Monday, December 15, 2008

Asada vs. Kim: Skating's gold-medal duel in 2010?

Let the ice-hype begin.

In what may be a preview to the gold-medal showdown 14 months from now at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, Japan's Mao Asada edged Kim Yu-Na of South Korea in the Grand Prix Final of skating Saturday in South Korea.

The two have been rivals since they were juniors. Barring injury or other misfortune, their head-to-head duel in Vancouver should be one of the most sizzling matchups in the Olympic Games.

And with his surprise victory for the Grand Prix Final men's title, U.S. skater Jeremy Abbott put himself in the hunt for a medal in 2010. U.S. skater Johnny Weir took third.

Kim, 18, skated before an adoring hometown crowd that included South Korea Prime Minister Han Seung-soo and led by a slim half point after Friday's short program. But Asada went where no woman has gone before, the first to land two triple axels in competition.

Most women skaters can't land one triple axel in competition, much less two. Asada opened her program with them.

Judges scored Kim, winner of five straight Grand Prix events she entered -- including October's Skate America -- better on artistry. But Asada, 18, the reigning world champion, led by almost four points on technical elements and won gold by 2.2 points over Kim.

Kim does not have a triple axel in her program. It is considered the most difficult of triple jumps because skaters go into it facing front, so the jump actually requires three-and-a-half rotations.

Neither skater stayed up: Asada fell on a different triple jump, and while Kim landed a difficult triple-flip, triple-loop combination, she fell on a triple salchow.

Abbott is a native of Aspen -- ski country. But he knows his way around ice.

Abbott, 23, was almost an afterthought in the field in his first Grand Prix Final. But he never fell, and easily defeated Japan's Takahiko Kozuka of Japan, 237.72 points to 224.63. Kozuka, the Skate America champion, fell twice. Weir, rallying from a poor short program, opened up big to take second in the free skate to finish third overall.

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