S. Korea's Kim Yu-Na exceeds hype, sets new scoring record at Skate America

Performing to a James Bond theme medley, Kim Yu-Na scores nearly 20 points higher than second place finisher American Rachael Flatt. Christinne Muschi/Reuters
Performing to a James Bond theme medley, Kim Yu-Na scores nearly 20 points higher than second place finisher American Rachael Flatt. Christinne Muschi/Reuters
By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 15, 2009

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- If you haven't heard, the latest person to land the role of James Bond stands 5 feet 3 inches tall, weighs well under 100 pounds, wears her hair in a tight bun and is the runaway favorite to win the Olympic gold medal in women's singles skating.

Kim Yu-Na, 19, has spent the past four years firing up enormous expectations, and Saturday night she showed how close she is to meeting them. She obliterated the competition in the women's short program at Skate America, setting a new world record for points with a performance to a medley of James Bond tunes that made her seem about as well-suited to the role of 007 as Roger Moore.

By the time she finished her sultry dance, coming out of a spin and firing an imaginary gun, she had sent the crowd into the sort of frenzy Michelle Kwan used to generate, and her performance overshadowed even American Evan Lysacek's gold-medal performance in the men's free skate later.

"When that music starts, she just goes into this other state," said her coach, two-time Olympic silver medal winner Brian Orser.

Though a half a world away from her birthplace of Gyounggi-Do, South Korea, Kim felt quite at home Saturday, not surprising given that the old 1980 Olympic Rink was wallpapered with signs of support for Kim, who generated thunderous applause, screeches, shrieks and masses of followers -- fans piled around a set of windows merely to watch her post-competition interviews.

The enthusiasm topped even that for Lysacek, the reigning world men's champion from Chicago. Lysacek put forward a mostly clean, exciting and fall-free performance, earning season-best scores in the free skate (158.55) and overall program (237.72). Shawn Sawyer took second (203.91) and American Ryan Bradley placed third (198.12).

"I almost never think about the results, and I really wanted to win this competition," Lysacek said. "It was so hard to take that out of my mind."

Kim's score of 76.28 not only surpassed the previous record total of 76.12 she tallied at last spring's world championships in Los Angeles, it also would hve been good enough to finish second in the men's short program. The performance left American Rachael Flatt well behind with 58.80 points and not a whole lot of hope of catching up in Sunday's free skate. Hungary's Julia Sebestyen sat in third place with 58.54 points.

"I was very, very nervous before my program because my first competition was perfect," said Kim referring to her performance at the recent Trophee Eric Bombard in Paris, where she set the world record for overall points. "When my music started, I felt very comfortable on the ice. . . . My short program, it's very special to me. It makes me enjoy my competition. It feels like [an] exhibition number."

With the Olympics three months away, Kim, who wore black fingernail polish and diamond crown earrings, seems to be exactly what one sign hanging over the first deck declared, "Queen Yu-Na."

"She's incredibly inspiring and someone I look up to," Flatt said. "She's an incredible and wonderful skater, and the number of her attributes keep increasing."

Kim would have been a gold medal favorite at the 2006 Winter Games had she not been too young to qualify (instead, she won the world junior championship that year). She has won the ISU Grand Prix final for three straight years and is the reigning world champion after capturing back-to-back bronze medals.

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