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Saturday, March 28, 2009
South Korea's Kim crushes competition

Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- Queen Yu-na, indeed!

Kim Yu-na won the title at the World Figure Skating Championships on Saturday night, setting off celebrations from Southern California to South Korea. Already treated like royalty at home -- her nickname is Queen Yu-na and she wears tiny, sparkling crowns in her ears -- her popularity is sure to grow now that she's given South Korea its first world title.

"I'm sure the whole globe shook," said Kim's coach, two-time Olympic silver medalist Brian Orser. "The whole country of Korea must be elated."

Kim Yu-Na
South Korea's Kim Yu-na won the world championship.

Kim won in record fashion, too. Her 207.71 points were the highest scored under figure skating's current judging system, shattering the old mark by eight. She was more than 16 points ahead of Joannie Rochette. Main rival Mao Asada was almost 20 points behind, falling to fourth.

How big a rout is that? Think one of those nonconference football games the big names play, and you get the idea.

When she saw the scores, Kim closed her eyes and shook her head. She then stood up, beaming, and waved to the cheering crowd. She cried as the South Korean anthem played.

"Always when I heard the anthem [before], I got teary and it got to the verge of crying. But I always kept it in," she said. "Today because it was a dream come true, I couldn't hold it in."

Rochette won the silver, Canada's first medal at the world championships since Liz Manley also won silver in 1988. Miki Ando, the 2007 world champion from Japan, was third.

Asada tumbled off the medals podium a year after winning the title. She'll have to console herself with trying two triple axels, a first by a woman at worlds. She fell on the second one.

"I was thinking about being a champion again, but instead of thinking about that, I needed to have concentrated on completing my elements," said Asada, who had clearly been crying.

Rachael Flatt finished fifth and Alissa Czisny was 11th, meaning the United States can send only two women to the Vancouver Olympics. It's only the second time since 1924 the Americans have failed to earn the maximum three spots. The other was in 1994.

Kim and Asada's rivalry is the best thing going in skating these days, and has made both of them superstars in their own countries. They've been at it since juniors, trading one major title after another. Asada won the world title last year and the Grand Prix final this season. Kim responded with a victory at Four Continents, setting up a showdown here.

But Kim was in a class by herself.

"I like it when the competing skaters do really well. I think she steps up to that," Orser said. "I know next year Mao has to be in top shape, but it is nice to win whenever you win. You take it any time."

Kim skates with ease and lightness, seeming almost to fly across the ice, but has incredible power and strength. While other skaters slow down as they approach their jumps, trying to steady themselves, she goes full speed ahead. Yet she lands as if she's touching down on a pillow. She did five triple jumps, three in combination, including a triple flip-triple toe loop combination to open the program.

There is so much more to her, though. Her edge quality is so high, she carves the ice like a calligrapher. All of her jumps were landed to crescendos in the music, making the music as much a part of her program as any other element. Her footwork was exquisite, and she skated with the elegance of a queen throughout her "Sheherazade" program.

Almost as entertaining was Orser. Standing by the boards, he did every element with her. His only flaw was a single leap at the end of the program, not nearly as difficult as the triple jump he did Friday after her short program.

"I'm kind of drained. She skated so well and I skated it with her. I know the moment she is experiencing," said Orser, the 1987 world champion.

The audience was on its feet for the last 15 seconds of her program, knowing it had seen something truly special for a second straight night. Her only flaws were popping a triple salchow and not getting credit for her final spin because it didn't meet the criteria. But those were forgotten by the time her magical performance was over.

"This is my third world championships, and the last two I was really regretful I was not able to do well," said Kim, who won bronze medals in 2007 and 2008. "Even with a little mistake tonight, I was able to do well. Now, I plan to practice for the Olympics."

Asada was more than 10 points behind her rival heading into the free skate, and needed to pull out every trick she had to have any hope of catching Kim. She sure tried, attempting two triple axels in the most technically demanding program any woman has ever done at worlds. It would put some of the men to shame, too.

Triple axels are so difficult few women even practice it, let alone put them in their programs. Asada's first was perfect, landed with ease and confidence right in front of the judges as part of a triple axel-double toe combination. She didn't get all the way around on the second axel, though, and tumbled to the ice, drawing a groan of disappointment from the crowd.

That, and the fact she didn't have much besides her jumps and spins, cost her not only a title, but a medal.

"I think she is a very good rival for me, and she motivates me," Asada said.

The Americans failed to medal, too, for a third straight year. That hasn't happened since 1962-64 -- and that drought came after a plane crash wiped out the entire U.S. team on its way to the 1961 world championships.

Worse, Czisny and Flatt's combined placement of 16 means the Americans will send only two women to Vancouver.

Czisny's dismal 14th-place finish in the short program Friday all but doomed the United States. She managed to stay upright Saturday, but her program didn't have any spark or emotion, the only color coming from her eggplant and green dress. It wasn't until her last two elements, a combination spin and a layback spin, that she showed any kind of life.

"I came here and tried to do my best," Czisny said. "The outcome is not in my hands and there is nothing I can do about that."

Except skate better. Her 11th-place finish was the worst by a U.S. champion at worlds since World War II.

Flatt made two major mistakes, not getting all the way around on the second jump in a triple flip-double toe combination and turning it into more like a 1½. She also landed it on two feet. And she didn't get any credit for her final spins. But fifth place at her first world championships is an impressive debut.