to life – this year, in particular – with plenty of drama.

Defending Olympic gold medalist and reigning world champion Yuna Kim is the favorite in many books, but also a largely unknown entity after having not competed in the Grand Prix season in the lead-up to Sochi, instead only skating at a small event in Croatia in December, and then the South Korean National Championships last month.

The runner-up to Kim four years ago, Mao Asada factors into the medal conversation should she bring her patented (and unmatched) triple Axel to the table, while a 15-year-old Russian named Yulia Lipnitskaya has already captured the imagination of the host country, winning the ladies’ portion of the inaugural figure skating team event.

And Americans Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold – fifth and sixth, respectively – at the World Championships a year ago, are outside hopes for the podium.

Below, a full rundown of the ladies’ event, set to begin Wednesday night at the Iceberg Skating Palace and concluding Thursday.

American trio
It’s highly unlikely that there will be a gold for Gold – or for Wagner – though the American women, along with 15-year-old Polina Edmunds, bring a strong presence for Team USA onto Olympic ice in Sochi.

Gold has improved significantly since placing sixth at the World Championships last March, joining forces with legendary coach Frank Carroll in September and then winning the U.S. Championships in January, registering the event’s highest-ever overall score.

“The women’s field is so packed this year with veterans and young Russians,” Gold, 18, told reporters leading up to the Olympics. “I definitely think that I have a chance at winning a medal. It’s about who’s going to focus and leave everything out on the ice.”

The same goes for 22-year-old Wagner, who has long been a top-five contender in the world ranks but was fourth at the U.S. Championships, a performance that brought about doubts of her ability to perform under Olympic pressure in Sochi. She was clean yet tentative in the team competition short program, where Gold was a bit stronger in the free skate for the U.S.

“I feel like technically Gracie has a really good shot at the podium,” said Tara Lipinski, the 1998 Olympic champion and a NBC Sports commentator. “When there’s pressure involved, it changes a lot of performances. Ashley is coming back as a little bit of an underdog. It might set her up nicely, actually.”

Edmunds was the surprise at Nationals, where she skated in her first senior event and vaulted herself to second place. The San Jose-based skater has the triple-triple combination like Gold and Wagner, and will be skating in her first-ever senior international in Sochi.

“The fact that this is her first senior international doesn’t really change anything,” said Edmunds’ coach, David Glynn. “Even though this is the Olympics, what she has to do on the ice is the same.”

Podium posturing
Can Yuna Kim do the same as she did in 2010 and make figure skating history? She leads an internationally eclectic list of names that could top the podium, and if she wins a second straight Olympic gold she’ll be just the third woman in history to do so, and the first since Katarina Witt did so in 1984 and 1988.

“Yuna is just so secure with who she is on the ice because she’s been through everything in her career, and that makes her exude confidence,” Lipinski said. “It’s what sets her apart from all the others.”

Asada, the Japanese 23-year-old who was second to Kim four years ago, will look to swap places with the South Korean here. Asada won three gold medals on the international circuit this fall, utilizing her rare triple Axel (no other top woman even tries the jump) as her biggest weapon. Asada re-tuned her skating after the Vancouver Games, re-building her jumps from the ice up and suffering through two seasons of poor finishes as a result.

There have been no poor results for 15-year-old Lipnitskaya, who won two Grand Prix events this fall and the Russian National Championships in December. The lithe, ballet-like skating of the uber-flexible Lipnitskaya is what helped her win the ladies’ portion of the new team event, though no other medal contender skated both programs. (Yuna Kim didn’t participate at all.)

“Lipnitskaya is just so well organized and thoughtful out on the ice,” said Lipinski, who won her Olympic gold at 15 in Nagano. “If you look at the peak process for an athlete in a season, it’s working out perfectly for Yulia. Winning the team event portion sets her up really nicely for singles.”

Fringe fighters
Four years ago as the Sochi Olympics were being promoted across Russia, Adelina Sotnikova was the face of the Games for figure skating. Now 17, the teen is playing second fiddle to Lipnitskaya, but still brings a strong resume to the ice and – if she skates lights out – can be in the medal conversation.

The same goes for 27-year-old veteran Carolina Kostner. The Italian veteran has a flowing style that few others can match in their programs, though the 2012 world champion hasn’t been able to rise to the occasion at the Olympics, placing ninth in 2006 and then crashing to 16th in Vancouver.

Also keep an eye on: Akiko Suzuki and Kanako Murakami of Japan; Valentina Marchei of Italy and Canada’s Kaetlyn Osmond.

What to watch for
The aforementioned triple-triple is big for every lady on the ice, usually performed at the beginning of both the short program and free skate. It’s especially important for Wagner, who struggled on the combination at the U.S. Championships last month.

The crowd will play a major part in the competition, as it has roared for Russian skaters throughout the Games. Lipnitskaya and Sotnikova both skate in the final group Tuesday night, and will be looking for an extra boost inside the boisterous Iceberg Skating Palace.

How will Yuna Kim fair? That will be on everyone’s mind as the 2010 Olympic champion takes to the ice. She said it herself on Tuesday after practice: “I’m not as good as I was four years ago.” But will she be good enough to win gold?

Rio Olympic equestrian may be moved outside Brazil

Leave a comment

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The head of the Brazilian Equestrian Confederation has warned that equestrian events at next year’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics might have to take place outside Brazil.

Luiz Roberto Giugni blasted the country’s Agriculture Ministry for delays in issuing documentation needed to allow horses brought into Brazil from Europe, the United States and Canada to leave the country.

He warned that if the ministry doesn’t act before the end of the month, “we run the risk of not having the event in Brazil.”

Regulations for bringing horses to and from Brazil are strict. The country is still subject to diseases affecting horses, including glanders, a lethal bacterial infection recently diagnosed in several horses here.

Guigni was speaking on Wednesday at an event in Sao Paulo.

Shaun White talks Olympic skateboarding, Air & Style at Forbes summit

Shaun White
Leave a comment

What do the next five years look like for Shaun White the businessman?

“I heard they just accepted skateboarding at the Olympics, so if I wasn’t busy enough,” White joked, rubbing his right ear while gripping an Aquafina water bottle, sitting in a white chair on a stage across from Forbes senior editor Kurt Badenhausen.

“I don’t know. Maybe there’s a summer medal in my future. Maybe another Winter Olympics. I’m hoping to go to [Pyeongchang, South] Korea [for the 2018 Winter Games], which would be great. I’ve still got to do the qualifying and everything. I’m going to grow Air & Style into the next big thing. Music, you’ll see me on the road. Record a new single. I think that’s what’s so great is the unknown.”

White took questions from Badenhausen for 28 minutes at the Forbes Under 30 Summit on Tuesday, discussing his business ventures and his snowboarding.

White mentioned skateboarding, which is among five sports that are finalists to be added to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic program. It’s not in the Olympics yet, but the International Olympic Committee will decide in August. White, a two-time Olympic snowboard halfpipe champion, won Summer X Games skateboard vert as recently as 2011.

Since finishing fourth in the 2014 Olympic halfpipe, White has said he’s hoping to be at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics, which would be his fourth Winter Games.

White, now 29, was the oldest U.S. Olympic men’s halfpipe snowboarder at the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics and, in 2018, would be older than any previous U.S. Olympic men’s halfpipe snowboarder. The sport debuted at the Olympics in 1998.

He’s barely competed since Sochi, also finishing fourth at last January’s Winter X Games halfpipe. He has said he will spend part of October training in New Zealand and plans to compete at this season’s Winter X Games, but it’s not locked in.

White’s relationship with the X Games changed when, before the Sochi Olympics, he purchased a majority share in Air & Style, a touring big air ski and snowboard event that also includes music. Air & Style events have been held in Europe, Beijing and, debuting last February, Los Angeles.

White laughed when Badenhausen said he had read that White put up $5 million to put on the Los Angeles event.

“I wish it was just five,” White responded.

White expanded on Air & Style on Tuesday, saying his acquisition came after his conversations with X Games organizers for a similar plan fell apart (part of his answer in a video here):

“That was a huge turning point to do this event,” White said. “I mean, it was like, wow, OK, you guys don’t want to do this. Then I’m going to have to run with this idea, do it myself.”

The Winter X Games made their European debut in 2010 with events in Tignes, France, for four straight years, as well as having Summer X Games events in Brazil and Europe. It all stopped after 2013, but an Oslo event is scheduled for this February.

“They [X Games] actually expanded globally, it was a huge failure [laughs], to be honest, a couple things happened, I think,” White said. “They didn’t really change their marketing platform. They used the same announcers, the same people, the same competitors, all the things every time around the world, which didn’t exactly translate in the foreign markets. And then again, it did another thing where it diluted the brand in the U.S. because X Games was on TV every day. It’s kind of like, oh wow, I get to see this all the time, what’s so special about it?”

White announced Air & Style’s debut in Los Angeles in late 2014, after he said agents and accountants advised against it.

“It’s something I felt like I had to do, win or lose,” White said.

White said Air & Style’s event in Los Angeles was boosted by the X Games’ decision in 2013 to shift its summer event from Los Angeles to Austin, Texas.

“That left a really nice opening in the market for people that like to attend this type of event — families, younger-aged kids that would attend and then, obviously, a huge market for music-goers,” White said. “So it was kind of that win-win of people that we would get at that event. Not just the hardcore music-goers.”

PHOTOS: What Fenway Park will look like when it hosts big air event