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Kim battles hip and timing at worlds

Confidence is key factor for South Korean teen

Yu-Na Kim.
Yu-Na Kim. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(03/18/2008) - Again and again, at the 2008 ISU World Figure Skating Championships' opening press conference, Yu-Na Kim talked about her confidence -- or, rather, the lack of it.

"I'm not 100 percent feeling better, so I hope I don't get nervous about it tomorrow and can show a good (short) program," she said through an interpreter. "I am not so confident."

The skater from Gunpo City, who has single-handedly put South Korea on the figure skating map, is battling a hip injury that forced her to withdraw from February's ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships, held in her home country.

"Responding to questions like that is part her personality and being modest, and also just being realistic," Kim's coach, Brian Orser, said of his pupil's words. "It's certainly true she is not 100 percent."

Kim's injury kept her in Korea seeking treatment for the weeks leading into this championship. Orser, who usually works with the skater in Toronto, traveled there for nine days early in March to prepare her for worlds.

He trained his student at Lotte World, a recreation complex in Seoul billed as the largest indoor amusement park in the world, where sports facilities co-exist with shopping malls. They skated four hours a day, mostly when the shops were closed, running through Kim's programs on less-than-ideal ice crowded with other skaters.

"She got better every day," Orser recalled. "And since she's been [in Gothenburg] she's been landing her triple flip-triple toe combination in the practices. The timing is coming better.

"When I first got to Korea, she had just gotten back on the ice, and she wasn't in great shape. Her timing was off. Each day it gets a little stronger, but it's like we're playing beat the clock here. She seems to be getting more solid with every practice, though, so I think we might make it."

Kim, who won world bronze last season, will need every jump and combination in her repertoire to compete with long-time rival Mao Asada of Japan, who plans a triple Axel and several triple-triple combinations in her programs.

The two 17-year-olds have squared off against each other in important competitions for years. In 2005, Kim placed second to Asada at world juniors; the following year, the results were reversed. Kim has won the last two Grand Prix Finals, with Asada placing second both times. At '07 worlds, Asada won silver to Kim's bronze.

The South Korean will skate her short program first in the final warm-up group; Asada, and defending champion Miki Ando, also of Japan, skate in the next-to-last group.

If Kim can gather her confidence and get healthy enough to medal here, it will be a repeat of her pattern last season, when she arrived at worlds recovering from a back injury that had troubled her for months.

"She's been healthy all season," Orser said. "She won Cup of China , Cup of Russia , and the Grand Prix Final. It's just bad timing, this hip injury, and of course that affects her confidence."

Kim seems a bit shy talking to the press here, but back home, she has risen to the level of rock star.

"When I'm training with her in Korea, it feels like I'm with Princess Diana," Orser laughed. "It's an overwhelming spectacle. She's flattered by it; she's a real role model there. She handles the attention very well."

Surprisingly, Orser said all of the media attention did not disrupt their sessions at Lotte World.

"We train accordingly, try to have privacy," he said. "Her popularity has been great for figure skating in Korea, now they just need to build up more facilities."

Kim herself said she tries to block out most of the hoopla.

"Actually it is true that this year I have had more attention from the media, but I am not as confident as I was last year, so I am trying not to pay so much attention," she said.

So what would make her happy here?

"Any good performance, regardless of the finish," Orser said. "She deserves that."