Friday, February 26, 2010

Reign of Ice

On Wednesday, I mentioned that everybody in Korea knows who Kim Yu-Na is. After today, the world does, too.

This time skating ahead of rival Asado Mao in the women's free skate, Kim delivered an absolutely mind-blowing routine, earning an astounding world record of 228.56. Asado skated next, and midway through her routine it was clear that "Queen Yu-Na" would become Korea's first Olympic figure skating gold medalist. Asada did what no other skater could do -- nor tried -- in landing two triple Axels, but she stumbled on the ice and missed a jump, which ultimately placed her in second. Canada's Joannie Rochette, the Games' most inspirational story, ended up with the bronze*.

Kim Yu-Na gave another performance of a lifetime, her second in two days. After the short program, pundits commented that Asada, with her triple Axel (the women's figure skating equivalent of John Holmes's schlong, Daniel LaRusso's Crane Kick), was still within striking distance. What they failed to note or notice, however, was the day-and-night difference between the two skaters' grace. Kim moves over the ice with a speed and fluidity heretofore unseen in the sport. Asada, in comparison, looks like a dispassionate stick figure.

Going into these games, there was intense intrigue as to who would emerge on top, Kim or Asada. Today, Kim Yu-Na had her Michael Jordan/Muhammad Ali/Tiger Woods (minus the infidelity, I hope) moment, proving on the world's biggest stage that it's her rink; other ladies just skate on it. Perhaps it's unaesthetically correct to say so given the sport, but Kim Yu-Na is a killer. Skating after Asada in the short program, she gave a confident, record-breaking routine. This afternoon (Korea time, "Gucci Time" for Schooly D), Asada was visibly nervous -- shook, in hip-hop parlance -- skating after Kim.

Who wouldn't be? With the weight of a nation's hopes resting on her shoulders, Kim delivered on her promise and then some. The aforementioned pundits claimed that Kim's free skate wasn't as strong as her short program, Asada's free skate much more powerful than her short program, and therein lied Asada's chance of capturing the gold medal. Set to the Bond theme, Kim's short program is indeed more exciting; however, as evidenced today, Kim's free skate is the more beautiful, the more hypnotically rewarding. I watched it live this afternoon, my initial viewing interrupted by the nerves fans of figure skating experience when watching their favorite skater attempt jumps in real time, so it took me awhile to fully process just how sublime Kim Yu-Na's performance was. It's the Zapruder tape of figure skating excellence.

Thankfully, SBS has been running her routine on a perpetual loop**. I've watched it a half dozen times, and each repeat viewing reveals more layers of perfection. It's no wonder, no hyperbole, that NBC's broadcasting team dubbed it possibly the best Olympics figure skating performance ever, although I'd omit the modifier. That was transcendant; that was, ladies and gentlemen, a genuine moment, not only for Korea but for the world at large.

Without hype or spectacle (at least not in the Western world), Kim Yu-Na made Olympic history, sports history. She inspired the planet and excelled women's figure skating light-years with her two performances, each as incredible a work of art as her contemporaries in art or sport.

I want to write so much more about Kim's skate, her tremenduous achievement, but words spoken or written can't do it enough justice. You have to see it to believe it. I'm fawning, have been fawning the entire day, but only because, on February 26, 2010, I witnessed perfection.

Talk about a moment.

* Although, to be fair, Mirai Nagasu of the US skated a clean routine -- Rochette stumbled after a jump -- yet earned a lower score than Rochette's. To me (and I'm not the only one), Nagasu's free skate performance looked better than Rochette's, but I'm unqualified to comment on the technical aspect of the judging system. Could Nagasu have taken the bronze with -- what, to this observer, appeared to deserve -- a higher score? I don't know. Given the, ahem, unique situation, I'm guessing that's a question those within the sport are reticent to ask. To Nagasu's credit, after completing the evening's final routine she beamed upon seeing that she had jumped from sixth place to fourth. Only sixteen years old, she has the poise and talent to compete among the world's best in the years to come, and I'm looking forward to watching her progression in future competitions. Anyone who can skate through a nosebleed with such calm deserves praise in my books.

** It's been said a million times by expats in Korea that, during Olympics coverage, Korean channels replay Korean victories ad nauseam; but what newbies and myopic masochists fail to mention or realize is that, with much fewer commercials and, praise Buddha, puff pieces, there's not much else to air. Also: can we lay to rest the apocryphal belief that Korean Olympics coverage focuses solely on their countrymen's athletes? It wasn't true for the years I've been here through Sydney, Salt Lake City, Athens, Turin, and Beijing; nor is it true in 2010, in Vancouver.

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