Published: April 29, 2011
MOSCOW — On an afternoon when royalty was a global talking point, Kim Yu-na’s fans in Moscow stayed true to the theme: waving South Korean flags with their “Queen Yuna” banners for a backdrop.
Yuri Kadobnov/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
But Kim was not quite regal once the music finally started for her at these world championships after more than a year away from competition.
Though she flirted with perfection in winning the 2010 Olympic title in Vancouver, British Columbia, she left perfection behind on the opening jump of her short program on Friday: stumbling out of a triple lutz, which eliminated any possibility of completing her planned triple-triple combination.
Majestic it was not, but Kim kept thinking clearly on her skates: fulfilling the combination requirement by tacking a double toe loop onto the triple flip that she had planned for her next jump.
There were no more bobbles ahead, and while she was not the Kim of Vancouver after her extended layoff, she still managed to preserve her customary position at the head of the class. Kim’s total score of 65.91 points gave her a slim lead of less than a point over Miki Ando of Japan heading into the decisive free program on Saturday.
“Actually I’ve been doing many clean shorts at home and here, so I was disappointed that I didn’t do a perfect short in the competition,” Kim said. “But I tried to focus the rest of my program and tried to put a double toe after the flip, and I’m still in first place so I’m…”
She paused for quite some time before finishing her sentence with the word “happy.”
It, of course, could have been worse, much worse.
“As well trained as you want to be, in order to be in show shape, you have to do the show,” said Tracy Wilson, the former Canadian skater turned commentator.
This was Kim’s first competition with her new coach, Peter Oppegard, a former Olympic pairs skater from the United States who stood rink-side with his arms crossed as Kim performed her short program set to music from Giselle.
“I think she showed a little bit of nerves, because she has not been out there in a year,” Oppegard said. “One thing she said to me is that she has loved performing in Russia and has always performed a clean short in Russia. I think she’s been practicing so well here that this might be a little snap-to-it kind of a thing for her to really fight and get out there in the long and start really believing in what she can do now that she’s got this one under her belt.”
Victory is no foregone conclusion this year. Several skaters are in striking range, above all Ando, the 2007 world champion who received 65.58 points for her less eventful program on Friday. Ksenia Makarova, an 18-year-old Russian with deep roots in the United States, was unexpectedly in third with 61.62 points after a clean program that she opened with a triple-triple. Alissa Czisny, the elegant and soft-spoken American who has had a resurgent season, was in fourth with 61.47 points: ahead of Alena Leonova of Russia, Carolina Kostner of Italy and, in the biggest surprise of the afternoon, Mao Asada of Japan.
Asada, Kim’s longtime rival, beat Kim to win the world championships last year, which came the month following Vancouver. But instead of building on that success, Asada has had a traumatic season: struggling for consistency under a new coach, Nobuo Sato, and failing to qualify for the Grand Prix final.
But unlike Kim, at least she was out there working through the kinks, and few could have expected that Asada, the silver medalist in Vancouver, would not be part of the final group of six skaters in Moscow.
She is now in seventh after botching her opening jump, her signature triple axel, which she was the only woman to attempt on Friday. She landed it on two feet thus missing her opportunity to generate major points. She later received poor grades of execution for her combination, and her program, set to a tango soundtrack, was closer to doleful than dynamic.
Asada and Ando were supposed to be competing at home during these championships, but they were moved from Tokyo to Moscow and delayed more than a month because of the massive earthquake and tsunami that devastated parts of Japan in March.
The calamity has forced skaters from all nations to adjust, and the delay meant that Kim was not the only skater returning from an extended layoff.
But hers was certainly the longest of those who competed on Friday at the Megasport Arena in front of a near-capacity crowd.
When Kim last skated at the world championships in Turin, she was still working with her longtime coach, Brian Orser, but she split with Orser on less-than-cordial terms after the season: leaving their training base in Toronto for the United States and the EastWest Ice Arena in Ontario, California, that is owned, in part, by former skating star Michelle Kwan and her family. Oppegard is married to Kwan’s sister Karen.
“After the Olympics and before returning and making a comeback, I wanted to start fresh,” Kim said.
“I wanted to begin skating in a different atmosphere,” she added, “and there was so much advice and so many recommendations, and that’s why I decided to take a new coach.”
Kim said she met Oppegard for the first time in Los Angeles when she was 9 years old, and the two exchanged compliments on Friday.
But Kim confessed that she had struggled for motivation at times during her comeback.
“It didn’t’ take too much time to build my stamina physically, but mentally it was so hard to focus on training,” she said. “I kept asking me, ‘Why do I have to do this? Why?’ And I couldn’t stop thinking about these kind of questions.”
The question now is how Kim will fare when she debuts her free program, entitled “Homage to Korea” and set to Korean music. Oppegard said Kim, sapped by her Olympic season, did not want to take part in the Grand Prix season in the autumn.
He said she had only briefly considered taking part in the Four Continents competition, which was held in Taiwan in February, to test her new programs under pressure.
Asked why Kim had decided to return at all, he thought for a moment and answered. “What drives a champion? What drives a champion to continue to go after that quest?” he asked.
“She has the ability to do it. She’s still one of the greatest technicians out there and could do it for as long as she feels like she wants to, so it’s just personal goals. If she still feels like she wants to go after another title, if that’s something personal to her, then she should.”
Original source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/30/sports/30iht-skating30.html?_r=1
[NY Times] South Korean Skater Stumbles, but Still Leads, in Moscow
April 30, 2011 By