Ice Queens: The Olympics' Skating Stars

As they prepare to hit the ice for the free skate program, we take a look at the ladies' most likely to claim gold

If you're just tuning into women's figure skating at the Winter Olympics tonight, you're late to the party -- the short program was Tuesday. But you're right on time for the free skate program (8 p.m. ET), which means you get to see who grabs the gold. (The winners are judged on their scores over two nights' worth of competing.)

Which American is favored to win? Sadly, that question doesn't apply to these Games. For the first time in decades, the U.S. doesn't have a strong contender for a spot on the podium. Sasha Cohen, the silver medalist at Turin, hoped to come out of retirement for the Games "but she imploded at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships last month -- falling awkwardly on one jump — ending a comeback that was probably unrealistic after dropping out for nearly four years," writes Dave D'Alessandro of the Newark Star Ledger.

But there are three skaters -- albeit from other countries -- that make tonight's program worth watching anyway.

1.   Yu-Na Kim. Known as "Queen Yu-Na" to the thousands of zealous skating fans back in her native South Korea, the 19-year-old reigning world champion has had a meteoric rise. She's won all but two of the skating events she's entered since 2008, and she's heavily favored to win the whole she-bang here. And indeed, after Tuesday's short program, she enters the free skate in first place. According to the New York Times, "her long program is set to George Gershwin's "Concerto in F," and she performs it with the grace of a prima ballerina."

2.   Mao Asada. Japan's 19-year-old answer to Kim, Asada is in second place going into tonight's event. She's got a fancy maneuver that still eludes Kim -- the triple axel -- but she hasn't consistently landed it in every competition. Asada is portrayed in the Asian press as Kim's arch rival. Those two times that Kim lost since 2008? Both were to Asada. "Short program tends to be my weakness," Asada said in a Los Angeles Times article. "I am better at free skating [long program]."

3. Joannie Rochette. The 24-year-old Canadian skater took to the ice for her short program just two days after her 55-year-old mother died of a heart attack (while accompanying her at the Olympics). Not only did Rochette summon the strength to skate, she delivered a clean, beautiful performance that scored her a career best -- and third place going into tonight's event. And when she broke down and sobbed afterward, the whole coliseum was crying along with her. The best part of watching tonight just might be rooting for her.

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Who do you think will win the gold tonight?

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