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Opining on Grand Prix Final (and Golden Spin): Asada vs. Kim revisited

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It's analysis time again. The big news in ladies skating this past weekend was the fact that the two favorites for Olympic gold were both competing at the same time, though in different countries. Reigning Olympic champion Yuna Kim made her season debut and won Golden Spin after an injury sidelined her from the Grand Prix series, while reigning Olympic silver medalist Mao Asada won the Grand Prix Final at home in Japan.

Revisiting base values
As always, base values play a huge role in this assessment. Much like it was late last season, Asada's planned programs have a higher starting base value than do Kim's - a 2.36 advantage in the short and a 8.97 advantage in the free. Those gaps aren't insignificant. Keep these numbers in mind in the next few pieces of analysis.

  • Short program (planned)
    - Asada (21.39): triple axel (8.50), triple flip (5.30), triple loop-double loop* (7.59)
    - Kim (19.03): triple lutz-triple toe (10.10), triple flip (5.30), double axel* (3.63)
  • Free skate (planned)
    - Asada (51.76): triple axel (8.50), triple axel-double toe (9.80), triple flip (5.30), double axel-triple toe* (8.14), triple salchow* (4.62), triple flip-double loop-double loop* (9.79), triple loop* (5.61)
    - Kim (42.79): triple lutz-triple toe (10.10), triple flip (5.30), triple salchow-double toe (5.50), triple lutz* (6.60), double axel-double toe-double loop* (7.04), triple salchow (4.62), double axel (3.63)

Back to two triple axels
One very interesting thing that came out of this weekend's competition was the fact that Asada has once again ditched the lutz. During the second half of last season, Asada was beginning to reveal her possible big plan - an eight-triple free skate, which would be the only one done by any of the ladies. In my last assessment of her and Kim, it was obvious what an eight-triple free skate from Asada would do in base value as compared to a six-triple free skate from Kim.

Fast forward ten months, and we see that the possibility of the eight-triple free skate might be gone. And it's been scrapped in favor of a seven-triple program with two triple axels. Tactically, it definitely looks like a smart move - Asada is sacrificing less than one point of base value for a greater chance of skating cleanly. Why? Doing this seven-triple program doesn't require a triple-triple combination. Asada has rarely attempted a triple-triple in the past few seasons and it is an element in ladies' skating that is always at risk for underrotation calls.

But obviously, it won't be easy street for Asada, because while the triple-triple may no longer be there, there is now a second triple axel in the free skate. The axel gives her a few more points than her lutz did, so it offsets her base value difference. Risky as it is, her triple axel has looked strong this season, so I'd say this was a good call.

Still no loop for Kim
It wasn't a surprise that Kim's debut free skate this season doesn't include her nemesis triple loop - nor does it look like it was even choreographed with the flexibility of adding it in the next couple of months. So it's probably safe to assume that it's not in the cards.

What Kim is going for here is a clean skate with six-triples with jumps that she knows and loves, whereas Asada is making sure to pack on the difficulty to give herself a base value cushion. It's once again important to note that the advantage for Asada means that she has a one-mistake cushion that she might be able to count on. You can be sure that Kim and her team are not ignorant to that.

Components?
This is an interesting one for sure. Asada's programs this season are heads above her programs in Vancouver - massively, in fact. Kim just had her debut and the programs still look fresh and in the works.

It was clear in Vancouver that Kim's programs were just miles ahead of what Asada had to offer, and her components followed suit. Four years later, however, you can't say the same about the difference between the two. If both skaters skate cleanly right now, their component scores would likely be very comparable. And it's here where the base values of their programs will tell the tale.

One thing I will point out, though, is that both of their free skates are unfortunately full of stroking and crossovers at the beginning. And it wasn't the case for Asada earlier this season - but now that the second axel is back in the program, it's all about the takeoff preparation.

So what does that mean?
All this means that the ladies event - and certainly the battle between Asada and Kim - is going to be super interesting. Risky programs, lots at stake, it'll be fun to watch in Sochi.

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