Figure skating: Kim takes spotlight in Turin

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Indy Lifestyle Online

South Korean star Kim Yu-Na will be the headline act as she defends her title at the world figure skating championships this week just a month after stealing the show in Vancouver.

The 19-year-old has lost only once in the past two seasons, at the Grand Prix final in December 2008, and has been unbeatable since then as she soared to Olympic gold with world record performances.

The South Korean will spearhead an Asian challenge at the worlds here which could see them land an unprecedented three of the four titles on offer at the Palavela from March 23-27.

Kim's leading challenger is expected once again to be Japan's Mao Asada, the 2008 world champion, who is still smarting from her silver medal finish behind Kim in Vancouver.

Asada became the first woman to land three triple axels in one competition at the Olympics, and has said she intends to repeat the feat in Turin, although she will need more than just one element to stop Kim.

The women's field is very strong with just one absentee from Vancouver as Canada's Joannie Rochette, the 2009 world silver medallist, has opted to skip the worlds after the emotional toll of her mother's death during the Olympics.

New challengers can break through including American teenager Mirai Nagasu, who was fourth in Vancouver, and US champion Rachael Flatt.

Asada's teammates Miki Ando, the 2007 world champion, and Akiko Suzuki could also be in the running for the podium.

Other challengers include Finland's Laura Lepisto, sixth in Vancouver, European champion Carolina Kostner of Italy, if she controls the nerves that have so often blighted her chances, and Russia's Elena Leonova.

The men's field is without most of the world's top competitors, leaving the way open for Daisuke Takahashi, the Olympic bronze medallist, to win Japan's first men's world gold.

Olympic champion Evan Lysacek has opted not be defend his title with silver medallist Yevgeny Plushenko, a former three-time champion, also withdrawing after his doctors reportedly told him to rest.

Canada's Patrick Chan, the world silver medallist, is hoping to put himself with a shot at the podium as is American champion Jeremy Abbott.

Former world champion Brian Joubert of France will be trying to make amends for his humiliating 16th place in Vancouver and the five-time medallist is always a challenger at worlds.

Other men to watch are Takahashi's teammates Nobunari Oda and Takahiko Kozuka, France's Florent Amodio and Kazakhstan's Denis Ten.

In pairs, Olympic champions Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao of China have definitively retired with Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, the bronze medallists, bidding for a third straight world title.

But they are coming off a disappointing season and face a strong challenge from Qing Pang and Jian Tong, the 2006 world champions, who have come back strong this season and took silver in Vancouver.

Also in the mix for the podium are European champions Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov of Russia, China's Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang, the 2009 world silver medallists, Russia's Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov and Canada's Jessica Dube and Bryce Davison.

In ice dancing, Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are favourites after their Olympic triumph, but American rivals Meryl Davis and Charlie White will be gunning for revenge after their silver.

Italy's Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali will be hoping to medal on their home ice after winning a silver at Europeans and finishing fifth in Vancouver with France's Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat also targetting the podium.

Reigning world champions and Olympic bronze medallists Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin of Russia are not competing.