She is considered the biggest star in South Korea, a young woman who sings surprisingly well and skates remarkably well.
“Of course, skating is harder,” Kim Yu-Na said with a laugh.
It didn’t appear that way Friday afternoon, when Kim’s seemingly effortless brilliance in the World Championships short program left two of the greatest athletes in the sport’s history awe-struck after their first in-person view of her.
“I’m completely impressed,” said 1992 Olympic champion Kristi Yamaguchi. “Her whole package is captivating to watch. She definitely has a special quality.”
“Her first jump, I said, ‘Wow, she has the power of a man and the grace of a woman,’ ” said 1988 Olympic champion Brian Boitano.
Kim, 18, was superwoman as she scored a record 76.12 points -- nearly four more than the old mark, which she set a month ago. It gave her a commanding lead over Joannie Rochette of Canada (67.90) and reigning champion Mao Asada of Japan (66.06).
“It’s kind of scary to have a cushion like that,” said Kim’s coach, two-time Olympic silver medalist Brian Orser of Canada.
It would have been less than half that big had Asada not turned a planned triple lutz into a double and then landed it badly.
“I didn’t attack the lutz enough,” Asada said. “That is disappointing.”
The lutz has given her frequent problems, and she will shun it in Saturday’s free skate. Asada plans instead to do two triple axels, a jump no other woman here will attempt.
Both U.S. skaters were, not surprisingly, an afterthought for the second straight year.
Rachael Flatt was seventh despite a personal best 59.30, while U.S. champion Alissa Czisny was 14th at 53.28 after falling on her second and third jumps, a triple flip and double axel. As expected, there is almost no chance they can get the finishes -- adding up to 13 or fewer -- to earn three places for the U.S. at the 2010 Olympics.
“Everyone has been reminding me of it [the three places] since nationals,” Czisny said. “There is obviously a lot of pressure.”
Kim is a Korean icon who gets to sing on national TV, has several six-figure endorsements and deals with constant media attention. Yet she skated with a carefree passion that perfectly matched the fiery mood of Saint-Saens’ “Danse Macabre.”
“Every element of my performance was great,” Kim said, and few could dispute that. .
Kim’s performance Friday was reminiscent of two years ago in Tokyo, when she made a dazzling senior world debut with a record score. Her stamina then was limited by back and hip injuries that curtailed her training, and Kim slipped to third after the free skate.
The same injury also affected Kim’s skating at the end of last season, when she won a second world bronze.
The only tiny flaw Friday was an edge issue on the flip jump that opened her triple-triple combination, which drew a warning notation. Kim was the only skater to average 8.0 or more on any of the five component scores -- and she did it on four.
“This was one of those moments in skating that people will always remember,” Orser said.
It led Orser to do a triple jump -- OK, three little hops in a row -- as he stood at the boards.
“I can’t help myself,” he said.
No wonder. Kim made everyone who saw her want to jump for joy.