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Kim Yu-na closing in on back-to-back figure skating titles

SOCHI, Russia -- Kim Yu-na can become just the third woman to win back-to-back Olympic figure skating titles on Thursday when she takes a slender lead into the decisive free skate in Sochi.

The 23-year-old South Korean superstar opened up a fractional 0.28 lead on Russian teenager Adelina Sotnikova in Wednesday's short program as she attempts to join fellow double winners, Norway's Sonje Henie and Germany's Katarina Witt in the record books.

Fifteen-year-old Julia Lipnitskaia, carrying the burden of Russian hopes after the quarter-final exit of the country's vaunted ice hockey team, found the pressure too much and is down in fifth place after falling.

However, 17-year-old national champion Sotnikova lifted home hopes with a rousing skate to “Carmen” which brought the 17,000-capacity crowd at the Iceberg Skating Palace to their feet.

Italy's Carolina Kostner is sitting third with 74.12 with less than a point separating the top three skaters.

“I was really nervous, my legs started trembling and shaking,” said Kim, who will retire after her work on Thursday is complete.

“The jumps didn't go well in the warm-up. I tried to remember the good practices I had. I just told myself: 'believe in yourself.'”

Japanese star Mao Asada's Olympic challenge is over as the Vancouver silver medallist slumped to 16th.

Also Thursday, the women's ice hockey final will again feature Canada, who have won the last three gold medals, against the United States, the winners of four of the last five world titles.

The U.S. were heavily favored to reach Thursday's final as they have 65,700 registered female players compared to just over 3,000 for the Swedes who they defeated 6-1 in the semi-final.

Canada has 87,000 players while Switzerland, who they beat 3-1 to make the gold medal match, have just 908.

Canada will face Sweden in the women's curling final.

Sweden has the opportunity to win their third consecutive women's gold, while Canada can win a first gold since the late Sandra Schmirler skipped her world champion team to the Olympic title at Nagano in 1998.

In freestyle ski cross, defending champion Michael Schmid of Switzerland will face a battle to achieve back-to-back titles after missing most of the past three seasons with a knee injury.

Maddie Bowman of the United States is among the favorites in freestyle halfpipe, a new event at Sochi.

The day's other gold medal will come in the Nordic Combined team event.

Norway and Germany have split the two individual gold medals in Socho so far — with Eric Fenzel winning the normal hill/10km title for Germany before Jorgen Graabak claimed the large hill gold.

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Kim Yu-na, of South Korea, skates during a practice session at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia on Thursday, Feb. 20. (AP)

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