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Updated: February 24, 2010 12:53 IST

Kim Yu-na takes big lead in short programme

AP
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South Korea's Kim Yu-Na performs her short programme during the women's figure skating competition at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Tuesday. Photo: AP.
South Korea's Kim Yu-Na performs her short programme during the women's figure skating competition at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Tuesday. Photo: AP.

true Bond Girl fashion, Kim Yu—na knocked off her rivals.

The most overwhelming favourite to win the Olympic title since Katarina Witt in 1988, Kim was cool under pressure with a playfully sexy and sophisticated routine that had fans and judges swooning on Tuesday 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.

“Usually I think there’s like a 10—point difference,” Asada said. “So I feel good there’s only this difference between myself and Yu—na.”

With two triple axels planned, Asada can make up the difference in Thursday night’s free skate. But it sets up the best showdown figure skating has seen since the Battle of Brians - 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.”

The “Battle of the Brians” was an epic duel at the Calgary Olympics between long-time rivals Orser and American Brian Boitano. Boitano won with what, at that time, was the finest Olympic performance in the men’s event.

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

“Words cannot describe,” Rochette said in comments released by Skate Canada. “It was hard to handle, but I appreciate the support.”

Fighting tears as she took her starting pose, Rochette composed herself and let her skating mask her grief.

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 crying, and buried her head in long-time coach Manon Perron’s shoulder when she left the ice.

She cried through her marks, saying “Maman” at one point, and lingered in “Kiss and Cry” before being helped backstage by two Skate Canada officials.

“I watched her when she was getting ready to skate and she looked like she was struggling emotionally,” Skate Canada CEO William Thompson said. “I think her mother’s jumping up and down in the sky. That was the dream performance.”

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 during her routine.

“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.

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 Tuesday night - the country has yet to win anything in any winter sport besides speed-skating 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 had waited a long time for the Olympics,” Kim said. “I had ample time to practice and prepare, so I wasn’t shaky or nervous just because it was the Olympics. I was able to relax and enjoy the competition.”

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.

But what makes her so captivating is her presentation. 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.

Asada’s programme 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 gave a little hop right as the music lifted.

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