Figure skating star Kim Yu-na announced Monday she will return to competitive skating and enter the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, ending months of speculation on the possibility of her imminent retirement.
In a hastily scheduled press conference at the National Training Center in Seoul, the 21-year-old admitted she had difficulty staying motivated after winning her gold medal at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. She said she found an unlikely source of inspiration from younger South Korean skaters while training in Seoul during her extended break from competition, rather than her usual base in Los Angeles.
"I just tried to be a good teammate for the young ones," Kim said. "But I was inspired by their hard work. It also gave me the drive to keep going, and I decided I still had some business left to take care of."
Kim entered the 2010 world championships about a month after Vancouver and finished second. She later confessed to suffering from an emotional letdown and sat out the entire 2010-11 season before entering the world championship in April 2011 and finishing runner-up again.
Kim, who hasn't competed for more than a year and has only done corporate ice shows in that time, said she "just wanted to get away from it all, even just for one day."
"After Vancouver, I couldn't find a bigger goal for myself as a figure skater, but expectations from fans kept growing," she said. "I was really burdened by them all. I had no idea just how much harder I had to train to stay in form, and I was afraid that I would let so many people down if I made mistakes in competition."
Ultimately, the competitor in Kim got the best of her.
"I decided I could lower my own expectations and adjust my goal so I can simply skate for myself," Kim said. "I thought if I let this pressure or fear get to me and end my career, I would regret it later."
Kim's future has been a subject of endless speculation since her gold medal-winning performance in Vancouver, which came about a year after her first and only world crown. Until Monday, she had never fully committed to either an amateur career, which would entail more Olympics and world championship appearances, or professional pursuits, such as taking part in ice show tours.
Last month in Shanghai, where she appeared at an ice show, Kim told a press conference she would make a decision on her future before the end of this summer.
Kim is already looking ahead to beyond her playing career. She said she will try to become a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) after the Sochi Games.
She also said she harbored dreams of a career in sports diplomacy, while serving as an honorary ambassador for South Korean town PyeongChang's successful bid to host the 2018 Winter Olympics. Her presentation last July during the IOC General Assembly in Durban, South Africa, before members voted on the Olympic host has been credited with helping PyeongChang beat out Munich, Germany, and Annecy, France.
"Sochi will not be an end but a new beginning," Kim said. "It will be a new start for me as I pursue new dreams and take on new challenges."
Korea currently has two IOC members -- Samsung Eletronics chairman Lee Kun-hee and former Olympic taekwondo champion Moon Dae-sung.
Kim admitted she will have her work cut out to return to her dominant form of two or three years ago, but that she would like to start with a clean slate at any rate.
"I am going to start anew (at Sochi)," she said. "My mindset won't necessarily be, 'I've got to do well as the defending Olympic champion.' I just want to give my best. Just returning to the Olympics will be great."
She said she doesn't regret having taken so much time off from competitive skating.
"I've done some ice shows and I also got to enjoy some normal life on campus," Kim said. "Personally, it's been a precious time. I was able to enjoy some of the things I couldn't for quite a while."
Kim is the first South Korean figure skater to win an Olympic gold and a world championship. She has also won seven Grand Prix events and three Grand Prix Finals on the International Skating Union circuit.
She is one of the nation's most popular athletes, and has long been a major presence in television commercials.
A technically sound skater known for her artistry, Kim holds world records in short program (78.50), free skate (150.06) and in combined points (228.56), under the international judging system introduced in 2004. All marks were established in Vancouver. (Yonhap)