Sochi, Russia – Yuna Kim went through another seemingly effortless practice on Tuesday afternoon at the training rink next to the Iceberg Skating Palace.
The South Korean star was smooth in every sense of the word, landing jump after jump and gliding across the ice as she went through her free skate to “Adios Nonino.” Kim also worked out in the morning at the main venue.
Kim will begin defense of her Olympic title with the short program on Wednesday night, with her biggest challengers expected to be Mao Asada and Russian teen Julia Lipnitskaia. Kim and the other skaters will have a final practice session on Wednesday morning.
One person who has observed Kim the past few days is Viktor Petrenko, the gold medalist at the 1992 Albertville Games. Now a coach, he believes she is looking fit and confident.
“What I see is that Yuna looks strong and consistent,” Petrenko told icenetwork.com on Monday. “She is the perfect jumper. I don’t see the weakest link in her skating. She is ready to compete.”
Petrenko said that doesn’t mean Kim will automatically win the gold.
“She doesn’t have a priority pass to the podium,” Petrenko said. “There are several girls who can challenge her. They all came here and they are all in shape, and they came to compete. It comes down to who can handle the pressure.”
Kim will be trying to join Norway’s Sonja Henie (1928, 1932, 1936) and Germany’s Katarina Witt (1984, 1988) as the only women to repeat as Olympic champion.
The 23-year-old Kim is also the defending world champion. The gold medal in women’s singles has been awarded 23 times previously, in 16 of those instances the winner was also the reigning world champion.
Just to illustrate how influential Kim is in the sport, the only thing more impressive than her performance during practice was the level of the spectators in the stands watching her.
Legendary coaches Frank Carroll and Machiko Yamada were there, as was 1984 Sarajevo gold medalist Scott Hamilton. Several of the top skating journalists in the world, including Phil Hersh of the Chicago Tribune and Christine Brennan of USA Today, were also in attendance.
Following the practice Kim was asked if she thought her programs this season are harder for her than the ones she used in Vancouver four years ago.
“I don’t always think about other programs, it’s a difficult question,” she stated. “I did many different programs and different characters. I have difficult elements and not so difficult elements. The programs are not so different from each other.”
One of Kim’s biggest tasks during the practice was making sure that none of the other three lower-ranked skaters she shared the ice with banged into her during the session.
“I’m lower in world rankings and I will skate with other skaters (in the lower rankings) in the short program,” she noted. “I didn’t practice with the other top competitors with whom I usually compete in other competitions. But I think it will be easier. I won’t be so nervous.”
Kim acknowledged that it is difficult to shake the comparisons to the skater she was during the previous Winter Games.
“It’s not only me, but other competitors. They are always comparing not only my programs but other skaters programs as well,” she commented. “Many remember me in Vancouver four years ago. Because it’s the same level of competition, it’s the Olympics, it’s hard for me to compare myself to that time. I was in my best form in Vancouver four years ago. I tried to come here in the shape I was in Vancouver. Now I just want to think just about this competition.”
Impressive: South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo has a nice page up on their website with stats on Kim, a chronology of all the costumes she has worn since debuting as a senior in the 2006-07 season, and a record of her head-to-head competitions against Mao.
Historical notes: If Mao does win the gold, it will mark the first time in 54 years that the same country won both the men’s and women’s events. The last time it happened was at the 1960 Squaw Valley Games, when Americans Carol Heiss and David Jenkins triumphed.
Mao would also become the first woman in 50 years to claim the gold after taking the silver at the previous Olympics. The last time it happened was at the 1964 Innsbruck Games, where Sjoukje Dijkstra of the Netherlands topped the podium after finishing second behind Heiss in Squaw Valley.
High praise: The Miami Herald’s Linda Robertson was impressed by Yuzuru Hanyu’s performance in winning the men’s singles last week.
Following his victory she wrote: “Hanyu combines spring worthy of an NBA player with a sprinter’s speed and a ballet dancer’s effortless grace.”