And finally, the last group of ladies in tomorrow's short program, and it's packed. It's got almost all of the main contenders for gold here, with the exception of Yuna Kim, who is in Group 3. Before we turn to the predictions, let's handicap the chances of this final group.
Ladies' short: Skate order and start times
Julia Lipnitskaia RUS (Group 5) - The quiet breakout at Europeans became the very loud and out-in-front breakout in the Team Event last week at the Olympics. I've offered my thoughts on the relative PCS marks that Lipnitskaia was getting in the Team Event. But disagree a bit if I will, those marks will keep coming so long as Lipnitskaia continues to skate clean programs. With free skate scores in the low-140s when she's clean, she's definitely a podium contender and has a shot at the gold, though I wouldn't lump her in the favorites category. It will take a few ladies to make mistakes in order for her to capture gold, but never say never.
Carolina Kostner ITA (Group 5) - The 2012 World champ is coming in a bit under the radar - she's no Lipnitskaia on home ice and she's not part of the Kim-Asada rivalry. But if her magnificent short program in the Team Event is any indication, Kostner is also a podium contender with a potential shot at gold. Her strength over Lipnitskaia is in components, but she lacks in the technical difficulty that the other top ladies are putting forth. It'll be interesting to see Kostner's placement after the short program - a clean skate will be crucial, especially because she is planning the least difficult short of any of the contenders. If she is within striking distance, watch out for her in the free skate.
Ashley Wagner USA (Group 5) - She got through the prove-herself phase in the Team Event. It wasn't her best, but it was infinitely better than what she delivered at Nationals. Wagner will now be setting her sights on a clean short program, which has the potential to score around 70 points and put her in contention for the podium. Being in the final group in the short helps as well, because her international PCSs can teeter somewhat. The bronze is an outside possibility, but she will have to be squeaky clean.
Mae Berenice Meite FRA (Group 5) - Of the six ladies in the final group, Meite is the one with the least amount of hype coming in. She will not make too much of a dent at the top, but a top ten finish is a possibility.
Adelina Sotnikova RUS (Group 5) - Boy, oh boy. Who knows what went on behind the seasons with the Russian team? Sotnikova has been the "future" of Russian ladies' skating since the last Olympics, but she was overshadowed and outjumped by Lipnitskaia this season, both at Russian Nationals and at Europeans. There was so much of that, in fact, that Liptniskaia leapfrogged ahead of her to be the ladies' star for both phases in the Team Event, leaving Sotnikova without the team gold. Where's Sotnikova's confidence right now? Not sure, and she hasn't been on official practices for anyone to see. That said, two clean programs can certainly be podium-worthy for the four-time Russian champ.
Mao Asada JPN (Group 5) - Roll the dice? Asada brings everything and the kitchen sink (but no triple lutz) to Sochi. There's her ubiquitous triple axel, but there's also the fact that she's brought back the triple flip-triple loop, which has appeared sporadically in the past four years. She's a different skater than she was in Vancouver - infinitely better-constructed programs and more consistent on her sals and toes. But she is also not having the triple axel hit rate that she had in Vancouver. If she skates to clean programs, her technical prowess will put her on top of the podium, but these are risky, risky, risky programs, and she will need to trust her training and rely on the stars to align for that gold.