2013 is shaping up to be an exciting year for women’s figure skating, especially in East Asia.
Already this month Japan’s darling Asada Mao took the national title to warm up for the world championship in March. There, she may square off against her archrival — South Korea’s Kim Yu-na — for the first time since 2010.
Mao had to come from behind on the final day of this year’s national championship to overtake Akiko Suzuki in points and win her sixth title.
"I'm a little disappointed because it wasn't my best performance," said Mao. "But this has motivated me to go a level higher in my next competition."
And that is likely to come from South Korea’s Kim. “Queen Yuna,” as admirers sometimes call her, produced what was perhaps the best performance in women’s figure skating history at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
In Korea, fans attributed her second place finish to Mao at the world championship a few weeks later to a hangover from the Olympics. Soon after, Kim decided to take a break from the pressures of competition, partly to support the Korean city of Pyeongchang win its bid to host the 2018 Winter Olympics. The city had lost three previous bids.
At the time, many feared Kim would never return to the world of competitive ice skating but earlier this month she competed for the first time in almost two years.
Kim staged her comeback at a small tournament in Germany, which she won, of course, looking very impressive and posting the season’s highest point total.
"At the beginning of the program my spins were going well, but I made one mistake," Kim said after the tournament. "Afterward I felt shaky but I persevered to the end. I was actually surprised at the score I received. That was unexpected. I think I did my best, the best I could, even though I don't feel I've shown all I can do. But overall I'm satisfied."
Naturally, Kim was asked about her rival. “If we do end up in the same competition, I think we will each just focus on our own choreography and skating," Kim said
Kim has said she will retire for good after the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Before then she has promised to participate in the big events of 2013, presumably including the Korean national and world championships.
There are question marks over both skaters, especially Kim. Is she as hungry as before? Can Kim produce a series of consistently good performances over the next 12 months or so? Basically, can she be as good as before? If she can recreate Vancouver, it is highly unlikely that Kim will be beaten. But that is a big “if.”
There is also a danger that with all the focus on the East Asian pair, another rival– such as current world champion Carolina Kostner— could surprise everyone to take the world championship again. The Italian has never beaten Kim.
One thing is for sure: 2013 is going to be an exciting years and sooner or later, two greats of the rink will meet again.