(Reuters) - Profiles of the leading contenders to win the gold medal in the women's individual figure skating event at the Sochi Olympics
KIM YUNA (SOUTH KOREA)
As the reigning Olympic and world champion, Kim remains the standard bearer in women's figure skating and is bidding to become the third woman to win back-to-back Olympic titles. The 23-year-old boasts the highest scores ever recorded in short program, free skate and combined. A superstar in her homeland, she is one of the highest-earning female athletes in the world. Kim has been troubled by a foot injury this season and was forced her to skip some key lead-up events and has already announced she will retire after the Sochi Olympics.
JULIA LIPNITSKAYA (RUSSIA)
The 15-year-old has emerged as one of the stars of the Games after her captivating display in helping Russia to the team gold. The world junior champion two years ago, last month she became the youngest woman to win the European title then stole the show in the inaugural team event in Sochi, becoming the youngest Russian ever to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics. Pint-sized, what sets Lipnitskaya apart from most other skaters is her amazing flexibility and the speed she executes her spins sequences.
GRACIE GOLD (U.S.)
With a name made for the ultimate Olympic success, it is little wonder that Gold has been anointed as the new face of American figure skating. The 18-year-old became an instant media darling, appearing on TV talks shows and having her picture splashed on the front cover of Sports Illustrated, when she won the U.S. national title last month, with a record score. A silver medalist at the 2012 world junior championships before moving into the senior ranks, Gold finished sixth at last year's world championships then helped the United States win bronze in the team event in Sochi.
MAO ASADA (JAPAN)
A two-time world champion, Asada is one of the few women who can perform a triple Axel, one of the toughest jumps in figure skating. At the last Olympics in Vancouver, she landed three of them and won the silver medal. Asada has dominated the Grand Prix circuit this season and the 23-year-old has said she plans to perform an unprecedented variation of eight triples in Sochi in a bid to win the Olympic title before she retires later this year.
CAROLINA KOSTNER (ITALY)
One of the oldest competitors in the event, the 27-year-old is appearing at her third and final Olympics after almost retiring two years ago. Although she has not won an Olympic medal, she has consistently been one of the world's top skaters, winning the world championship in 2012 and finishing runner-up to Kim at last year's worlds. Born into a sporting family, her father captained the Italian ice hockey team at the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics and her cousin Isolde Kostner won three Olympic medals in alpine skiing.
(Compiled by Julian Linden, editing by Mitch Phillips)
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