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Kim's return turns Dortmund event into fan frenzy

Olympic champion looking to gain ISU minimum points; Plushenko withdraws

The skating world will be watching Dortmund, Germany, this week to see if Yu-Na Kim can return to her Olympic champion form.
The skating world will be watching Dortmund, Germany, this week to see if Yu-Na Kim can return to her Olympic champion form. (Getty Images)

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By Klaus-Reinhold Kany, special to icenetwork.com
(12/04/2012) - This time of year, all eyes in the figure skating world are usually glued to the Grand Prix Final, which will be held in Sochi, Russia, at the venue for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, beginning Thursday.

But Yu-Na Kim had other ideas.

On Saturday, South Korea's reigning Olympic champion will step onto competitive ice for the first time since the 2011 World Figure Skating Championships, at the NRW Trophy in Dortmund, Germany.

Preparations swung into high gear Nov. 27, when Kim's management asked local organizers about obtaining transportation from the Dusseldorf airport to Dortmund, about 30 miles away.

Tickets to the event, which will be held in the practice rink used for the 2004 World Championships, sold out in six hours. Instead of the usual handful of media, more than 50 credentials have been issued, including several news crews.

Fans have the International Skating Union to thank for Kim's early return. The skating star has expressed her desire to compete at the 2013 World Championships in March, and since she has not competed this season or last, she must post minimum technical elements scores before she can do so, and Dortmund is her chosen venue.

For worlds, Kim needs at least 28 points for the seven technical elements in the short program and 48 points for the 12 technical elements in her free skate. This may sound easy, but it is not. For example, if a skater pops a jump or omits a combination in the short, he or she can easily miss gaining 28 points.

To enter the 2013 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships, the hurdle is lower: Kim would need only 20 technical elements points in the short and 36 in the free skate. If she fails to skate well in Dortmund, Four Continents would give her a second chance to clear the hurdle prior to worlds.

In Dortmund, it is not important for Kim to defeat the other 40 competitors, who include Viktoria Helgesson and Joshi Helgesson of Sweden; Maé Bérénice Méité of France; Sarah Hecken of Germany; Valentina Marchei of Italy; and Ksenia Makarova of Russia. Although it might hurt her pride a bit not to place first in this field, gaining the minimum technical score is the goal.

Since winning world silver in 2011, Kim has continued her success. Her "All That Skate" series of shows and activities as a commercial spokesperson in Korea have made her one of the highest-paid female athletes in the world.

Kim also was an ambassador for Pyeongchang's successful bid for the Olympic Games in 2018 and served as an honorary ambassador at the Winter Youth Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria in January 2012. She studied at a South Korean university to become a sports teacher and earned a degree, spending some weeks at a local elementary school.

Kim, who trained with Karen Kwan and Peter Oppegard during the 2010-11 competitive season, returned to coaches from her childhood and junior career in South Korea. This summer, she announced that she would skate her short program to the soundtrack of The Kiss of the Vampire music and her free skate to Les Miserables.

Hugh Jackman, who stars in the new Les Miserables movie, called himself a big fan of Kim's at a Nov. 26 press conference in Seoul.

Speaking indirectly to the skater, he said, "I know you won the gold medal before, but now you are certain to win."

Kim is not the only star competing in Dortmund. Four-time German world pairs champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, who withdrew from their second Grand Prix, in Paris in mid-November, because Savchenko was suffering from a long-lasting flu and sinus infection, are also entered.

The team's coach, Ingo Steuer, told icenetwork.com, "Aliona is getting better from day to day. We are fully practicing now and prepare for the NRW Trophy next week. If nothing new happens, we will go to Dortmund to have one more competition before Europeans."

Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek of Italy, and Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès of France are also entered.

The tiny Dortmund event almost gained a second Olympic champion, Russia's Evgeni Plushenko, who considered entering to help prepare for the Russian championships, to be held late this month. Those hopes ended last week when Plushenko's coach, Alexei Mishin, told the Russian agency R-Sport that his skater was not yet fit enough. Favorites in the men's event are now Czech Michal Brezina, Peter Liebers of Germany and two Russians, Artur Gachinski and Konstantin Menshov.