Golden Queen Kim Yu-na leads jubilant South Korean team home from Olympics

By Esther Hong, AP
Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Kim leads jubilant SKorean team home from Olympics

SEOUL, South Korea — Olympic gold medalist Kim Yu-na may be the reigning queen of the ice, but her coach Brian Orser says there’s one jump she has yet to tackle in competition: the difficult triple axel.

Asked about Orser’s secret plan to introduce the jump championed by Japanese rival Mao Asada, Kim raised her eyebrows during a news conference Tuesday at Seoul’s Incheon airport.

“This is news to me — are you sure?” the 19-year-old said, turning around at her coach.

Orser, seated a few rows behind her, tried to set the record straight.

“Let me clarify,” he said, explaining that Vancouver reporters had asked if there was anything more Kim — who shattered another world record en route to winning the Olympic gold in figure skating — could do to improve. “I said that the only way that she could be technically better is to work on the triple axel.”

“Oh, OK,” Kim said, deftly sidestepping the question. “The technical level that I presented at the Olympics was my best. It’s the first time I’ve finished a program without any mistakes, and I hope to do the same for the upcoming world championships.”

Kim led the South Korean team’s triumphant return home after the country’s most successful Winter Games: 14 medals, six of them gold.

Hundreds jammed the arrivals hall, many staking out a spot hours earlier and holding banners, South Korean flags and flowers. “We’re proud of you, Team Korea, for cementing Korea’s status in the world. Welcome back!” read one banner.

The parents of speedskater Mo Tae-bum, who won a gold and a silver, carried a colorful banner featuring photos of their son standing on the Olympic podium.

“I was so thrilled when he won the gold medal that I almost fainted,” his father Mo Young-yul told reporters. “Our family made this banner. I want to tell Tae-bum that I am really proud of him.”

Schoolgirls broke out into shrieks as Kim came through the security doors bearing a South Korean flag, still dressed in her white national uniform.

After celebrating together at the national training center, the athletes planned to have lunch Wednesday with President Lee Myung-bak, who called the Olympic team “a source of pride” for all South Koreans.

Then, it’s back to training for Kim Yu-na, who returns to Toronto later that day to prepare for next month’s World Championships in Turin, Italy.

“There’s always a letdown after the Olympics, so this is going to be a real test for her to get back up again for the World Championships,” Orser said.

Kim said she hopes her win — South Korea’s first medal in figure skating — will inspire a generation of younger skaters.

“I hope they’ll be able to overcome their obstacles and that they never give up,” she said. “There are always hard times and problems along the way.”

Associated Press writer Nathaniel L. Kim contributed to this report.

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