SOCHI, Russia -- Anxiety and energy. Conviction and courage.
They all combined Wednesday -- along with one stunning fall -- to set up an unpredictable race for the Olympic gold medal in women’s figure skating.
Nerves almost got the best of Yuna Kim in the short program Wednesday night. Then she showed she is still the favorite to win another title.
Her lead is almost as slim as it could get, .28 points over a woman from the host country -- no, not Julia Lipnitskaia. Russia’s Adelina Sotnikova, with a snappy routine that had the crowd on its feet before she finished her final spin, was second, while Lipnitskaia plummeted to fifth after her fall on a triple flip.
Italy’s Carolina Kostner, whose "Ave Maria" program is almost a religious experience for her, was .80 back. Chicago’s Gracie Gold was fourth, within striking distance after overcoming a sense of stage fright.
Kim, 23, would become the third woman to win consecutive Olympics, following Sonja Henie and Katarina Witt. But she’ll probably need to calm down to step up to the top of the podium.
"I am a human being," she said. "I get nervous all the time. It just doesn’t show on my face."
Plenty showed on Lipnitskaia’s face: sadness, disappointment, even disbelief -- as if the 15-year-old’s dog had just run away.
On a day Lipnitskaia’s hockey countrymen flopped out of the games, she couldn’t revive Russian hearts. After winning both programs in the team event to help the hosts take the gold, Lipnitskaia fell on a triple flip and then broke down in tears.
"This does not define her career or who she is as an athlete," coach Eteri Tutberidze said through a translator. "She simply made a mistake. That’s all. It happens."
When it happened, the crowd was stunned. And Kim had the lead, but barely over Sotnikova.
"Most important is to see your goals, to try and try," said Sotnikova, 17. "If you want it, you achieve it."
Kostner has been trying to achieve something special in the Olympics since the Turin Games, when she was ninth. She was far worse at Vancouver, a dismal 16th, and she began questioning her career goals.
But she kept going.
"I wanted to skate because I love it," she said. "Hard times make you understand what you really want."
In "Ave Maria," she found just the tonic, an elegant program she seems to float through.
"It’s just a prayer to everything I’ve lived and learned through skating," Kostner said.
U.S. champion Gracie Gold, second to Lipnitskaia in the team free skate, had a clean short program to sneak in ahead of Lipnitskaia by 3.4 points.
"To be able to come up here and feel stiff and white as a ghost but stare fear in the face is what I’m all about now," the 18-year-old Gold said.
Ashley Wagner of Alexandria, Va., and Polina Edmunds of San Jose, Calif., were sixth and seventh -- a very strong showing for the United States.