When she took to the ice at Vancouver’s Pacific Coliseum on 25 February 2010, Yuna Kim turned on a dazzling gold medal-winning display that captured the imagination of the crowd and impressed the judges, who gave the 19-year-old the highest score ever awarded to a figure skater. In doing so she made an indelible mark on the Republic of Korea’s Olympic history by winning the country’s first ever figure skating title, a feat that made her a national idol.
That status is founded on the kind of grace and technical prowess she displayed in executing triple Lutz-triple toe loop combinations and her signature layover spin, dubbed the Yuna Camel, in front of 15,000 spellbound spectators in Vancouver. That performance, one of the most stunning of the 2010 Winter Games, was hailed by the then IOC President Jacques Rogge, and rewarded by the judges with a total of 228.56 points that saw her earn a place in the Guinness Book of Records.
Kim has long been accustomed to pulling off firsts. She took up skating at the age of six and nurtured her talent under the watchful eye of Canada’s two-time Olympic silver medallist Brian Orser in Toronto since 2006.
She was her country’s first ISU Junior and Senior Grand Prix medal winner and also landed South Korea’s first world championship medals in claiming bronze in 2007 and 2008, and then gold in 2009 in Los Angeles.
Following her Olympic triumph in Vancouver she won silver at the Worlds in 2010 and 2011 before deciding to put her career on hold for the best part of two years. Explaining her sabbatical in October 2011, she said: “After the Games last year I had so many commitments on top of all the training I had to do for competitions. I just felt I needed to take a break.”
Her next step was to become a goodwill ambassador for PyeongChang’s bid to stage the XXIII Olympic Winter Games in 2018. Her speech to the members of the IOC members in Durban on July 2012 played its part in ensuring that the city was chosen to host the Games in the first round of voting.
A sensational comeback
On returning to skating in 2013 she said: “I love figure skating. It’s what I’m good at. That’s why I decided to come back.” Her main objective is to defend her Olympic title in Sochi, and she served notice of her intention to do so when she placed first in the short programme at the 2013 ISU Figure Skating World Championship in London, Ontario (CAN).
The next day she reeled off another string of perfectly executed triple-triple combinations in the free programme to secure an emphatic win and her second world title. Speaking after her stunning win, Kim told the enthralled crowd: “The Olympics is the biggest competition for all athletes and an unforgettable event. I wanted to experience all that again.”
The star suffered a setback in September 2013, however, when she was sidelined for six weeks with an injury in her right foot. That hurdle is just one of many she has faced in her journey to the top, and she will be confident that come February 2014 she can become the first woman since Katarina Witt in 1984 and 1988 to win back-to-back Olympic figure skating titles.