Yuna Kim's successful return brought ladiesÂ’ skating back to life

January 23, 2013
By Chrissy Hah
Photos © Ryu Voelkel and Keduduk

After nearly a 20 month hiatus from competitive skating, Yuna Kim, the reigning Olympic champion, made her successful return in Dortmund, Germany and claimed a voice in the current ladies’ skating in a determined fashion! Kim brought two new programs, choreographed to the soundtrack of 'Kiss of the Vampire' and a compilation of songs from 'Les Miserables', respectively. Skating her short program to 'Kiss of the Vampire', Kim put in flawless performance and scored 72.27, winning by more than 10 points; well ahead of the rest of field. Although her free skate to 'Les Miserables' was not clean, she easily kept her lead and widened her margins between runners-up. She won with a total score of 201.61, which is the highest score any lady has reached so far this season. She also became the first and only female skater to surpass 200 points this season.

Kim's return to competition is full of suggestions for the current ladies’ skating; take note of the fact that Kim nailed triple lutz-triple toe loop combination with ease in both the short and free programs. While she sat out of competition for almost two years, many of the top ladies went for play-safe strategies instead of increasing the levels of difficulty in their programs. Contrary to the current state of the men's skating field, where attempting quads has become mainstream among the top skaters, it is not too much to say that the overall level of the ladies’ skating has been standardized downward, which is undesirable for the sport, especially as the 2014 Winter Olympics draw closer. Kim's return and her triple-triple must have awakened other ladies to the need for high-level technical skills and motivated them to take risk in order to catch up with Kim.

Now, ladies’ skating has begun to be very exciting to watch again. I'm thrilled and honoured to share her comeback story with you, the devoted skating fans, via the Absolute Skating website. Enjoy it:

NRW Trophy

In early July, Yuna Kim announced officially that she would return to competitive skating with a view to a ticket to Sochi. But some critics gave sceptical responses to her plans, citing other comeback skaters' cases. She worked on silently and took things step by step, including preparing new programs and reuniting with two of her childhood coaches. Then finally she announced the NRW trophy in Dortmund as her first competition since April 2011.

As soon as the news that she would compete at the NRW trophy came out, this small event evolved rapidly to become one of the most anticipated and awaited dates in the figure skating and sporting calendar this year. Right after the announcement, the organizers of the event were flooded with inquiries from the skating world. Compared with other years, the organizers experienced such a great deal of attention on an unprecedented scale that they adopted ticket pre-selling service for the first time this year to meet the demand, and all the tickets were sold out within hours.

Yuna Kim, who had been training in Seoul, departed for Dortmund, Germany on December 5th with her entourage, but her flight was delayed for nearly four hours because of heavy snowfall. So the schedule was delayed longer than expected. Those who had been supporting her considered this as the price she paid to avoid something much worse and thought it could have been worse. And they were later proved to be right.

Kim set to prepare for the competition in Essen about 15 miles away from Dortmund, since the practice rink in Dortmund was not in the condition for her to concentrate on her own practice without being disturbed. According to the locals who had been blessed to see her training in Essen, her skating skills and footwork looked unchallenged and just watching her floating around the ice was something special. After having three training sessions with her compatriot Jin-seo Kim in Essen to adapt to the local conditions, they entered the competition.

During the NRW trophy 2012, Eissportzentrum was like her home arena. There were signs and banners supporting her all over the place. Additionally, apart from the local media, crowds of reporters and television teams dispatched from Korea and Japan were watching her every move to keep up the close coverage of the return of the ice queen. The NRW trophy had been under the radar overshadowed by the ISU figure skating Grand Prix Final held in a similar period previously, but that's definitely not the case this year. Before and after Kim's competition, the number of the articles covering her and the NRW trophy around the globe easily got abreast with that of the Final. During her competition, a lot of complimentary statements and intense debates continued on Twitter and the skating forums in real time.

She said with modesty that her main goal was to acquire the technical minimum scores required to enter next year's world figure skating championships, but there was no one in doubt about her chance of gaining the scores or winning the trophy. The main focus of the attention in the skating world was where she belongs after the break, compared with peak-period Yuna Kim in the 2009-2010 Olympic season.

While she was waiting for her turn in the women's short program, it's pretty obvious that she was nervous and tense. However, once she stood on the ice, she blew all the doubts about her to pieces with a stunning clean performance. She skated in a class of her own and her signature triple lutz-triple toe loop combination was still the same. In her short program, she portrayed a woman to be bitten by a vampire. The highlight of her routine was when she turned her eyes upon the audience after she was bitten and became a vampire herself. One would have got goose bumps from meeting her eyes at the very moment. With 72.27, Kim set the highest score in the ladies’ short program this year, beating Japanese Mao Asada's previous best mark of 66.96 set at the Sochi Grand Prix Final.

In her free skate to 'Les Miserables', she delivered a dramatic performance and drew a standing ovation from the crowd. This program has the potential to be long remembered as a masterpiece, albeit with some mistakes this time, so I'm looking forward to her next competition. The judges awarded her the score of 129.34 for her free skate and she owned the best score this season with her winning total of 201.61 at her season debut. She greeted the fans turning around the rink with a relaxed, smiling face. During the press conference after the event, she said, "I was actually surprised at the score I received. That was unexpected. I think I did my best, the best I could, even though I don’t feel I’ve shown all I can do. But overall I’m satisfied with the result today."

While the silver medal went to Russia's Ksenia Makarova who scored a combined of 159.01, Victoria Helgesson of Sweden moved up from fifth after the short and claimed the bronze medal with 158.93.

Meanwhile, in the men's competition, Russia's Konstantin Menshov won ahead of Michal Brezina of Czech Republic. Another Korean skater, Jin-seo Kim, finished seventh overall with 193.68, accomplishing the minimum technical scores for the Worlds together with Yuna Kim.

Without even a moment to catch her breath after clearing the first hurdle in Dortmund, Yuna Kim was facing the second hurdle: the 2013 Korean Figure Skating Championships (January 4-6, 2013). According to the Korean Skating Union's rules, Kim was exempted from competing at the Korean nationals since 2007. KSU makes it a rule to select its national team members based on the total points adding up the results both nationally and internationally. So Yuna, who had never finished off the podium in the international stage, made the world championship and Olympic team without having to compete at domestic competitions. But since she took a hiatus last season, this time she needed to enter the Nationals to qualify for the world championships. This year's event marked her first appearance in seven years and the organizers decided to hold the event at the big venue, the Mok-dong ice rink with about 5,000 seats in Seoul, considering the intense interests. KSU has been swamped with inquiries about the tickets from Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan, China and more countries not to mention from the Korean skating fans.

Likewise with the NRW trophy, her biggest challenge to face didn't come from other skaters but from herself. She utilized this opportunity as the final test for the Worlds and check the degrees of progress in both programs since her debut in Germany in front of the judges and thousands of fans.

Go to Part 2.

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