The 24 Year-Old World Champion: What She "Imagines"

by Joyce Y.

Kim performs at her Sochi exhibition to John Lennon's "Imagine".

She glided on to the ice, smiling in spite of herself. Although her heart was pounding hard like it was going to jump out of her body, she waved and smiled brightly. She took the first pose as the audience cheered. She took a deep breath. And as the music flowed out of the booming speakers, she let herself be carried away in the music. This was it. Her last performance.

Kim Yuna, nicknamed the queen of figure skating, has retired after Sochi Olympics despite many fans’ disappointment. Almost worshipped as a queen in South Korea, she is now considered one of the best figure skaters to ever live and is slowly slipping into a legend, following others such as Katarina Witt.

The first time she put on skates was when she was merely five. When they walked into the rink, her father rented out red skates for Yuna and laced them on for her. She recalls, “That was the first time I went figure skating. I didn’t know that little pair of red skates that my dad laced up for me would change my life forever.”

Few skating lessons after that turned her life around. Her coach insisted that Yuna had talent and offered to train her for a professional career. Her mom, who always personally had a desire to become a skater, decided to trust the coach’s decision and spend lots of money to train Yuna overboard.

Yuna trained in Toronto, Canada, thousands of miles away from her home. Her coach Brian Orser and genius choreographer David Wilson combined with Yuna’s talent were able to make magic, giving South Korea its first ever medal in a sport other than speed skating.

She suffered from both physical and mental pain to get where she is now. “Whenever I’m training and something doesn’t work out for me, I do hit a certain point where I break down. Sometimes I feel like my muscles will break, sometimes I can’t breath. And sometimes I want to sit down on the ice and just cry,” she wrote in her autobiography, Kim Yuna’s Seven Minute Drama. “Then a voice inside my heart starts tempting me- ‘This is enough, you did great. Let’s stop.’ And I sometimes want to give in to these temptations. But if I give up then, it’s the same as having not done anything.”

Her efforts have helped her establish her career. Yuna is the current world record holder for the highest score in long program and total score and the former world record holder for the short program score. She is a two-time world champion and a six-time national champion. Not only that, she is a four-time Grand Prix winner, 2010 Vancouver gold-medalist and 2014 Sochi silver-medalist. As of her retirement after the Sochi Games, she also became the first female skater to always place on the podium all her games her entire life. This means she at least placed 3rd in every game she’s ever competed at.

No matter how amazing she might seem, Yuna insists that she is just a normal girl. “When I was young, and people asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I used to say only half-joking, ‘I want freedom’. When I was older, all I wanted to be a normal girl. But it was too late then- figure skating and I were already intertwined together and we couldn’t be separated.”

The thirteen year-old that just wanted to be a normal girl and give up, grew up to be a woman who will go down in figure skating history as one of the best skaters in the sport. “I don’t know why everyone makes a big deal about me,” she wrote. “I’m just a normal 24 year-old who sleeps a lot and eats whatever she feels like eating and wants to date. But there’s a part of me that never wants to be normal. And I don’t think that part will ever die. But you know what? I think I like that about myself.”

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