Yuna Kim and South Korea looking for their first ever Olympic medal in figure skating
Yuna Kim started showing promise when she was only 11 years of age after winning the Triglav Trophy in Slovenia. Her first major accomplishment, however, was in 2006 when she finished first in Junior Grand Prix Final in 2005-2006 season after finishing second in the previous year.
Kim, who won every competition in her last season in juniors, went on to win the Senior Grand Prix Final in her debut season. She immediately became a national hero at her home country South Korea, where figure skating is still at a developing stage to say the least.
It is still considered a miracle that a skater of Kim's caliber was produced in a country where the infrastructure and system of the sport is so poorly developed. Figure skaters in South Korea often have to share the same ice rink used by ice hockey players and short track skaters due to limited training facilities in the country. She faced a number of different obstacles during the early stages of her career for the same reason, but she willed her way into becoming a strong contender for the gold medal in the upcoming Winter Olympics with her love for the sport as well as her talent.
The 18-year old spends most of her time training in Toronto, Canada under her personal coach Brian Orser who is still considered a figure skating legend in the country. Orser won back-to-back silver medals in 1984 and 1988 in the Winter Olympics. When asked whether or not he thinks Kim can win the gold medal in the upcoming Olympics, Orser made it clear that he does not want to make any bold predictions, but he didn't hesitate to label Kim as "the best skater in the world."
"I don't want to make any predictions. If you ask Yuna, she'll probably give you the same answer," said Orser.
"But do I think she's the best skater in the world? Yes. But we just don't want to get ahead of ourselves."
After a successful debut season in 2006-2007 at senior level, Yuna continued her success in the following year. She finished first in three of four tournaments, including a gold medal in the Grand Prix Final for two consecutive years. She suffered a bad back pain after winning the Grand Prix Final, but still went on to finish third in the World Championships to finish her second season at senior level.
In October 2008, Kim competed in Skate America in Everett, Washington as her first tournament of the season. It was her first time competing in the United States. Her confidence was at an all-time high, however, as she believed that both of her new programs going into the season - short program and free skating - would truly help her "breakthrough" as an established figure skater. She said that she had a big influence herself over making decisions for her new choreography, her new dress and the music. Also, she had finally gotten rid of the chronic back pain that's been bothering her for years.
She seemed more than ready to show the world that her best has yet to come. And she did just that.
Kim blew out the rest of the competition in both of her programs in Skate America. She finished first after edging out the silver medallist Yukari Nakano by nearly 20 points. She then finished first yet again in the next tournament held in China in another dominating fashion. Just last week, she finished second in the Grand Prix Final that was hosted in her motherland - Goyang, South Korea.
It was her rival Asada Mao, who stood at the top of the podium wearing the gold medal in Goyang SPART Complex, arena filled with thousands of Korean fans who created an atmosphere that was as electrifying as a hairdryer thrown into hot tub when Kim stepped onto the ice. They were eager to see Kim win yet another gold, but unfortunately, it didn't happen. It was revealed later that Kim suffered a cold going into the final, where she made a couple of critical mistakes to fall 2.20 points behind her rival.
March 2009 will be another showdown between Kim and Asada Mao, but this time in Los Angeles, California as the city will host the ISU World Figure Skating Championship at the STAPLES Center. It will be the last tournament of the 2008-2009 season for both skaters as they look to end their season in a convincing manner with the much anticipated Winter Olympics taking part of their next season.
Kim didn't deny that she is under a lot of pressure, but it didn't seem as if she was stressed, either.
"Expectations from the fans will only get bigger, but what can I do? I just try not to stress myself out," she said with a smile.