Olympic champion Yu-Na Kim intends to compete at this season's world figure-skating championships in Tokyo next March without the benefit of any preparatory competition.
Kim bypassed all of the Grand Prix events this year, fatigued by her Olympic journey, by a public breakup with Toronto coach Brian Orser, a switch to a new coach in Los Angeles, and a season full of new skating opportunities. The South Korean skater was the headliner in her own skating extravaganza - also televised - in Los Angeles in October.
Kim hasn't competed since she finished second at the world championships in Turin last March.
"She's gearing up right now," said David Wilson, a Toronto choreographer who has been her muse for the past four years. "But it's a difficult situation. She has never taken a year off like this."
Wilson returned last week from Los Angeles, where he worked with Kim on two new programs he designed for her this season. He had already choreographed her new long program before she left Toronto, and he created her new short program later, after she moved to Los Angeles.
While Kim has been away, her archrival, Olympic silver medalist Mao Asada of Japan, has failed to qualify for the Grand Prix Final. And Olympic bronze medalist Joannie Rochette has also taken the year off.
Still, should Kim pull off a victory without the benefit of competing before judges and cheering audiences, and without feedback on her skills, it will be almost unprecedented.
Nine-time United States champion Michelle Kwan, who competed at two Olympics, competed in only one Grand Prix event from 2002 to 2004 - which apparently hurt her because she did not compete under a new judging system and was not able to benefit from judges' feedback. In the years that Kwan did not compete at the Grand Prix events, she won only one world title. And she was dealing with having new coaches.
However, Kwan has always had to compete at U.S. championships to qualify for the world team. The only year she skipped the U.S. championships was in 2006, when she withdrew because of an abdominal injury and she was granted a bye to the Olympics. She, however, was forced to withdraw from the Turin Olympics after injuring herself in the first practice.
Kim is a four-time winner of the Korean championships, but she has not had to compete at her own national championships since she moved to North America to train.
It's unlikely that Kim will compete at the Four Continents Championships in February in Chinese Taipei.
Wilson said it has taken time for Kim to settle into her new surroundings in Los Angeles, where she is working with new coach Peter Oppegard, at a rink owned by Kwan. Kwan's sister, Karen, is married to Oppegard.
Although Wilson forms bonds with many of his skating clients, he has forged a special one with Kim, because she trained every day at the Toronto Cricket, Curling and Skating Club, where Wilson is based. Before she left, Wilson had a talk with her, telling her that he would not be able to be with her on a weekly basis, as in the past, but that he had given her everything she needed, and that she must now recreate it on her own.
The first time Wilson saw her in Los Angeles, and greeted her, he was told by other coaches that "We haven't seen her smile like that until you walked in."
Wilson said she's opened up to a lot of skaters in the new club and she's training well. And one of the coaches, former skater Naomi Nari Nam, has something in common with Kim: although Nam skated for the United States, she did endorsements for South Korean companies because of her heritage.
"She [Nam]was famous in South Korea," Wilson said. "It's been very helpful for Yu-Na. It's a very good rink."
Every morning, Kwan's father, Danny, greets the skaters at the door.