Yuna Kim is part of Olympic Winter Games history. Hers was one of the standout stories of Vancouver 2010, as she won the Republic of Korea’s first figure skating gold medal with a world record 228.56 points. It all began on 23 February with a stunning short programme routine choreographed to the James Bond theme music.
Born on 5 September 1990 in Bucheon, a satellite city of Seoul, Yuna Kim came to international attention with her first major title at the 2006 World Junior Championships, when she claimed victory ahead of Japan’s Mao Asada. The following year, she teamed up with Brian Orser, the double Olympic silver medallist turned highly regarded coach, and moved to Toronto, where he was based. In 2009, Kim won the ISU World Championships in Los Angeles, this time beating off competition from Canada’s Joannie Rochette. Her world title naturally made her the hot favourite going into the Vancouver Winter Games.
A Bond-themed short programme routine
Kim truly announced herself to the world on 23 February 2010 with her short programme routine on the ice of the Pacific Coliseum. “I was a bit nervous, not too much,” she said afterwards. “I don’t think I thought of anything other than the routine. This [was] a short programme, so I [was going to] do three jumps, three spins and two steps.” She performed her routine to a James Bond music medley.
In a dazzling display of technical mastery and artistic expression, she executed the most challenging of jumps, including a triple lutz triple toe loop, a triple flip and a double axel. Kim said that, towards the end of the programme when she was doing the steps, she felt “relieved and more relaxed than before because I had already succeeded in all the important moves. But just in case, I [was] focusing on not making any mistakes”. She placed particular focus on the final spin, knowing that it could affect the result. “Sometimes, the smallest difference in the score decides winning or losing.”
Moments away from receiving a technical score of 44.70, the highest ever achieved, Kim ended her final pirouette with a flourish by forming a gun with her hands and pretending to fire, before pointing the “smoking gun” towards the sky, James Bond-style. “The last scene is very important because it always remains a strong image, so all figure skaters in every programme decide on the last move carefully. Originally it wasn’t the move I was going to do, [but] there were so many changes. I realised after the competition that it had become famous,” she explained.
To deafening cheers from the packed stands of the huge indoor arena in Vancouver, Kim joined Orser in the “kiss and cry” area to wait for her score. “Because I knew Mao Asada already had a good score, I felt nervous […] although I knew I’d done well. I had done all I could, so I thought I'd won, but wasn’t sure until it was confirmed,” she said. The score was 78.50 – a new world record – and gave Kim a lead of 4.72 points over Asada, even though the Japanese had also achieved a career-best in the short programme.
Blaze of glory on the ice
Two days later, on 25 February 2010, Kim set the ice alight with a performance that captured the imagination of both spectators and judges, posting a world record points total and winning gold at the age of 19. She also wrote her name into South Korean Olympic history by securing the country’s first ever figure skating title, and duly became the biggest sports star in the Land of the Morning Calm. Featuring a triple lutz-triple toe loop combination and her signature layover spin, dubbed the “Yuna Camel”, Kim’s graceful performance proved to be one of the high points of the 2010 Winter Games, bringing the 17,000-capacity crowd to its feet and earning the praise of IOC President Jacques Rogge.
Performing her free programme to the soundtrack of Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F, Kim treated the Vancouver crowd and spectators watching on TV to a series of exquisitely executed combinations, among them a double axel-double toe loop-double loop, a triple salchow, a triple lutz and a double axel. Her world record score of 150.06 points left no doubt as to the final outcome. Kim’s performance at the Games was the best of her young career, and she went on to be crowned Olympic champion, with her final score of 228.56 points earning her a place in the Guinness World Records.
Kim was joined on the podium by Asada and Joannie Rochette. The Republic of Korea had found itself a new champion and ambassador. “When I was young, I never dreamed I’d win such an important competition. For a long time, my only goal was just to skate at the Olympics, something that not many Koreans had done. I enjoyed a lot of success at junior and then senior level, which is when I started to think about the Olympic gold medal, even though it was already pretty late in my career,” said Kim.
Ambassador for the YOG and PyeongChang Winter Games
Following her remarkable Olympic achievement, Kim won silver at the World Championships in 2010 and 2011 before deciding to put her career on hold for the best part of two years. Explaining her sabbatical in October 2011, she said: “After the Games last year I had so many commitments on top of all the training I had to do for competitions. I just felt I needed to take a break.” She subsequently became a goodwill ambassador for the PyeongChang candidature to host the 2018 Winter Games. Her speech to the IOC Members in Durban on 6 July 2012 played its part as PyeongChang was elected host city of the XXIII Olympic Winter Games in the first round of voting.
Kim returned to competition in 2013 and in March that year won her second world title in London, Canada. The firm favourite going into the Sochi 2014 Winter Games, she edged a three-way contest with Russia’s Adelina Sotnikova and Italy’s Carolina Kostner in the short programme. Although she delivered another fine performance in the free programme, she ultimately had to settle for silver behind Sotnikova, before deciding to retire from competitive skating. She went on to become a key figure in the staging of the 2018 Winter Games, working tirelessly as an ambassador and serving as a member of the Organising Committee’s Executive Board.
Eager to share her experience and know-how, Kim was also an ambassador for the Winter Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck in 2012 and Lillehammer in 2016. And it was she who lit the Olympic cauldron at the culmination of the PyeongChang Opening Ceremony on 9 February 2018. Still remembered as the star of the 2010 Winter Games, Kim left a lasting impact on the history of her sport, one that continues to be felt to this day.