published Friday, February 26th, 2010

Yuna Kim of South Korean wins women's figure skating

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — They already called her "Queen Yuna" in South Korea.

And her reign over the women's figure skating world officially began Thursday night.

Kim ended a streak of three Olympics that had not been kind to the women's figure skating favorite, instead becoming the first South Korean to win a figure skating medal of any color.

Michelle Kwan of the United States had fallen short of the gold medal she was expected to win in both 1998 and 2002, as Irina Slutskaya of Russia did in 2006.

So here was Kim, who began the season as an overwhelming favorite for the 2010 title and justified that status with a brilliant performance in Tuesday's short program, even as she bore the weight of a nation's hopes.

But she had a lead of less than five points over Japan's Mao Asada going into Thursday's long program, which lasted 90 seconds longer, plenty of time for the expectations to lead to crushing mistakes.

Not this time.

When Kim cried after finishing her free skate, they were tears of joy, the kind that come with winning an Olympic gold medal.

There were three skaters left, including Asada, but this was game over.

The South Korean national hero may have been a little tight on some of her early jumps, but she was flawless on all and floated through the accompaniment of Gershwin's Concerto in F like a feather in the wind.

"If this was track and field, we just watched an 8-second 100 meters," said Jamie McGrigor, a skating analyst doing in-house radio commentary.

The judges thought so. They gave her a free skate score of 150.06, which was an astonishing 13 percent higher than her previous world record of 133.95. That gave her a total of 228.56 and what would be victory over Asada by 23 points.

"I still can't believe the score that I received, I'm really surprised," Kim said.

"In the past, I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to do what I wanted, but I am really happy that I was able to show everything I did in training."

The two successful triple axels Asada landed would not have made a difference even if she had not had a downgraded jump and a huge error, turning a triple toe loop into a single, later in the program.

It was hard to imagine the long program could produce more brilliance and drama than the short, when Kim followed Asada's lights-out performance with one that set a world record and Joannie Rochette fought through the pain of her mother's unexpected death three days earlier to skate flawlessly and take third.

Rochette held together again, winning the bronze medal.

Mirai Nagasu of the United States stamped herself as a contender for the 2014 Olympic title with a clean free skate that jumped her from sixth to fourth place.

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