Korean markets slow as Olympics 'queen' Kim Yuna spins to gold

As Olympics 'golden queen' Kim Yuna won gold for herself and unalloyed joy for Koreans, financial markets slowed and Kim's own webpage crashed from too many viewers.

Ahn Young-joon/AP
A woman reads a newspaper reporting South Korean Kim Yuna's win in the women's figure skating during the Vancouver Winter Olympics, in Seoul, South Korea, Friday. The headline read: 'Kim Yuna's tears wet 50 million nation and 228.56 points get infatuated with the world.'

Financial markets slowed and almost stopped here as Kim Yuna, “the Golden Queen” in Korea’s media, was running through a flawless free-skating performance, winning a gold medal for herself and unalloyed joy for Koreans.

“Everybody was in front of office televisions watching her,” says businessman Kim Yong-jin. “People came back early from lunch. Nobody was interested in the stock or bond markets. There were almost no transactions, nobody was looking at prices.”

Those not looking at TVs were most likely glued to their computers. Daum, a major Internet portal here, reported 440,000 people logged in at the same time to catch her in motion via the Web, according to Yonhap, the South Korean news agency.

That figure was well above the 340,000 who logged in during her short program on Wednesday (Tuesday night in Vancouver). Moreover, said Yonhap, Kim’s home page crashed from too many simultaneous hits.

As Ms. Kim twirled madly on Friday afternoon (Thursday night in Vancouver), then came to a sharp stop, a smile on her face, Koreans everywhere burst into what seemed like a nationwide roar of applause.

“We knew she had won,” says one office worker, even though Yuna's rival, Japan’s Mao Asada, was about to take to the ice.

Sealing gold

Ms. Asada was behind, having placed second to Kim in the short program, but the gold was by no means certain. Kim’s aggregate score of 228.56 was a world record – one that Asada still had a chance of besting.

But a couple of minor missteps – falters, not falls – in Asada’s routine guaranteed Kim the gold, while Asada seemed happy to take silver with 205.50 points.

After Asada’s score was announced, office workers returned to their desks, missing out on the emotional favorite, Joannie Rochette of Canada. Ms. Rochette, skating beautifully enough for bronze with 202.64 points, managed a smile through tears shed in mourning for her mother, who died of a heart attack four days earlier (The Monitor spoke with Mrs. Rochette in January: Read article).

For Korea, one of the major contenders in Vancouver with six golds, mostly in speed-skating, the Yuna moment was all about national pride.

“People were like, 'wow, wow,' every time she jumped,” says office worker Park Han-jin. “We were really holding our breath.”

As soon as Yuna had accepted the gold, the medal draped around her neck, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak caught the national mood, sending a message congratulating her for “passion and strong spirit” – all cause, he said, for “great jubilation for the people.”

Friendly rivalry

Mr. Park credits Korea’s overall drive as an economic powerhouse with bringing about success at the games. “It’s not easy for Korea,” he says. “We’ve done a great job. A lot of money was invested on training and facilities, a lot of hopes and vision were at stake.”

He sees Korea’s rise as a formidable Olympic competitor as paralleling the country’s economic rise. “A few years ago, we never thought we’d be winning all these gold medals. Now Korea has achieved a lot. It definitely gives people some joy.”

Still, Park managed a few sporting words for Asada – the Japanese skater who would have killed Korea's joy.

“People were saying, ‘That’s too bad,’ when she seemed to make a mistake,” he says.

Nor do he, and many others, see why Japan, with more than twice the population and an intensely competitive global economy, has not done better at the Games. South Korea has won a total of 10 medals at the Games, half of them gold. Japan has won three medals.

“What’s really strange, something we don’t understand,” he says, “is why no Japanese has yet won a gold medal.”

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