Aashish Gadhvi reviews the figure skating juggernaut that is Kim Yu-na
At the recent South Korea v Ivory Coast match I managed to speak to many Korean journalists from television and from print media. Many of the journalists there only seem to have one thing to talk about. No, it wasn’t Park Ji-sung or Lee Chung-yong, but Kim Yu-na, the 19-year-old figure skating sensation who claimed gold at the Winter Olympics just a few weeks ago. Other sports have always been popular in South Korea besides football but figure skating seems to be the new flavour of the month thanks to a 5 foot 5 inch teenager from Bucheon.
Kim Yu-na was born in Bucheon, Gyeonggi-do province, but moved to Gunpo at the age of six. A year later she began figure skating and her coach was so impressed with the precocious girl’s skills that she predicted to her mum that Yu-na would one day be a world class figure skater. Boy was she very right! By the age of 11 she was already winning international competitions at novice level. She then became the youngest person to ever win the senior title at the South Korean Figure Skating Championships.
Her career really kicked off at the ISU Junior Grand Prix Final in 2004-05 when she finished second behind Mao Asada of Japan and won South Korea’s first ever international medal in figure skating. From then on Kim Yu-na went to win medal after medal at various international tournaments and listing all of them here would be foolish and time consuming. But to summarise, after she won silver at the ISU Junior Grand Prix Final, up until the Winter Olympics, she took part in 23 competitions, and won 23 medals. Out of those 23 medals, 3 were bronze and 2 were silver. No prizes for guessing what colour the 18 other medals were.
What many in the western world don’t realise is that leading up to the Winter Olympics, she was already a massive star in South Korea and she got the Jun Ji-hyun treatment by the advertising companies. And why not? She’s young, pretty, athletic and a major achiever for the nation. Legend has it that since appearing in the now famed ‘Yuna’s Haptic’ telephone commercial for Samsung, the mobile phone in question sold over a million handsets in 7 months, which is a record.
Now getting back to the Winter Olympics. Kim Yu-na’s final performance was an absolute masterclass in skating. I can hardly stand up straight on ice skates, so seeing the ease in which Kim landed her signature triple jumps was nothing short of awe-inspiring. Perhaps her more impressive move is her version of the camel spin, in which one leg remains spinning on the ice and the other leg remains in the air, most of the time in a parallel position. Kim’s version of this consists of her back bent backwards, parallel to the ground and her one raised foot being bent at the knee. At times she looked like a toy in a snow globe! When it was all said and done she had claimed the gold medal with a world record total of 228.56.
One of the most fascinating things about her performance at the Winter Olympics was her reaction to the score. When the mammoth total was shown on the big screen, she quite clearly mouthed the words ‘Oh my god’ in a typically school girl like fashion. This drove home one of the most important factors about Yu-na, the fact that she is just a kid. To have all this success at the age of 19 is something that comes with its burdens and we have seen countless cases of youngsters who have had success and not been able to live up to expectations. She will at some point in her career encounter failure and if there’s one thing we know about Korean society, the netizens are not always the kindest people in the world to those who fail. I’m hoping that Kim will prove to be strong enough to deal with this pressure and put things like criticism out of her mind and concentrate on life on the ice. But so far so good for Yu-na, in fact so good that her performance at the Winter Olympics has somewhat overshadowed the mixed results of the Short track skating team, Korea’s premiere winter sport. The very fact that this article was supposed to be a review of Korea’s performance at the Winter Olympics and became a review of Kim Yu-na is case in point. But athletes like this don’t come along every day, so celebrate while we have the chance!
My manager at Match of the Day recently handed me a DVD of South Korea’s World Cup qualifying match against North Korea in Seoul. Having watched the DVD I noticed during the national anthem a certain Kim Yu-na with hand on heart, wearing an official KFA coat. There was the occasional cut away to her during the match as well. What was most interesting about this is the shots of her were almost always inter-cut with shots of my new best mate Ki Sung-yong, Celtic’s 21-year-old tall and handsome midfielder. Did the Korean media know something that we don’t know? The plot thickens…