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Figure skating 'Queen' could be headed for long reign

Kim Yu-Na of Korea reacts with joy after her routine. (George Bridges/MCT)
Kim Yu-Na of Korea reacts with joy after her routine. (George Bridges/MCT)

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Olympic ice has been especially slippery for female figure skaters.

But Kim Yu-na is so light on her feet she seems to float above the surface.

In a sport characterized by upsets and upstarts at the Winter Games, Kim broke the pattern Thursday. She confirmed her title as "The Queen."

She took women's figure skating to an ethereal level with her performance to Gershwin's exuberant "Concerto in F," landing all 11 of her jumps, seven in combination. She looked like she was dancing down Broadway.

Her delicacy belied her dominance. Has any skater been so far ahead of her opposition since Sonja Henie commanded the sport 70-plus years ago?

As the music soared, so did Kim, obliterating her own world record with a score of 228.56. Had she been competing under the old system, she would have earned a row of perfect 6.0s.

South Korea's Kim was something to behold, flawless despite enormous pressure from her homeland. Flawless on the Olympic stage, where so many have faltered before.

Wearing a royal blue dress with a bejeweled collar, Kim whirled into a combination spin as the jazzy, airy music reached a crescendo of pounding bass drum beats and speeding piano octaves.

It was a show that took your breath away. It was both lyrical and athletic, balletic and bold. Kim nailed six triple jumps, and looked weightless on takeoffs and landings.

She's been the world's best for two years, losing only once in that span. But now a larger Olympic audience is acquainted with figure skating's star.

Despite two triple axels, Japan's Mao Asada could not even come close. She finished second, more than 23 points behind. In figure skating, that's three touchdowns. Canada's Joannie Rochette summoned another beautiful performance and held onto third for the country's first medal in women's skating since 1988.

Kim won South Korea's first Olympic gold medal in a sport other than speedskating

As she curtsied to the Pacific Coliseum audience, she began to cry, a rare show of emotion for Kim. Then came the rain of stuffed animals and flowers.

She wiped tears as she stood on the podium.

If she had erred, arch rival Asada was in position to capitalize, skating right after Kim and trailing by 4.72 points after Tuesday's short program. But Asada, skating to the brooding "Bells of Moscow" by Rachmaninoff, botched one landing and singled a triple toeloop and was far behind with 205.50 points.

Rochette, whose 55-year-old mother died Sunday of a heart attack, again received loud support from the sympathetic home crowd. She skated to "Samson and Delilah" by St. Saens and managed to keep her composure until she reached the podium.

The surprise of the night was American Mirai Nagasu, who moved up from sixth to fourth with her impish portrayal of Carmen.

Japan's Miki Ando, playing the role of Cleopatra, dropped to fifth. American Rachael Flatt skated first in the final group and finished seventh.

Kim, 19, has grown from timid technician to enchanting artist. She ended a string of unexpected results in the sport that include Annette Poetsch beating Linda Fratianne and Oksana Baiul upstaging Nancy Kerrigan in 1994 as the Tonya Harding scandal swallowed the Olympics.

Four years later, little jumping bean Tara Lipinski shocked Michelle Kwan. In 2002, Long Island teen Sarah Hughes stole the spotlight from Kwan again. Four years ago in Turin, American Sasha Cohen fell early in her long program and Japan's Shizuka Arakawa, skating clean, beat her and Russia's Irina Slutskaya.

Kim has continued the athletic evolution of women's skating started by the Asian wave of jumpers. She is a national celebrity in South Korea, where she earns about $5 million per year in endorsements for products like lipstick and cell phones. She's the subject of numerous blogs, a target of paparazzi.

She prefers to train far away from the fuss, in Toronto, where she is coached by Brian Orser, the two-time Olympic silver medalist. Orser has coaxed forth her personality in the past year and encouraged her to show it on the ice.

She has become a complete skater and, given her youth, could become the first woman since Katarina Witt in 1984 and 1988 to win two Olympic golds.

The reign of "The Queen" could be a long, historic and stunning one.

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