Queen Yu-Na holds court in London ladies short
Defending world champion Kostner takes second; Murakami jumps into third
|Olympic champion Yu-Na Kim of Korea posted 69.97 points to win the ladies short program. (Getty Images)|
Neither one is ready to give up her reign anytime soon.
Skating at the world championships for the first time in two years, Olympic champion Kim performed an impressive short program to take the lead as she attempts to win her first world crown since 2009. The James Bond girl who won the Olympic gold medal in Vancouver in 2010, picked up right where she left off with her routine to "Kiss of a Vampire."
It was not necessarily surprising to see Kim, now 22, perform so well after her hiatus, but it definitely made a statement in a sport where comebacks haven't always been so smooth.
"It's really hard to prepare your physical and mental status," said Kim, who scored what, for her, was a relatively low 69.97 points to take the lead entering the free skate Saturday. "It wasn't an easy to decision to make, but I made it, and now I'm just focused to be back.
"After the Olympics, I felt empty because I had achieved my goal."
Her marks today were lower than ones she had scored in the past --- she still holds the short program all-time high score of 78.50 which she earned in Vancouver --- but she continues to be the barometer for the sport. She is so dominant that no skater has been able to crack the top five best short program scores in her two-year absence.
Whose name is beside all five of those scores on the list? None other than Kim.
The thing that might frighten the rest of this field most is that Kim showed there was room to improve. She did not receive as high marks as she could on two of her spins and was called for entering her flip on the wrong edge. And the judges did not reward her as much as she has been accustomed to in her presentation.
But, to watch her float across the ice and perform with the ease and grace that she did reminded her numerous fans and media entourage why she became known as "Queen Yu-Na" in the first place.
Still, for as strong as Kim was in the short program in these worlds, the judges kept the scoring tight among the leaders.
Despite a fall on the back end of her triple-toe-triple toe combination, Italy's Carolina Kostner found herself in second place (66.86), followed by Japan's Kanako Murakami, who elegantly performed a flowing routine complete with a triple toe-triple toe (66.64). Canada, meanwhile, continued its strong run through these championships, as 17-year-old Kaetlyn Osmond placed fourth with 64.73 points.
Americans Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold, meanwhile, will have their work cut out for them to earn three spots for the U.S. Olympic team next year in Sochi, Russia. Wagner, the two-time U.S. champion, trimmed her planned triple flip-triple toe into a triple-double and is in fifth (63.98), and Gold, making her worlds debut, is in ninth (55.85). Wagner and Gold need their placements to total 13 or less in order to get three spots for Team USA.
"The U.S. ladies team here today, we are here to get that third spot back," Wagner said. "It's almost a personal agenda. I was the most directly affected last Olympics and I want that third spot back."
Wagner finished third at the 2010 U.S. Championships and missed making the Olympic team in Vancouver. The last time the United States had three women competing in the Winter Games was in 2006 in Torino.
Gold, skating in her new red dress, has not had much luck in the short program this season and struggled a bit with it again here. She made the change to trying a triple Lutz-triple toe for this event and was called for under-rotating the toe loop. Then, the judges cited her for an edge call on the triple flip. She lost her balance on her flying camel, which was rated a Level 2.
"Simple mistakes today," Gold said. "Easy things that I think I can fix with time and more competitions."
Perhaps the most important thing for Gold is that she is in London, Ontario. After placing ninth in the short program at the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Gold rallied with a first-place free skate to make the world team. Had she not made the world team and not been able to gain the experience of competing against the world's best this year --- less than a year before the Sochi Winter Games --- it would have been a major setback for the teenager from Chicago.
"I would say that for sure," Gold's coach, Alexander Ouriashev, said. "I told her, 'If we make the world team, then this season is perfect for us.'"
For Gold, the experience here is more about practicing alongside European, world and Olympic champions, handling major media attention, and getting more exposure to international judges than it is about skating two programs.
Ouriashev has stressed the importance of watching the likes of Kim and how the Olympic champion carries herself on and off the ice. Gold, who is both a competitor and fan of Kim's, realized that worlds can be much more intimidating than she expected. So far, she has not worked up the nerve to approach the gold medalist, but she might try later during this event.
"I'm kind of waiting to ask for a picture," Gold said.
Just seeing Kim in the locker room here has made an impression on Gold and others. Even though most skaters do not watch other skaters before they compete themselves, Gold said she peeked to see the end of Kim's program.
"To be honest, the feeling is still a little intimidating," Gold said. "I watched (Kim and Japan's Mao Asada) on TV leading up to the Olympics. They were idols on TV, and to see them next to me in the locker room is still a little bit intimidating."
Kim's return might not be so welcome to some of the skaters who are trying to ascend to skating's throne, however. Asada, who is Kim's top rival from Japan and a two-time world champion herself, is in sixth place. She two-footed the landing of her trademark triple Axel, under-rotated her triple flip and popped her triple loop. Asada, the Olympic silver medalist in 2010, beat Kim for the world crown that same year but has not returned to the podium since.
Kim is no stranger to Canada, having trained in Toronto for about five years with one of the nation's most well-known skaters and coaches in Brian Orser. She split with Orser and headed to Southern California to train with Peter Oppegard, and then went back to her native South Korea. She took time away from competitive skating and decided over the summer to return to make a push for the Winter Games in Sochi.
She competed in a little-known event, the NRW Trophy in Germany, and won her country's national title. But skating in these championships among the best in the world clearly was more of a pressure-packed environment.
"I was worried because it has been a long time since I competed at the world championships, but at the same time, I was confident," Kim said. "I have done many competitions [in my career]. I could do what I had to do."
Whether the Queen will hold onto her rule come Saturday remains to be seen, but judging on her first impression in London, her spot in skating's royalty remains intact.