The 1968 champion thinks the U.S. could still medal with "beautiful programs" from Rachel Flatt and Mirai Nagasu

By Lorenzo Benet
Updated February 25, 2010 04:25 PM
Credit: David J. Phillip/AP; Brian Kersey/UPI/Landov

What’s a Winter Olympics without plenty of drama? 1968 Olympic champion Peggy Fleming has had more than her fair share.

The normally steady and elegant skater even survived a small car accident! “A little bruise and that’s it,” she said of a Valentine’s Day fender bender she was in while riding in Vice President Joe Biden’s motorcade.

But this week the drama is on the ice. Here is how 61-year-old Fleming, who was honored at the Allstate Hall of Fame Tribute at the USA House in Vancouver Wednesday, rates the remaining skaters, including Americans Rachel Flatt and Mirai Nagasu, currently in fifth and sixth place, respectively, after the short program.

“It’s still possible we could medal,” she says. “Rachel and Mirai need to skate beautiful programs. Rachel is solid and consistent and comes out ready but she needs to add flair to her skating. Mirai is strong technically and has artistry but she does not have the experience she needs and needs more confidence out there. That will come with age.”

So is it a lock for Kim Yu-Na of Korea, currently in first? “Yu-Na is over and above every skater here,” she says. “What I love about Yu-Na is not just the jumps themselves but the edge of her skate going into the jumps and the edge of her skate coming out of the jump. No one is close.”

Mao Asada of Japan, now in second, “has improved her artistry and has the most beautiful triple axel I’ve ever seen a woman perform,” Fleming says. “And her teammate Miki Ando is in fourth and she won a world championship and is very experienced.”

Joannie Rochette of Canada is ranked third after the short. “She was amazing Tuesday,” Fleming says of the Canadian skater who lost her mother to a heart attack Sunday. “I don’t know how she could deal with it. I don’t think it has sunk in for her yet but the audience did help her Tuesday and she is surrounded by a lot of love. I’m pulling for her.”