Kim Hae-jin is seen as a hot prospect to succeed Olympic and former world champion Kim Yu-na. / Korea Times file
By Cho Mu-hyun
Korea’s rising figure skater Kim Hae-jin entered a room at the National Training Center in Taeneung, northern Seoul, wearing a black-and-pink training uniform that fit her perfectly. She smiled brightly but she was obviously a little nervous.
And under her shy demeanor was an aura of poignancy.
“It was my first Junior Worlds. Every athlete was so good, and I thought there was a lot to learn from them,” she said. “I hope I can become a better skater by following their good examples.”
The 14-year-old just returned from the World Junior Figure Skating Championships in Minsk, Belarus, less than a week ago, where she came eighth in the women’s singles.
She has shown exceptional technique not often achieved at her age and is considered one of the most promising talents in the country by experts here. She first gained nationwide recognition when she succeeded in a triple spin move two years ago, which earned her the nickname “The Second Kim Yu-na.”
“It is a huge honor (to be called that). I am still lacking in many things, and I am really grateful to many people who call me by that name. It is a great motivation for me to practice harder,” she said humbly, despite strong performances that suggest otherwise.
Kim started skating when she was 7, after she casually followed some friends to a rink one day. She thought it was “a lot of fun.” And with the support of her family, especially her mother who hoped her daughter would do what she loved, she has been a dedicated figure skater ever since, for nearly eight years now.
And like all good athletes, she knows her game.
“When I enter events, of course I get a little nervous, but once the (actual) event starts, I am not nervous and I don’t worry about the spectators so much,” she said. “I try hard to think that it’s only me and the judges that are present.”
In figure skating, contestants are given two minutes and 50 seconds for the short event, and either four minutes or four minutes and 30 seconds for the free skate. According to Kim, a year’s worth of training in endless repetition and continual effort goes into that brief performance.
“I come (to the rink) around 9 a.m. after breakfast, and skate till 2 p.m. I eat for 20 minutes, and then do ballet for an hour,” she said, counting her fingers one by one with her head tilted up in thought. “Then we do ground training. We decide on what to do with a chart during ground training, and it really depends on the regime that day whether it ends earlier or later. I rest at home for a while and come back at 9 and skate till 11.” She does the late night training every other day, while everything from nine to the final ground training is done six days a week.
“When something does not go well during an event, it is really upsetting. But the moment passes, and regret doesn’t bring the moment back. So I pledge to do better the next time.”
Deep inside the dedicated professional, she is a girl of 14 that enjoys her own hobbies during the offseason, which for skaters is usually the summer.
“I like doing things with my hands. I like cross stitching, making quilts and things with beads.”
She also spends quality time with her family, watching her favorite television programs, such as the SBS variety show “Running Man” and “Survival Audition K-pop Star.” Her favorite singer is Daesung of Korean idol group Big Bang.
She shed some insight into her relationship with her sister, Suh-jin, jokingly saying that every time she wins a competition, her younger sister waits for the dolls thrown onto the rink at the winner’s ceremony, instead of admiring the trophy.
Her ultimate goal is to compete at the Olympics, especially the Sochi Games in 2014, and to become a figure skater that deeply touches spectators.
For Kim, more than anything else that drives her ambition is the joy that comes after every achievement, whether it is a medal or the success of a move that she put months of dedication to complete. While skating with friends and fellow figure skaters Lee Ho-jung and Cho Kyoung-ah, her dream of success in the next Winter Games seems within her reach. Stemming from a sincere enjoyment of figure skating, her recent finish in eighth place will soon follow with better rankings.
She said rather innocently, “I’ve skated for a while now. And after eight years, it is still fun.”