By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, March 17 (Yonhap) -- The figure skater they call "Queen" is back, and it was difficult to tell whether Kim Yu-na had ever left her throne in ladies' figure skating with her majestic performance at the world championships.
Kim glided to the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships with 218.31 points, an astonishing 20.42 points ahead of the defending champion, Carolina Kostner of Italy. It was the largest margin of victory in the ladies' competition since the world championships adopted the current judging system in 2005. The total score only trails Kim's own world record of 228.56 as the second-highest score ever.
Kim's win is akin to a patented Tiger Woods blowout on the PGA Tour. Think of his 12-shot victory at the 1997 Masters for his first major, or his 15-stroke win at the 2000 U.S. Open, where he 12-under while no one else even broke par.
The victory is made all that more impressive because of her extended time away from the ice.
She had last competed at the worlds in 2011 and finished second. Then she sat out the entire 2011-12 season and the early part of the 2012-13 season, while mulling over her future options. Kim only returned to competitive skating at the NRW Trophy in Germany last December and skated in just one other event, the South Korean national championships in January, before going to Canada for the worlds.
At Budweiser Gardens in London, southwest of Toronto, Kim displayed the technical superiority that reminded fans of old times.
Kim doesn't so much jump as she floats over the ice. Whereas other skaters have a long lead-in to their jumps, Kim has seamless transitions between her elements, going smoothly and effortlessly from spins to step sequences to triple-triple jump combinations. And no other female skater matched the height and distance of Kim's jumps.
Kim's presentation is what truly separates her from the others. Last summer, she changed her coaches, parting ways with Peter Oppegard and reuniting with her childhood teachers, Shin Hye-sook and Ryu Jong-hyun. Kim, though, stayed with her longtime choreographer, David Wilson, and the decision may have been a brilliant one.
Wilson has worked with Kim since the 2006-07 season, and he's largely credited with bringing out such dramatic flair in an otherwise soft-spoken young lady. Kim consistently leads her competition in program component score (PCS), which measures skaters' artistry and choreography and it was no different this weekend in Canada. She scored 73.61 points in PCS, nearly three full points better than Kostner.
Kim's partnership with Wilson has now produced two world championships and an Olympic gold, the latest culmination being Kim's flawless free skating on Saturday set to music from the musical "Les Miserables."
The 22-year-old is as complete a figure skater as there is today, an ideal blend of artistry and athleticism in a sport where athletes are often missing one of the two. But sometimes even Kim has issues to deal with -- namely, inconsistent judging.
In the short program at the worlds, Kim was somewhat unfairly docked 0.2 point on her triple flip. Judges felt she took off on the outer edge of her skate, when she should have done it with the inside edge. Replays showed, however, the call could easily have been made in Kim's favor.
They appeared to have been overly generous with others in the short program. Mao Asada of Japan, a two-time world champ, received bonus points on her triple axel even though she two-footed her landing. Kostner somehow led the field in PCS and ranked second overall in the short program despite a fall during her routine.
Judges were even more generous in free skating. Asada again botched the landing on her triple axel and managed barely half a turn on a triple jump later in the program, but still earned the second-highest free skating score of 134.37 points. That vaulted her from sixth to second, but even Asada appeared visibly baffled by her own score.
Kostner under-rotated a triple loop and fell on her triple salchow, and yet received the third-best free skating score.
Kim, though, left virtually no room for disputed officiating in free skating. Her triple flip was textbook, and her spins were as fast and tight as they'd ever been. Judges had little choice but to give Kim the second-highest free skating score ever.
Kim, Kostner and Asada have won 14 world championship medals together since 2007, including five titles. After the latest worlds, it appears as though Kim was the only one to take a step forward with the 2014 Sochi Winter Games less than a year away.
Asada, the silver medalist behind Kim in Vancouver, was seen as the Korean's chief rival heading into the worlds. She was perhaps the biggest beneficiary of generous judging this week, and her inconsistency on big stages will likely be her undoing next year.
Asada stakes so much of her championships hopes on the triple axel, the most difficult jump for women that requires three and a half rotations in the air with a forward takeoff. It has the base score of 8.50 points, higher than even some jump combinations.
Asada is the only woman who even attempts it in competition, but her success rate hasn't been so great as to justify her decision to stick with it. Asada puts the triple axel as her first jump element, and failing to land it cleanly often affects the rest of her program.
Kostner won the 2012 world title with 189.94 points, with neither Kim nor the 2011 world champ Miki Ando of Japan in the field. Kostner will turn 27 during the Sochi Games next February. No woman over 26 has won an Olympic figure skating gold medal.
Some teenagers, such as Kanako Murakami of Japan and Gracie Gold of the United States, showed promise here by placing in the top six but they still have ways to go before catching Kim. Murakami, in particular, seems to have the technical tools to replace Asada as the top Japanese skater, but her overall presentation left some room for improvement.
Kim is clearly the favorite to repeat as the Olympic champion, though Kim herself tried to downplay early expectations.
"Judges have different standards for scoring at different competitions, and it's hard to tell if I'll be able to win." Kim said. "Until the Olympics, I won't be the only one working hard. Everyone else will do the same, and it will depend how skaters feel physically and psychologically on the day of the Olympics. So I can't say for certain that I will finish first at the Olympics."
Kim has made a career out of making history and will try to make more next year by becoming only the third to repeat as an Olympic champion.
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