First Female Figure Skater to Achieve Grand Slam
Kim Yu-na, left, and her coach Brian Orser of Canada celebrate after she scored a career-best 150.06 in the free skating during the women’s figure skating competition at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, Friday (KST). Kim posted a world record 228.56 to beat out Mao Asada of Japan by 23.06 for South Korea’s first ever gold medal in the event.
By Kim Tong-hyung
Kim Yu-na's Olympic triumph cements her status as the megastar of figure skating and the sport's most transcendent personality since Germany's Katarina Witt.
She became the first female figure skater to achieve the "grand slam," winning the World Grand Prix Final, Four Continents Championships, World Championships and the Winter Olympics. She is the first South Korean to win an Olympic medal in figure skating, and gold at that, while setting a new world record in the process.
And barring an injury or career-altering slump, Kim has to be considered a favorite to defend her Olympic title in Sochi, Russia, four years from now, which would allow her to join Witt as the only two-time Olympic figure skating champions.
Kim, who says she idolized Michelle Kwan growing up, now seems to be on course for a more productive career than the American figure skating great, while having a real shot at establishing herself as the best ever.
It remains to be seen whether anyone will emerge to challenge Kim ― her rivalry with Asada is now looking as lopsided as a Pyongyang election.
Of course, Asada is the only female skater in the world who consistently lands the triple axel, but Kim clearly does everything else much better, displaying a deft triple-triple (triple lutz-triple toe loop combination), poise and artistry.
It seems that the world has already seen the best of Miki Ando, another Japanese contender, and Canada's Joannie Rochette, who finished behind Kim and Asada for the bronze in Vancouver, has never managed to beat Kim in an international competition.
The young American duo of Mirai Nagasu and Rachael Flatt, who finished fourth and seventh in Vancouver, respectively, may emerge as worthy adversaries to Kim down the road. Koreans also have high hopes for 16-year-old Kwak Min-jung, the country's 2009 junior national champion who finished 13th in Vancouver.
Orser is the New Hiddink
Kim's snatching the gold in Vancouver all but assures that her Canadian coach Brian Orser, will become the country's most popular foreigner since Dutch football guru, Guss Hiddink, who led South Korea to the semi finals of the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
Orser enjoyed an illustrious figure skating career of his own, entering the 1988 Calgary Olympics as world champion and ending up with the silver medal in a narrow defeat to American Brian Boitano in what remains as one of the most memorable competitions in figure skating history.
The buildup to the Kim-Asada showdown in Vancouver made it the most anticipated Olympic competition since the "Battle of the Brians," but unlike her mentor, Kim had no taste for suspense, blowing her competition out of the water from start to finish.
Ahead of the Olympics, Orser rightfully claimed that his pupil would be "unbeatable" if she skated her best. With Kim topping Vancouver with one of the most dominating Olympic performances ever, perhaps the worst adversary to the Kim-Orser duo from now just might be boredom.
Although Kim established herself as a complete skater, it remains to be seen whether Orser can find room for improvement skill-wise. One could imagine Orser one day deciding to train Kim for the triple axel ― the difficult 3.5-revolution jump ― as he was the only second skater ever to execute that move during his heyday in the 1980s.
Fame, Fortune and Then What?
Korea has seen its share of sports stars over the years, including Bundesliga football legend Cha Bum-kun, Major League Baseball (MLB) pitcher Park Chan-ho, Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) hall-of-famer Pak Se-ri and Manchester United standout Park Ji-sung.
But none of them come close to matching the transcendent personality Kim has become now, and her Olympic triumph will allow her to hit the gold trail. Kim, along with American snowboarder Shaun White, was the richest athlete at the Olympics, with reported earnings of around 9 billion won (about $7.7 million) per year. Now, with Olympic hardware added to her cupboard, the ceiling has just been removed in regard to Kim's money-making ability.
She currently draws top money in advertisements, with her long list of endorsement deals including Samsung Electronics and Nike, apparently helped by a camera-friendly appearance that resembles a perkier version of Lucy Liu. In fact, Kim is similar to Maria Sharapova in that her superb athletic ability gives men an excuse to stare at the television screen for that extra moment.