Kim Yu-Na Sets New High Bar for Skating

The 19-year-old Korean phenom blows competitors off the ice

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In a nearly flawless performance that brought the audience to its feet, Olympic figure skater Kim Yu-Na took the gold medal and scored 150.06 points, setting a new world record. The South Korean skater was a favorite going into the women's contest, but she faced strong competition from Japanese jumping phenoms Mao Asada and Miki Ando, as well as Canadian Joannie Rochette, whose mother died in Vancouver on Sunday. Though all of the women skated strong long programs last night, Kim was untouchable. Her soaring triples and elegant speed set her a solid 23 points above Asada, who took second, and Rochette, who won bronze.

Kim's win has cultural as well as athletic implications, fulfilling South Korea's nationalistic push to tower over Japan on the podium. Asada and Kim are longtime rivals, and many feared overwhelming pressure might overcome South Korea's most famous celebrity. But the newly crowned "ice queen" rose well above expectations, setting a new standard for women's skating and sending shivers down the spines of viewers and bloggers across the world.

  • Kim’s Skate Called for 'The Mercy Rule,' according to Cam Cole of The Vancouver Sun: "Yu-Na Kim, Brian Orser's ethereal 19-year-old living, breathing work of art from Korea, is almost literally in a different league from everyone else in women's figure skating." Bizarre objectification aside, Cole's assessment echoed feelings throughout the arena. He quotes 1992 gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi's observation that Kim has "taken women's skating to a new level."
  • Korea Held Its Breath, reports The Christian Science Monitor’s Donald Kirk: "Financial markets slowed and almost stopped here as Kim Yuna, 'the Golden Queen' in Korea's media, was running through a flawless free-skating performance, winning a gold medal for herself and unalloyed joy for Koreans." When she won, the country erupted into "what seemed like a nationwide roar of applause" and the South Korean president issued his congratulations, calling Kim's win a "great jubilation for the people."
  • Move Over, Russia, Canada, and the U.S., warns Alice Park at Time--there's a new figure skating trifecta in town. "Call it the Asian Invasion," Park writes, or "the Beast from the East," but Korea, China, and Japan are officially posing a new threat to the traditionally Western dominance of the sport. With a total of five medals in all the figure skating events (including pairs, men's skating, and ice dancing) and expanding athletic infrastructures, Asian countries are a much stronger skating presence than they have been before.
  • Kim Yu-Na Was Great, but the Glory Goes to Grieving Joannie Rochette, argues Sherry Huang at Beliefnet:
Her bronze means more than the gold and silver because it was achieved through a heartbreaking haze of personal tragedy. She wasn't skating to please her fans or her coach or her endorsers or her fellow countrymen or even herself; she was skating for love and for someone truly close to her heart, her mother…

What she really won in the end was a stronger sense of self, the knowledge that she has the bravery to leap and glide past media scrutiny and skating rivalries, and the ability to hold herself together without dissolving to pieces and remain triumphant till the end.
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