Olympic figure skater Kim Yuna: Koreans revel in her dazzling lead

Korean Olympic figure skater Kim Yuna thrilled her countrymen as she took a commanding lead in the Olympic short program, beating out Japan's Mao Asada.

By , Correspondent

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    Olympic Figure skater Kim Yuna of South Korea performs in the women's short program figure skating event at the Vancouver Winter Olympics on Tuesday.
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Tears welled up in Chang Sung-eun’s eyes as her office TV screen flashed the news: Olympic figure skater Kim Yuna had just set a scoring record of 78.50 in the short program at Vancouver’s Pacific Coliseum.

Beside her, two young women wept openly and several young men burst into loud applause, shouting, “Excellent, excellent, great great.”

For Koreans, it was a moment of total national pride, of success not only for Ms. Kim but for a nation that likes nothing better than to revel in triumph, especially when the victory is over Japan. In this case, Kim edged out arch-rival Mao Asada, the Japanese sensation who came in second, 4.72 points behind her.

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“It’s so very emotional,” says Ms. Chang, trying to sort through the wave of sensations that overcame her and her colleagues as Kim’s name was announced and she took to the ice to begin her stunning performance. “It’s a patriotic thing. It was such a beautiful sight to see.”

In early afternoon, Seoul stopped

The scene in Chang’s office was much the same everywhere, in school cafeterias, bars, and restaurant, hotel lobbies and railroad waiting rooms. Many workers hurried back from lunch, breaking off business conversations, wanting to be sure to catch Kim Yuna.

With every seemingly effortless leap, twist, and turn, Kim inspired excited oohs and ahs as viewers shouted cheers and encouragement from 8,000 miles away, waiting anxiously to see if she might falter or, heaven forbid, fall.

Fears of seeing an embarrassing stumble ebbed amid shouts of exultation as Kim ran through a repertoire of triple-lutz, triple toe loops, triple flips, and double axel jumps with a confidence that somehow escaped most of the 24 other skaters. Nonetheless, a palpable sense of relief swept over faces in a crowd as the James Bond theme music died down and Kim smiled, bowed, and skated back to the bench, pausing gracefully to scoop up a bouquet on the way.

Her performance Tuesday evening – Wednesday here – was just Act One. Tension is mounting over the second act on Thursday – Friday here – when she’ll have to show she has the endurance to beat out Asada in the longer free-skating program. One group of onlookers here feared Asada may have the edge in that one and that Kim Yu-na will need every point she made in the short program to stay ahead in the race for Olympic gold.

G-20 can wait – Yuna is skating

The excitement over Yuna, who’s reportedly picked up $8 million in endorsements as the world and Grand Prix champion, was enough to stop even high-level government meetings, political gatherings and speeches.

At the Seoul Foreign Correspondents’ Club, journalists walked out of a lunch as SaKong Il, a former finance minister, was about to talk about prospects for the G-20 summit due to gather here in November.

Mr. SaKong himself seemed happy to put off talking long enough to join correspondents in front of a television set in the bar, cheering Kim on like everyone else, while a second group of journalists crowded in front of another TV set in the club secretariat. Both groups burst into laughter and cheers on hearing the news of her score before returning to the dining room to listen to SaKong’s speech.

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