VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Kim Yu-na put one hand to her mouth and let the tears flow.
All that pressure, so many expectations. The “Queen” took it all on and delivered royally.
The South Korean won the Olympic gold medal Thursday night, soaring to a world-record 228.56 points and shattering her previous mark by more than 18 points. It may go down as one of the greatest performances in figure skating history, and it’s sure to set off wild celebrations from Seoul to Pyongchang. It’s South Korea’s first medal at the Winter Olympics in a sport other than speedskating.
Even Kim seemed to be dazzled by the show she put on, gasping when she saw the monstrous score. Coach Brian Orser gave a Rocky-like victory pump, shaking his clasped fists over each shoulder.
Longtime rival Mao Asada of Japan won the silver medal, but it was no contest — even with Asada landing both her triple axels, one in combination with a double toe loop. Joannie Rochette, skating four days after the sudden death of her mother, won the bronze, giving Canada its first women’s medal since Liz Manley’s silver in 1988.
The Americans, meanwhile, are going home without at least one medal for only the second time since 1952. The other time? 1964, three years after a plane crash wiped out the entire U.S. team on its way to the world championships.
Mirai Nagasu was fourth while U.S. champion Rachael Flatt dropped to seventh.
Kim came in bearing almost incomprehensible pressure. Not only was the reigning world champ the biggest favorite since Katarina Witt in 1988 — she’s lost just one competition over the last two seasons — she carried the weight of an entire nation on her slim shoulders.
The most popular athlete in South Korea, she’s been dubbed “Queen Yu-na” — check out the sparkly crowns that twinkle in her ears — and she needs bodyguards whenever she returns home from her training base in Toronto. Anything she does creates a frenzy, and even a simple practice draws a rinkful of photographers.
Kim seemed to shrug it all off earlier this week, saying after the short program that it felt like any other competition. But it was clear Thursday that it meant so much more.
There were simply no flaws in her performance, from her skating to her expressions to that lovely cobalt blue dress. While other skaters slow down as they approach their jumps to steady themselves, she hurtles into them at full speed yet touches down with pillow-like softness. Her connecting steps are like art on ice, and her edge quality is so fine there is not even the slightest hint of a harsh scrape, just the sound of her crisp edge. Her spins are centered so perfectly the tracings look as if they were made with a protractor.