East Asian Skaters on the Rise: Who to Watch at the Sochi Olympics

Jessica Lee is an avid figure skating fan, food enthusiast and blogger. Although her experience in skating mostly involves teaching and re-teaching herself to do the basic forward stroke at the local rink, she has loved and watched figure skating since childhood. She has written in the past for blogUT, a student-run publication at the University of Toronto and is currently writing for her own figure skating blog, The Rinkside Cafe.

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Jessica Lee

Russia. Canada. U.S.A. These three countries have been powerhouses in the world of figure skating since the 1980s and they continue to produce athletes that vie for the top spots in the sport. However, in the last decade, figure skaters from East Asia have been on the rise in almost every figure skating discipline.

Figure skaters from China, Japan and Korea were very successful at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. Out of the 12 possible medals in the four figure skating disciplines – men, ladies, pairs and ice dance – skaters from these three countries won five Olympic medals, including two gold. In the same year, Japanese figure skaters occupied the top spot in the men and ladies competition at the World Championships at both the junior and senior level.

Drawing on this success in Vancouver, East Asia is still a force to be reckoned with in Sochi. Here are a few skaters who have a very good chance at the Olympic podium, and possibly, Olympic gold.

Yuzuru Hanyu (Japan) 

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Photo by Ksenia Nurtdinova

At age 19, Yuzuru Hanyu is a young figure skater who is not a stranger to success. At his first World Championships, Hanyu won bronze and he has stayed in the top echelons of men’s figure skating ever since. At the Grand Prix Final of figure skating in December 2013, Hanyu set a world record for a short program score and beat world champion, Patrick Chan of Canada, who had been unbeatable since the beginning of this season. This, along with his big jumps and musicality make him a top contender for Olympic gold in Sochi.

Figure skaters from China, Japan and Korea were very successful at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. Out of the 12 possible medals in the four figure skating disciplines – men, ladies, pairs and ice dance – skaters from these three countries won five Olympic medals, including two gold.

 Daisuke Takahashi (Japan)

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Photo by Ksenia Nurtdinova

Daisuke Takahashi was the first Japanese man to ever get on the Olympic podium (Vancouver 2010, bronze) but fans love him mostly because he is an extremely expressive artist on ice. This season, Takahashi has been rather inconsistent. He won the NHK Trophy in Japan but barely made it on the Japanese Olympic team with a 5th place finish at the Japanese National Championships. Overall, Daisuke is likely to be a sentimental favourite among fans, commentators and judges alike and has a long shot for a medal of any colour. Still, viewers should just sit back and enjoy his performances as no one expresses a story or the music as well as he does.

Yuna Kim (South Korea)

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Photo by Ksenia Nurtdinova

Yuna Kim has achieved rock star status and become a household name in South Korea, mostly because she has established a one woman dynasty in South Korean figure skating. Much of Kim’s success can be attributed to her “textbook” perfect jumps and her ability to express dramatic music. Kim has never finished off the podium at any competition and has won every accolade a figure skater can win, including the Olympic gold in Vancouver. In Sochi, she looks to defend her Olympic title and with a decisive win at the World Championships last season, I’d say she has a pretty good chance of doing so.

Drawing on this success in Vancouver, East Asia is still a force to be reckoned with in Sochi. Here are a few skaters who have a very good chance at the Olympic podium, and possibly, Olympic gold.

Mao Asada (Japan)

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Photo by Ksenia Nurtdinova

Since the beginning of her career, Mao Asada has been in a tough rivalry with Yuna Kim. Despite winning silver behind Kim at the Vancouver Olympics, Asada is the only lady to have done 3 triple axels in competitions. To put this in perspective, only four other ladies have done the triple axel at an international competition. However, since the last Olympics, Asada has had many difficulties. She has since reworked her entire jump technique and had to deal with the death of her mother in 2012. Still, Asada looks strong this season and she has been gradually improving her programs as time goes by. Who knows what will happen in Sochi?

Qing Pang and Jian Tong (People’s Republic of China)

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Photo by Ksenia Nurtdinova

China has shown itself to be a true powerhouse in pairs skating at the Vancouver Olympics, with pairs teams placing first, second and fifth in the competition, effectively ending Russia’s fifty year hold on the pairs gold medal. This time around, Russia may regain their pairs gold but Qing Pang and Jian Tong will make another attempt at the Olympic podium. Like many other Chinese teams, Pang and Tong perform the big throws and lifts in pairs skating with breathtaking ability but they also offer a wonderful sense of musicality that allows them to express beautiful stories. In Sochi, just sit back and relax while you forget that they’re skating a competitive program.

The figure skating competition in Sochi will be absolutely exciting. Each discipline offers its fair share of rivalries and talented skaters to keep you at the edge of your seat.

If you want to find out more about figure skating, check out Jessica Lee’s blog here.

For more stunning photos of figure skaters by the wonderful Ksenia Nurtdinova, please click here. 

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