Americans Flatt, Nagasu sit 5th, 6th
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Ursula Andress, Jane Seymour, Halle Berry -- they've got nothing on the newest Bond Girl.
Nobody does it better than Kim Yu-na.
The South Korean skater delighted fans and judges alike with a playfully sexy and sophisticated James Bond medley Tuesday night in the women's short program, shrugging off the enormous expectations that come with being the biggest favorite since Katarina Witt in 1988. Her score of 78.5 points not only shattered her own world record, it put her almost five points ahead of longtime rival -- and chief threat -- Mao Asada of Japan.
"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."
Despite Kim's cushion, this one isn't over. With two triple axels planned, Asada can make up the difference in Thursday night's free skate, setting up the best showdown in figure skating since the "Battle of Brians," the epic duel at the Calgary Games between Brian Boitano and Brian Orser -- appropriate, considering 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.
"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."
Canada's Joannie Rochette, skating two days after the sudden death of her mother, gave the most moving performance of the night and was third.
"It was hard to handle, but I appreciate the support," Rochette said through Skate Canada.
As she took her starting pose, Rochette composed herself and let her training mask her grief. But when her music ended, she sharply exhaled and doubled over, no longer able to hold back the tears. She tried to smile as she waved, to no avail, and buried her head in longtime coach Manon Perron's shoulder when she left the ice.
"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."
Japan's 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 on the ice.
"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."
Just a point separates Ando, Flatt and Nagasu. But with Ando 6.6 points behind Rochette, it's going to take a fantastic skate -- and mistakes by at least one of the top three -- for Ando, Flatt or Nagasu to medal.
For Kim, gold is the goal.
She arrived in Vancouver with the greatest expectations of any single athlete. 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 speedskating and short track.
But if Kim was feeling the heat, she didn't let it show.
"I didn't think that this is the Olympics or I have to be perfect," said Kim, who trains in Toronto and competed in Vancouver a year ago. "It wasn't that special a feeling, it was the same as other competitions. So I was very comfortable, like the other competitions."
Skating right after Asada, Kim showed no reaction when she heard her rival's marks. When the rowdy cheers finally faded, she simply 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.
"It was perfect that she skated right after Mao," Orser said, "because she's a competitor. She's very fierce."
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. Her spins show so much flexibility they'd make Gumby green with envy.
But what makes her so captivating is her presentation. Anyone who complains that figure skating has lost its sizzle hasn't seen Kim skate. 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.
"It was a really good vehicle for her, because she likes to skate a character piece, especially for the short program because it can be such a nerve-racking experience," Orser said. "She likes to show off. She certainly did, she was beautiful."
Asada's program 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 did a little hop and an illusion -- swooping her head and torso down while her leg is kicking up -- just as the music lifted. She beamed during her spiral sequence, which seemed to go on forever.
Asada clasped her hands together and hopped up and down when she finished, giving the cheering crowd a slight bow as she left the ice. She looked stunned when her marks were announced, turning to coach Tatiana Tarasova as if to say, "Is that good?"
"I was nervous at the beginning but then I realized I'm here at the Olympics and I'm skating," Asada said. "That made me very happy and confident."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press
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