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Relaxed Kim Yu-na looks forward starting Olympic prep in Croatia

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

By Yoo Jee-ho

INCHEON, Dec. 3 (Yonhap) -- Figure skater Kim Yu-na said on Tuesday that she feels more relaxed than ever before as she is about to enter her first preparation event ahead of the upcoming Winter Olympics.

The reigning Olympic gold medalist departed for Croatia on Tuesday through Incheon International Airport, just west of Seoul, to compete at the Golden Spin of Zagreb in the Croatian capital. The ladies' short program is scheduled for Friday, to be followed by the free skate on Saturday.

It will be Kim's first international competition of this season as she gets ready to defend her gold medal at the Sochi Winter Olympics next February in Russia.

The two-time world champion suffered a foot injury in September that forced her to withdraw from both of her scheduled appearances in the International Skating Union (ISU) Grand Prix events in October and November.

The injury appeared to be a major setback in her preparations for her Olympic title defense, but Kim announced early November that she would enter the minor event in Croatia for a tune-up.

Speaking to reporters at the airport Tuesday, Kim said she doesn't feel any burden of expectations heading into her season debut.

"I started my season later than others, and I've worked that much harder to make up for the time," Kim said. "The biggest goal is to skate clean programs and leave a good impression, and also give myself good memories. It's not as big of an event as a Grand Prix stop, and I hope to stay relaxed on the ice."

Last month, Kim confessed that she was about 70 percent healthy after the foot injury. On Tuesday, Kim said she feels she's up to "80 to 90 percent" as she tries to peak in time for the Olympics.

"I've been slowly working myself back to competitive shape," she said. "Honestly, I feel that I need to improve my conditioning for the Olympics, which is the most important competition there is, but there is still some time to do that."

Kim has already stated that Sochi will be her last Olympics. She said Tuesday she won't be too caught up with her result in Russia.

"I've already achieved my dream of winning an Olympic gold medal, and I feel absolutely no pressure to win," Kim said. "I think I should be able to skate more relaxed than in the past. But I don't want to look ahead to the Olympics just yet. I want to skate well in my first event of the season."

As far as preparing mentally and physically for the Olympics, Kim said she's been there and done that.

"This is my second Olympics and I've built competitive experience over the years," she said. "The key is to find ways to stay composed on the ice."

In Zagreb, Kim will go up against her long-time rival and two-time world champion, Miki Ando of Japan. Ando edged out Kim for the 2011 world championship but missed the next two full seasons. She gave birth to a daughter in April this year and returned to competition five months later at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany, where she placed second.

Kim admitted the presence of her Japanese rival will keep her from getting too loose on the ice.

Kim won the gold at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics with 228.56 points, a record score under the new judging scale. In Sochi in two months' time, she will look to become only the third woman to win back-to-back Olympic gold in women's figure skating: Sonja Henie of Norway won three straight gold medals starting in 1928, and Katarina Witt of Germany captured gold medals in 1984 and 1988.

Kim is returning to the ice for the first time since winning her second world title in March this year, but this isn't the first time she's had to deal with an extended layoff.

She skipped the ISU Grand Prix events in the 2010-2011 season and finished second in the 2011 world championships in April.

The Kim sat out the entire 2011-2012 season, contemplating her future career options, and ended her hiatus in December 2012 at the NRW Trophy, a minor event in Germany.

She won the competition handily and dominated the South Korean national championship in January this year, setting up the stage for her second world championship two months later in Canada.

In Croatia, Kim will also unveil her new programs for the first time. Her short program has been choreographed to "Send in the Clowns," a ballad from the 1973 musical, "A Little Night Music." She will perform her free skate to "Adios Nonino," a tango piece from 1959.

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