Kim Yu-Na of South Korea may be the greatest female figure skater to come along in years. She has a quality that even her coach, Brian Orser, cannot define.
And she can jump, consistently, like nobody else on the path to the Vancouver Olympics.
Some coaches are comparing her to the U.S. star from the seventies, Janet Lynn, who Orser says is the ultimate skater, the one who skated with joy and refined beauty, something that cannot be learned. That describes Kim, winsome when she has to be, but always fiercely competitive.
From his headquarters at the Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club, Orser has turned Kim from an unhappy skater trying to master jumps that would slip away with her growth spurts, into the queen of the patch. Now it seems there is nothing she cannot do. Orser watched her shed her braces a couple of years ago to transform into something uncommon.
Now Orser is hoping to pass his torch as an Olympic veteran and medalist to Kim.
Orser missed winning a gold medal by the vote of one judge at the Calgary Olympics in his home country, taking his second Olympic silver medal. With the winter Olympics returning to Canada in February, Orser is hoping that his student can do what he could not do, at home.
Next month, both Orser and Kim, of Gunpo City in South Korea, will be carrying the torch as it wends its way to Vancouver.
Orser was hoping that he could physically pass the torch to his 19-year-old student, but logistics didn't allow it.
Orser will carry the torch on Dec. 17 in Pickering, Ont., a day before his 48th birthday. Two days later, Kim will carry the torch in Hamilton.
The exercise brings back memories for Orser of the torch relay that slipped across Canada before the 1988 Olympics.
"I remember the torch relay because it came through my town," Orser said. "I had one of those little Dixie cups with a little flame in it. And I always liked watching it. I was so inspired by this torch going by.
"I'm really happy that she's doing this. It will be a great experience, and it's going to be a great motivation for her."
Kim has trained at the Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club for several years. She originally came to have her programs choreographed by David Wilson, but once she saw the setting, she decided to stay.
She's a heavy favourite to win gold in Vancouver, especially since she started this season impressively at her first Grand Prix event, in Paris. Her closest competitors have struggled: Mao Asada missed the Grand Prix Final with a fifth-place finish at Cup of Russia, earning only 150.28 points. Asada finished 36.04 points behind Kim at the Paris Grand Prix.
Meanwhile, Kim delivered an astonishing performance in Paris, winning easily with 210.03 points, a record for women. That showing eclipsed her own record, achieved when she won the world championship last season in Los Angeles.
Will she be able to maintain that pace this weekend at Skate America, and onward to the Olympics?
"I feel a little pressure because my first competition was so much better than even the world championships," Kim said. "So everybody expects me to do clean programs. I really try not to care about that. I just try my best."
Try as she might, Kim, 19, admits she does feel a little bit of pressure to do it again. However, her win at the world championships didn't add more pressure onto her shoulders. Instead, it has given her more confidence, she said.
And the Korean public and media don't seem to be putting pressure on her to win gold in Vancouver.
"Every year if I win competition, Koreans are cheering for me," she said. "It helps a lot for me. But they don't really care about winning a gold medal. So they help me a lot."
Orser said, without a doubt, Kim will peak for the Olympics, no matter what she does this week. It is difficult for skaters to maintain peak condition for an entire season, and all top athletes experience glitches at some point, he said.
Look at Evan Lysacek, who did not even qualify for the Grand Prix Final last year. He finished third at the U.S. championships, but he won the world championship with a rousing performance.
"Everybody has their different rhythm and a time for them to peak," Orser said. "But whether it's good or bad, I don't take it lightly.
"With a good performance, we have to figure out why it was a good performance and just don't go home, sort of waving our flag. We have to go home and learn from it. The bad ones? You learn from those as well."
Kim still has room to grow from her spectacular performance at Paris; she left out a triple flip in her long program, something she had never done even in practice. Orser said she got her timing wrong on the three turns entering the jump.
"After that at home, she was kind of getting a little angry with the triple flip," Orser said. "We went through a couple of mini-meltdowns and now it's back and it's fine and everything is cool. But it's one of those things, you just don't want it to happen again."
Ironically, in his long program at the Calgary Olympics, it was the triple flip that proved to be Orser's undoing. He couldn't afford to make mistakes, and he spun out of his triple flip.
What he will really pass on to Kim is his knowledge of how to fix it. The Vancouver Olympics will be his second chance.Report Typo/Error
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