Youth Olympic champion You Young: On the triple Axel, Kim Yuna and dancing to BTS

The reigning Korean national champion will make her Olympic debut at Beijing having won gold at the Youth Olympics in 2020. She spoke to Olympics.com exclusively.

By Nick McCarvel
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

When Youth Olympics Lausanne 2020 champion You Young gets stressed, the Korean finds solace in the cute puppy videos many of the rest of us watch online, too.

Or, she says, she'll turn on a BTS clip - the world famous K-Pop boy band - and try some of their dance moves, just to get her mind off figure skating.

"I like dancing. When I'm really stressed, I watch BTS and sometimes I dance their dance moves. It's funny," she told Olympics.com in an exclusive interview. "It makes me so happy."

You, just 17, has brought plenty of happiness to skating fans in her home nation of the Republic of Korea in an already-successful career, which included that Lausanne triumph, three medals on the senior Grand Prix circuit, and a silver at Four Continents in 2020.

Recently, she won her fourth national ladies singles title in Korea, punching her ticket for the upcoming Olympic Games Beijing 2022. The pressure was on at Korean nationals: She had to finish in the top two to make it to the Olympics.

She is set to return to Four Continents this week (20-23 January) in Tallinn, Estonia, where she'll be among the favourites. You can see a full entry list here for the women - and You hopes it'll be a final fine-tuning for her debut at the Games.

Beijing is a long-awaited experience that the teen feels the Youth Olympics helped ready her for.

"The Youth Olympics was a really good experience for me. It felt like the Olympics, like the small Olympics before a big Olympics," she said. "I'm really happy that I went. It was really fun."

You Young: Kim Yuna was 'like a god'

While You has spent plenty of time watching BTS songs and animal videos online, she's also watched a fair amount of her country's most well-known skater, the Vancouver 2010 champion and runner-up at Sochi 2014, Kim Yuna.

"Yuna Kim made me start figure skating when I was young because I really liked watching her in Vancouver," You, who was five during Vancouver, shared. "Everything was perfect. She was really like a god in that moment because she didn't make any mistakes in the short or free. I really want to do clean programs at the Olympics, too."

You has pushed the technical envelope in her young career, attempting - and landing - the difficult triple Axel at several junctures, including at Skate America in October when she spoke with Olympics.com.

It's a jump she hopes to have in her pocket come February in Beijing.

"Usually I'm the most nervous with the triple Axel because it's the first jump" in a program, she said, detailing how she was attacking the jump with more speed in Las Vegas. "Even if I land the triple Axel, if I make mistakes on my other triple [jumps], it's not worth it. The most important thing is to do everything well in a program."

You Young, Youth Olympics, Lausanne 2020
Picture by 2020 Getty Images

Youth Olympics a 'totally different feeling'

You, along with Lausanne men's champion Kagiyama Yuma of Japan, have launched themselves into the upper echelon of their respective disciplines within senior skating just two years after the Youth Olympic Games (YOGs).

Japan's Kawabe Mana, who was fourth among the women in Lausanne, will also skate in Beijing, and - like You - is armed with a triple Axel.

The Youth Olympic experience is something You feels has helped ready her for the glare of the Olympic spotlight in China.

"I think it's a good chance to try out the Olympic feeling," she said of the YOG. "It's like the Olympic Games, the feeling [it gives you]. It's a totally different feeling than the Grand Prix [in figure skating]. I think it's a really good experience for any skater in their life.

"When you're young, you only have that one chance to [go to the Youth Olympics]."

Because of the big points that skaters can earn off of the triple Axel in the women's event, You could put herself in fighting position in the short program - where she said she must skate clean - in a field that is expected to be led by a trio of ROC skaters.

'The Olympics is like a dream competition'

You will have her dreams come true no matter her performance in Beijing, though of course she is hoping to compete at her maximum. 

When she thinks back to her Youth Olympic experience, which came in January 2020, she wishes she could turn back time and stop the pandemic from happening. She - and many athletes - struggled with training and motivation amidst Covid-19.

"When I think about two years ago... well, this last year has been so hard with Covid," she shared. "I would tell myself to practice hard, be confident and just go for it." 

She added of the upcoming Games: "I've always thought the Olympics was like a dream competition." 

Having spent time in Colorado training with coach Tammy Gambill, You also works with Hamada Mie, a well-known Japanese coach who has helped her hone her triple Axel.

"Mie is more of a technical coach for me. She really fixed my jumping when I was going wrong," she said. "Tammy is my coach for spins and steps when I'm not getting in my full rotations. They are both really helpful to me and I'm really thankful to them."

She is also thankful to have earned her way to Beijing, fighting through a generation of Korean skaters who have been inspired by Kim Yuna - and her legacy.

"Korean skating is really competitive and high-quality right now," she said in October. "I'm trying to do my very best in practice, work hard... I'm hoping that that pays off. It's really challenging [domestically]."

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