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Maggie Hendricks

What has changed since Torino in figure skating

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For good or bad, many fans only check in to Olympic sports during the Olympics. Fourth-Place Medal is here to help and catch you up on the happenings of figure skating sine 2006.

1. Asian women are the ones to beat: South Korean Kim Yu-Na and Japanese skaters Miki Ando, Mao Asada and Akido Suzuki have made the most waves on the international skating world this season. Yu-Na won the Grand Prix final and is the defending world champion. Asada landed two triple axels -- a jump that is rarely completed by women -- in the Four Continents Championships, the last tune-up before Vancouver.

2. Yevgeny Pleshenko is back and better than before: The Russian figure skater blew the competition away in Torino with his soaring jumps, but retired after winning the gold medal. In the grand tradition of sports retirements, it only lasted a few years, as he is competing again. After spending years on the Icecapade circuit, Pleshenko is more comfortable with the artistic aspect of figure skating, which was the one weakness he had in 2006. He is now the complete package. If he is on in Vancouver and hits his routine, he will be unbeatable.

3. Americans can win gold, just not where you're used to seeing it. After years of dominating ladies figure skating, the U.S. has amazing skaters in ice dancing and men's figure skating. Evan Lysacek is the defending men's world champion, but can still be beat by the defending U.S. champion, Jeremy Abbott. Depending on the day, Johnny Weir is a threat to medal, as well.

In ice dancing, the race will likely come down to two American pairs and a Russian pair. Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto have a silver medal from Torino, but Meryl Davis and Charlie White beat them at the U.S. championships held in January. They're both vulnerable to Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, the defending world champions who have been mired in controversy over their original dance. (For more on ice dancing, check out our Average Fan's Guide.)

4. The scoring is different, and less likely to be corrupt. Forget looking for perfect 6.0s from the United Nations panel of judges. Now, two sets of scores are added together to get the final score. One, the technical score, is the aggregate for all the technical elements -- jumps, spins and footworks -- performed correctly in the routine. Judges decide on if the elements were performed correctly. The technical score is added in with the program score, which judges award on skating skills, transitions, performance, choreography and interpretation.

The two scores added together make the segment score, and the segment scores from the parts of competition -- short program and free skate for ladies', men's and pairs', and compulsory dance, original dance and free dance for ice dancing -- add up to make the final score, which decides who gets gold.

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Sounds confusing? Yes, it is at first but much like the new gymnastics scoring that most fans learned about in 2008, it makes more sense when you see it in practice. The scoring system has been criticized for being too focused on athleticism, but after scandals in scoring tore through the sport, a more objective system was needed.

5. It's a rebuilding year for the American ladies. You may have been captivated by Mirai Nagasu's bubbliness on the ice or Rachael Flatt's workmanlike win, but don't have high expectations for these women to bring home the gold like Kristi Yamaguchi, Tara Lipinski and Sarah Hughes before them. They don't have the same technical ability as Asada, Yu-Na, Suzuki and Ando.

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