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FIGURE SKATING

Four Continents could be a preview of the Olympics

Japan's Mao Asada, the defending world champion and South Korea's Kim Yu-Na head the field at Vancouver, site of next year's Winter Games.

February 04, 2009|Helene Elliott

VANCOUVER, CANADA — Born 20 days apart in September 1990, figure skaters Mao Asada of Japan and Kim Yu-Na of South Korea have competed against each other since they entered their teens.

Asada defeated Kim to win the world junior title in 2005, but Kim reversed that result in 2006. Neither was old enough to compete in the Turin Olympics but competed at the senior-level world championships in 2007, with Asada finishing second and Kim third.

In 2008, skating without a coach after leaving Rafael Arutunian and Lake Arrowhead, Asada won the world title and Kim again finished third. Kim won the 2007-08 Grand Prix Final, but Asada, coached by Russia's Tatiana Tarasova, won it this season and Kim finished second.

Their rivalry will be renewed starting today at the Four Continents Championships and looms as the highlight of the official test event for the Vancouver Olympic figure skating competition.

The four continents in question being the Americas, Asia, Africa, and Australia, no Europeans will compete this week at the Pacific Coliseum. But with Asada and Kim leading the field, this should be a preview of the world championships, which will be held next month at Staples Center.

It wouldn't be a surprise to see Asada and Kim -- or Kim and Asada -- on the top steps of the Olympic podium in Vancouver just over a year from now.

Kim might have extra support from Canadian fans this week because she trains in Toronto and is coached by Canada's Brian Orser, who won silver medals at the 1984 and 1988 Olympics.

Other likely contenders this week are Canada's Joannie Rochette, who was fifth at last year's world championships, U.S. champion Alissa Czisny, U.S. runner-up Rachael Flatt -- the 2008 world junior champion -- and 2007 world junior champion Caroline Zhang of Brea, third at the recent U.S. competition.

The men's field is less formidable. Grand Prix Final champion Jeremy Abbott, who added the U.S. title to his resume less than two weeks ago, will lead the U.S. men, along with runner-up Brandon Mroz and third-place finisher Evan Lysacek, a two-time world bronze medalist.

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helene.elliott@latimes.com

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