Tuesday, March 8, 2011

S Korea's star figure skater Kim Yu-na looks beyond Olympics

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South Korea's Kim Yu-Na reacts on the podium during the awarding ceremony for the women's figure skating at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver , Canada, Feb. 25, 2010. Kim Yu-Na claimed the title with a total point of 228.56.

SEOUL, July 24 -- Kim Yu-na, the reigning world figure champion, seems to be taking things slow for now after indisputably demonstrating to the world that she is indeed in her own league way above the pack.

After successfully wrapping up the previous season and resuming training in Canada, Kim is briefly back in her native South Korea for a three-day ice show opening Friday, where she will unveil a new gala program and perform a duet with Michell Kwan, her childhood idol.

And Kim finds the shows refreshing, free from pressure and rules of competitions.

"I didn't realize this before, but after I started doing shows I genuinely felt that what I'm doing professionally is something really great," Kim said in a recent interview with Xinhua in Seoul.

The realization has given her more confidence, she said. "Unlike other sports, figure skating is a sport that allows one to put on performances without having to compete in a game."

The figure skating icon recently quelled speculation about her possible retirement by announcing her participation in the 2011 World Championship in Japan. She said she will bow out of the ISU Grand Prix events to focus more on the world championships.

While the record-setting, immaculate display at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics is something she still can't quite believe, it has also left little more for the 19-year-old to reach out for, professionally.

Besides adding the medal to her resume, the South Korean ice darling has also won seven Grand Prix titles, three Grand Prix Final trophies and one world championship title since her senior international debut in 2006.

What can she possibly want now?

"Winning the Olympics had been the highest goal for me, so I'm not really thinking about any other goals at the moment. For now, I'd like to try performing many characters I couldn't previously play because of figure skating rules," Kim said. "I've achieved a lot of things in my life, but I'm still young."

Indeed, Kim is poised for new things. She is set to debut a hip hop program during the Samsung Anycall-Hauzen 2010 All That Skate Summer ice show, and has also expressed her interest in adding some Latin American flavor to her new short or long programs.

Hidden behind the glamour of being the top figure skating icon is her continuous efforts that never ceased since her first steps onto the ice at the age of seven, when her home country was virtually a figure skating wasteland.

"Looking back on the process of reaching where I am now brings with it more bad memories than good ones," Kim said. At one point, she said, she suffered injuries almost every day for two years in a row, a hard blow to the fledgling athlete.

Still, persistence has always been Kim's middle name -- she has proven in competition after competition that even with a shaky start in the short program, she can rebound and still outshine competitors in the free skate. "I guess I could get where I am now as I've endured all the difficulties along the way," the Olympic gold medalist said.

Now that Kim is where she is, the figure skater, though she describes herself as "just a girl," commands a goddess-like status in South Korea.

Everything she says and does get obsessive media following. She might be seen smiling or frowning, and it will be plastered all over the newspapers the next day. She is a ubiquitous presence on television and billboards, while clothes and shoes she is seen wearing sell like hot cakes.

All this might be a little too suffocating for a college sophomore, but Kim, dubbed "Queen Yu-na" by her home fans, said she feels grateful.

"Being famous brings its own inconveniences along with it," she said. "But knowing there are many people out there rooting out for me give me more confidence in doing what I do."

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