After top-10 performances in Beijing, South Korean figure skaters look to expand their programs

SEOUL, 28 Feb. (Yonhap) — After finishing in the top 10 on their Winter Olympics debut in Beijing this month, South Korean figure skaters You Young and Kim Ye-lim decided to add some new elements more challenging to their programs.

Toi, 17, won the women’s singles competition in the high school division at the National Winter Sports Festival on Sunday, while Kim, 19, did the same in the college division.

You finished sixth at Beijing 2022 with 213.09 points and Kim placed ninth with 202.63 points. You’s performance was the best ever by an unnamed South Korean figure skater Kim Yu-na, the 2010 Olympic champion and 2014 silver medalist. You and Kim are also the first pair of South Korean women to rank in the top 10 at the Olympics.

But they’re not content with just being the best in the country. You said she would start working on quadruple jumps, while Kim would focus on adding a triple axel to her routines.

“Due to injuries and other issues (caused by the COVID-19 pandemic), I haven’t been able to practice many difficult jumps recently,” You said on Sunday. “I used to work on the quadruple salchow and the lutz in the past, but not until the Olympics this year. After the end of this season, I will start practicing them again for future competitions.”

With advanced techniques taking over the art of figure skating, attempting quadruple jumps, even for female figure skaters, will soon no longer be a matter of choice for top athletes. The current International Skating Union (ISU) judging system assigns higher points to more difficult elements, and it boils down to simple math: perform more quad jumps than others, and you’ll score more points.

In Beijing, Alexandra Trusova of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) was in fourth place after the short program, but she ended up winning the silver medal after posting the best score in the free skate thanks to her quadruple jumps.

Trusova attempted five stunning quadruple jumps in the free skate. She only landed three cleanly and was called for a wrong edge on the takeoff of a quad flip and a short quarter turn on the landing of a quad lutz.

Figure skaters can live by quads and die by quads. Another ROC athlete, Kamila Valieva, moved from first place after the short program to fourth overall after only scoring fifth in the free skate. She attempted three quadruple jumps but failed to land any cleanly – while performing under the cloud of a doping scandal.

Trusova, Valieva, and ROC gold medalist Anna Shcherbakova are collectively referred to as the “Quad Squad” for their ability to land quadruple jumps. Shcherbakova landed her two quad flips cleanly en route to the top step of the podium in Beijing.

You are currently the only South Korean skater to attempt a triple axel, the most difficult triple jump that requires three and a half turns in a forward takeoff. Only a handful have attempted the jump at the Olympics. You didn’t get enough rotations in both his short program and his free skate, but you managed to have clean landings both times despite skating with a badly swollen left ankle.

For the upcoming world championships, with her final event of the season taking place in Montpellier, France, from March 23-26, You said she wanted to polish her current set of elements.

“I would love to set a new personal best at the world championships,” said You, whose career-high 2020 Four Continents points are 223.23. “I’m going to prepare my body and end my season with a bang.”

Kim, not as advanced as you, said her next step is to add a triple axel to her programs.

“After the Beijing Olympics, I decided I wanted to be more competitive,” Kim said. “After this season is over, I’m going to go for a triple axel. I’m going to start with the basics and go from there.”

Kim said she feels her growth spurt is now behind her, which will allow her to push her limits with this new leap.

When figure skaters in their early to mid-teens experience a growth spurt, it can affect their balance and their ability to maintain a consistent axis of rotation when jumping.

“Before the Olympics, I wanted to play it safe and was hesitant to challenge myself on new elements,” Kim said. “But for the rest of my career, I’ll do whatever I want to do on the ice.”

Kim will also compete at the world championships. In her world debut last year, Kim finished in 11th place.

She finished fifth after the short program with a personal best 73.63 points, but only had the 13th best score in the free skate to fall out of the top 10 overall.

“My goal is to crack the top 10 this time,” Kim said.

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