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Maggie Hendricks

Four things to watch for in ladies' free skate

Maggie Hendricks
Fourth-Place Medal

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The skating adage is a skater can't win the gold during the short program, but she certainly can lose it. Thursday evening's long program can be a crucible to separate the top skaters from the not-so-hot.

All six top skaters had clean programs and are in a position to do well Thursday night. What should you be looking for when watching these athletes?

1. Can Joannie Rochette maintain her strength? The Canadian who lost her mother on Sunday and skated a beautiful short program on Tuesday amazed us with her grace and strength on the ice. No one will fault Rochette if she can't hold it together for a 4:40 routine, because what she has done already is such an inspiration. She is in third place going into the long program, and has a chance to win a medal. Can she do it?

2. Will Mao Asada pull off the triple Axel -- two times? The triple Axel is 3.5 turns, and rarely completed by female figure skaters. Asada landed the jump cleanly in her short program, but can she do it twice in the long? She's only completed the triple Axel two times twice this season.

3. Will Flatt and Nagasu continue their improbable Olympics? Going into Vancouver, I hoped for a top 10 finish for the 16-year-old Americans, Rachael Flatt and Mirai Nagasu. Instead, they leaped into skating's upper stratosphere by skating clean, technically difficult programs, and will compete in the final group of skaters.

4. Can anyone beat Yu-Na Kim? The South Korean skating juggernaut looked at the challenge laid down by Asada's difficult and clean program, and jumped over it with a confident, sassy routine set to music from the James Bond movies. She is nearly five points ahead of Asada, but anything can happen in figure skating. The two skate back-to-back Thursday night. Expect another throwdown on the ice.

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