‘Queen’ Yu-na highlights Olympics with medal-winning performance
March 5, 2010
“The Olympics are a wonderful metaphor for world cooperation, the kind of international competition that’s wholesome and healthy, an interplay between countries that represents the best in all of us,” composer John Williams once said.
This statement certainly rings true for the recently concluded Vancouver games. Although the tragic death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili cast gloom and doubt over the opening days of competition, the athletic drama that unfolded over the following 17 days—from the slopes of Cypress Mountain to the raucous Canada Hockey Place—was nothing short of magical.
These Winter Olympics included 5,500 athletes from 80 nations, but one young figure skater rose above them all, providing the most everlasting and breathtaking performance of the games.
Kim Yu-na arrived in Vancouver under more pressure than any other athlete, her every movement scrutinized in South Korea, where she is so wildly popular that she can’t go out in public without an army of bodyguards. With the hopes, dreams and expectations of an entire country resting on her 19-year-old shoulders, she shrugged off the pressure and produced two of the most magnificently beautiful performances ever-shattering her own world record and cementing her status as an Olympic legend.
Even to someone who knows next to nothing about the fine intricacies and nuances of ladies figure skating, her perfectly refined, graceful and flawlessly executed routine was simply stunning-a sublime combination of power and beauty that has been witnessed only a handful of times throughout the history of the sport.
In an emotional, tension-filled ladies free skate that included a heartfelt and gutsy performance by Canadian Joannie Rochette, (grieving for her recently deceased mother) as well as a dangerous opponent in Japan’s Mao Asada, Kim dominated in a way that left onlookers speechless. She emerged with an untouchable 228.56 points, obliterating her previous world record by 18 points.
Referred to reverentially as “Queen Yu-na” in her native Korea (her diamond earrings are even shaped like crowns), her face is ubiquitous, appearing on television commercials and billboards advertising everything from Hyundai vehicles to Samsung phones-endorsements that earn her upwards of 8 million dollars annually.
However, if Kim failed to win the gold that everyone expected from her, she faced the very real danger of not only losing her sponsorships, but being frozen out in South Korea, cast off and forever labeled as a disappointment to her country.
When Kim took center ice, an entire nation stopped to watch. 61 percent of people watching television in Korea tuned in, and people even stopped work to watch her skate. Trading volume on Soul’s stock exchange fell by 50 percent during her performance on Feb. 25., and according to a South Korean news agency, 440,000 people logged into the Internet at the same time to follow her live. By becoming the first Korean woman to win a figure skating medal, Queen Yu-na was able to accomplish a feat that epitomizes the finest quality of the Olympics: she was able to bring genuine joy, relief and pride to millions of her countrymen across the globe-or as Korean President Lee Myung-bak said in a congratulatory message, “a great jubilation to the people.”
Andrew Phelps is an alumnus of UW-River Falls.