By Kang Seung-woo
She has given a quantum of solace to Koreans suffering from the ailing economy.
The lovely figure skater Kim Yu-na has helped her people forget the worries of life amid the worsening economic downturn.
A year-end Korea Times survey selected the people's ``idol on the ice'' as Person of the Year 2008.
Runners-up included United States President-elect Barack Obama, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and President Lee Myung-bak.
Just like golf sensation Pak Se-ri and U.S. Major Leaguer Park Chan-ho did 10 years ago during the unprecedented financial crisis, Kim showed off her prowess to comfort and cheer the distressed people.
Her brilliant performance in figure skating, a sport not well known among Koreans, has motivated suffering people to look for opportunities in often-hidden areas.
Before Kim's emergence, figure skating was not the country's forte: the United States, European countries and Japan dominated the sport. There had been no figure skating link until recently and few practitioners could be named.
But Kim reshaped the sport upon her arrival on the senior stage in 2006, winning the International Skating Union (ISU) Grand Prix Final, then defending her title last year.
This season, her strong campaign has continued amid the weak economy to the delight of the people. She got off to a good start, winning a bronze medal for the second year in a row at the world championships, despite a hip injury.
With two more victories at Grand Prix events ― comprised of six legs a season ― she recorded a five-contest winning streak, dating back to November, 2006.
Although Kim, who had been the most searched for sports athlete on portal sites including Google and Naver, failed to achieve a final ``three-peat'' earlier this month in her home-ground at Goyang, Gyeonggi Province, she has been still the most influential icon in the country.
A local TV station even postponed its main evening news program for a live telecast and needless to say enjoyed surprisingly high viewing figures.
Kim has also seen her credibility among advertisers grow.
The figure skater, who has already starred in five commercials, has emerged as the most sought-after star. According to IB Sports, her agency, many companies want to sign contracts with her, but she has turned down a number of offers.
Her brilliant performances have led young children to show keen interest in figure skating, many with the hope of emulating her to become the ``next Kim Yu-na.''
Much like kids who looked up to Pak Se-ri, starting to play golf after watching her dominate the LPGA Tour in the late 1990s and early part of this decade, hopes are high that those who follow Kim Yu-na will dominate the world skating stage.