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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Korean takes big lead

 •  2010 Winter Olympics results
 •  Olympic TV schedule
 •  Blunder costs Dutchman medal
 •  Olympic daily schedule
 •  Canada skates past Germany
 •  Austria combines for gold
 •  U.S. Alpine medal streak comes to end


By NANCY ARMOUR
Associated Press

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Kim Yu-Na's 78.5 points in the short program put her five points ahead of her nearest competitor going into tomorrow's free skate.

AMY SANCETTA | Associated Press

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Kim Yu-na

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia Like a true Bond Girl, Kim Yu-na knocked off her rivals.

Nobody did it better.

The biggest favorite to win the Olympic title since Katarina Witt in 1988, Kim was cool under pressure with a playfully sexy and sophisticated number that delighted fans and judges alike last night. Her score of 78.5 points not only shattered her own record, it put her almost five points ahead of longtime rival and chief threat Mao Asada.

With two triple axels planned, Asada can make up the difference in tomorrow night's free skate. But it sets up the best showdown in figure skating since the "Battle of Brians" so appropriate considering Brian Orser is Kim's coach.

Not surprising, either, considering the 19-year-olds have been trading titles since their junior days. Kim and Asada have combined to win the last two world championships and five Grand Prix final titles.

"It was perfect that she skated right after Mao," Orser said, "because she's a competitor. She's very fierce."

Canada's Joannie Rochette, skating two days after the sudden death of her mother, gave the most moving performance of the night.

Fighting tears as she took her starting pose, Rochette composed herself and let her training mask her grief. But when her music ended, Rochette gave a sharp exhale and doubled over, no longer able to hold back the tears. She tried to smile as she waved at the standing crowd, but couldn't stop the tears, and buried her head in longtime coach Manon Perron's shoulder when she left the ice.

She cried through her marks and was later helped backstage by two Skate Canada officials.

Miki Ando, the 2007 world champion, is fourth, followed by the two young Americans, Rachael Flatt and Mirai Nagasu who fared far better than she expected after getting a bloody nose midway through her program.

"Halfway through the program, I felt it running down my nose and just said, 'Don't stop, keep going,' " Nagasu said. "I skated the best I can."

So did Kim.

She arrived in Vancouver carrying the greatest expectations of any single athlete. The reigning world champion is a rock star in her native South Korea, dubbed "Queen Yu-na" and so wildly popular she can't leave her parents' house without bodyguards. Though South Korea has piled up plenty of medals 10 here in Vancouver, as of last night the country has yet to win anything in any winter sport besides speedskating and short track.

Gold is not just expected of Kim, it's practically demanded. But if Kim was feeling the heat, she didn't let it show.

"I was a little worried but, no, there was no pressure," Kim said. "I have been waiting for this for a really long time."

Skating right after Asada, Kim showed no reaction when she heard her rival's marks. When the rowdy cheers finally faded, she took her spot at the end of the rink, slowly unfurled one arm, cocked her index finger like a gun and turned her head to give the judges a sly, seductive smile.

Kim doesn't have Asada's triple axel few women in the world do but her jumps are no less impressive. She goes into them full speed and her triple lutz-triple toe combination was done with perfect timing and smoothness, like a rock skipping across the water. Her spins are done with such flexibility they'd make Gumby green with envy.

But what makes her so captivating is her presentation. Anyone who complains that figure skating has lost its sizzle hasn't seen Kim skate. She played the Bond Girl to the hilt, rubbing her hand up one thigh while she was in front of the judges, fixing them with a flirtatious look.

When she saw her marks 2.22 points better than her previous record she gave an easy smile as if she expected it all along.

As[0x02][0x01]ada's program was in sharp contrast to Kim's, playful and light. The highlight was, of course, that triple axel, which she did in combination with a double toe. The jump is so difficult few women even try it, yet Asada rips it off like it's a single. She's not just a jumping bean, though.

She was so in tune with her "Masquerade Waltz" that, during her footwork sequence, she did a little hop and an illusion swooping her head and torso down while her leg is kicking up right as the music lifted. She beamed during her spiral sequence, which seemed to go on forever.

Asada clasped her hands together and hopped up and down when she finished, giving the cheering crowd a slight bow as she left the ice. She looked stunned when her marks were announced, turning to coach Tatiana Tarasova as if to say, "Is that good?"

The "Battle of the Brians" is the defining memory of the Calgary Olympics, an epic duel between Orser and American Brian Boitano. The two were also longtime rivals, trading titles so many times they wore a path between the top two spots on the podium. Boitano won with what, at that time, was the finest Olympic performance in the men's event.