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Kim takes Four C's gold ahead of rivals

Rochette takes silver; Asada wins free and takes bronze

Yu-Na Kim's third-place free skate was enough to capture Four Continents gold.
Yu-Na Kim's third-place free skate was enough to capture Four Continents gold. (Getty Images)

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By Laurie Nealin, special to icenetwork.com
(02/07/2009) - The 9,873 fans -- thousands of them of South Korean and Japanese descent -- who flocked to Vancouver's Pacific Coliseum to see their idols battle for gold at the 2009 ISU Four Continents Championships certainly got their money's worth on Friday night.

In an exciting evening of women's skating that served as a preview for the upcoming world championships in Los Angeles and the 2010 Olympic Games, now just a year off, South Korea's Yu-Na Kim prevailed, while Japan's world champion Mao Asada settled for bronze.

Asada won the long program, while Kim was third-best, but the substantial lead the Korean held after the short kept her atop the leaderboard. Canada's Joannie Rochette -- second in both rounds -- took the silver in the venue where they will all most likely face off again in a year's time.

Kim's final tally was 189.07, with Rochette finishing at 183.91 and Asada at 176.52. The points spread in their scores for their long programs was a mere 1.83 points, with Asada in first at 118.66.

None of the medalists skated a clean program. Asada popped her first planned triple Axel into a single but fought back and nailed a beautiful triple less than a minute later. She also doubled a planned triple toe loop towards the end of her routine, set to "Masquerade Waltz." In all, she completed four triples successfully.

Kim, who skated last in the top group, opened with a solid triple flip-triple toe, but she opened up on her triple loop mid-air. That jump and a triple Lutz were downgraded to doubles by the technical panel. Still, she counted five triples in all.

Rochette was perhaps the most solid jump-wise. Her only obvious mistake was singling a planned double Axel. Unfortunately, she got no points for a triple Salchow, which was to be the second jump in combination with a triple toe, because she took too many steps in between the two jumps. It was, therefore, not regarded as a combination. She did get credit for six other triples.

Given the scores the top three women posted here, it would seem they are the three to watch on the road to the 2010 Games.

Kim, who trains in Toronto with two-time Olympic silver medalist Brian Orser, missed this competition last year, when it was held in her homeland, due to a lower back injury. It appears she has now figured out how to manage that chronic condition so that it does not worsen as the season unfolds.

"I was surprised there was a lot of Korean people in Vancouver, and I was happy to see my country people [come from Korea for the competition]," said Kim, through an interpreter.

"I'm happy to be in good condition and to have a good score," added Kim, who earned a record 72.24 points -- the highest-ever score recorded by a woman in international competition under the IJS system -- in the short program on Wednesday.

Asada, who was shockingly sixth after doubling her planned triple Lutz in her short program, said, "I was determined to do at least one triple Axel. I missed the first one, but I was determined to do the second one better."

Asada's coach, Tatiana Tarasova, did not travel with her to Canada because of the illness of a family member in Russia.

"I have problems to conquer with this competition, so I'll try harder towards the world championships," Asada said through an interpreter.

Rochette said it was unusual to compete in Canada with an audience that had such an international feel. She described it as "an Olympic feel."

"I'm proud of what I did and happy with my overall performance," Rochette said. "My goal is to be perfect at worlds."

American Caroline Zhang, fifth in the short program, climbed to fourth overall thanks to her strong showing in the finale. She was credited with landing six triple jumps. Only the triple toe in combination with the triple flip was downgraded to a double. Her final score was 171.22.

"I was watching the whole thing backstage and really didn't expect to finish any higher than sixth, so I'm totally thrilled," Zhang said.

"There's a lot of pressure, so I'm really excited that I didn't get nervous."

2004 Canadian champion Cynthia Phaneuf was fifth with 169.41 points.

American Rachael Flatt, the 2008 world junior champion, finished seventh, while the newly-crowned U.S. champion, Alissa Czisny, placed ninth.

The men's final will close out the competition on Saturday afternoon.