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A Young Figure Skater Who Took a Long and Lonely Road

Posted December. 07, 2004 22:53,   


An angel on the ice, Kim Yeon-a(14) did not say a word, and her face was expressionless.

After she arrived at the Incheon International Airport on December 7, after winning the second prize at the International Skating Union (ISU) Junior Grand Prix Final held in Helsinki, Finland, she remained stony-faced, and would not answer a question posed by one of the journalists, asking, “What kind of figure skater do you wish to be in the future?” Only after an official of Korea Skating Union said, “Say that you want to be a skater like Michelle Kwan,” Kim said that she wanted to become a figure skater like Kwan.

This quiet 14-year-old girl is rewriting the history of Korean figure skating right now. Unrivalled in Korea, she placed first in the Budapest Junior Grand Prix 2004, and second place in the Junior Grand Prix 2004 in Harbin, China. In Helsinki’s Junior Grand Prix Final, where the top eight junior skaters are invited, she got second prize.

Standing 156 centimeters tall and weighing 38 kilograms, Kim worked her way through many hardships. She spends her whole day on the ice. “Because it was virtually impossible to both excel in school and in figure skating, we gave up on the school work,” said Park Mi-hee, Kim’s mother. For last two years, Kim went to school only during the exam period in order not to miss the midterms and finals. As a result, she has gradually lost contact with her friends, and she only gets to see her older sister on the weekends. The only spare time activity that she enjoys is updating a mini homepage that she started recently.

Before the Junior Grand Prix Final in Helsinki began, Kim shed a lot of tears. Park said that because Kim is a perfectionist and is ambitious, when the outcome is not satisfactory in a practice session, she feels very frustrated. In Helsinki, she got so nervous that she even got a cramp in her leg during the competition.

Kim met a new rival in this competition as well. Mao Asada, a Japanese skater at the age of 14, topped both the short program and free program and was first in the event’s overall ranking. This was the first encounter between the two young skaters. In the Junior Grand Prix Final, Asada executed a triple axel, which requires three and a half turns in the air, and landed a triple Lutz-double loop combination. Kim Yeon-a is also capable of doing a triple-double combination, but she is still shaky on the triple axel.

Kim says that she wants to take a break for a while, but she really has no time to rest as another big competition is coming up shortly, the ISU World Junior Figure Skating Championships in Ontario, Canada, starting February 28, 2005. Kim’s goal is to finish within the top three. On the other side of her successful junior career that is about to blossom, she seems exhausted and lonely.

Sung-Kyu Kim kimsk@donga.com