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 Rivals: Figure Skating

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PostSubject: Rivals: Figure Skating   Sat Feb 13, 2010 11:41 am

Rivals: Figure Skating

- by Beverley Smith, CTVOlympics.ca


An intense rivalry between Mao Asada of Japan and Kim Yu-Na of South Korea that will spark up the women's figure skating event at the Vancouver Olympics has been bred in the bone, by circumstances they hardly know.

Both Asada and Kim are 19 years old, born within 20 days of each other in countries that haven't always been cordial. Japan occupied Korea in 1910.

At the 1936 Summer Games in Berlin, Sohn Kee-chung set a world marathon record to win the first Olympic gold medal by a Korean, but because Korea was at the time occupied by Japanese forces, Sohn had to qualify for the Japanese team, adopt a Japanese name, endure the sight of the Japanese flag being raised and hear the Japanese national anthem being played to celebrate his victory. He bowed his head in protest during the ceremony.

According to David Wallechinsky's The Complete Book of the Olympics, after a Korean newspaper painted over the Japanese flag on Sohn's sweatshirt in a wire photo, the Japanese colonial government jailed eight newspaper people, and suspended its publication for nine months.

That was 74 years ago. Since then, Sohn has become a symbol of national pride for Korea. He carried the flag for Korea at the 1948 Games in London, and 50 years later, carried the flame into the Olympic stadium at the Seoul Games.

Kim admits that she knows of Sohn, but isn't grounded in his history. She vows to be like him.

The circumstances of their birth, talent and ability will pit Asada and Kim against each other in an Olympic venue once again. Their careers have been closely intertwined from the beginning. And it's no secret that they keep a close eye on each other, even from afar.

Asada and Kim attended two world junior championships in 2005 and 2006, trading victories, with the other finishing second. Both of them missed the Turin Olympics because they were too young to go, although Asada had already established herself as a force by winning the Grand Prix Final against older women the previous December.

At the (senior) world championships in 2007 in Tokyo, Asada finished second, Kim third. After the event, Asada promised to take Kim shopping. But Since then, the rivalry has escalated, and so has the tension.

Battling injury, Kim finished third to Asada at the 2008 world championships in Sweden. But once Kim straightened out her physical problems, she's become a major force. In fact, she's taken over. She set world record points of 207.71 in winning the 2009 world championships by a large margin, broke it at a Grand Prix event in Paris in November (210.03), and then won the Grand Prix Final. Only Kim and Asada have broken the 200-point barrier in women's international competition.

Meanwhile, Asada began to have troubles with her consistency, and even her signature triple Axel failed her. She did not land one during the first half of the international season and failed to qualify for the Grand Prix Final at all.

It began to look as though Kim couldn't lose the Olympic gold, unless she became a human Zamboni. "I know Asada is going through a rough time, but I'm sure she'll be ready for the Olympics," Kim said.

Asada, shrugging off criticism that her routines didn't suit her strengths, and that she was wasting too much effort on one jump - the Axel - roared back at her Japanese nationals, earned 204.62 points, and got the Axel mojo back. "It's important to aim high," Asada said.

Although Asada didn't fully rotate her triple Axel in the short program, she landed one in the long. She had made a name for herself by being the first woman to land two triple Axels in the long program - but without it being consistent, she dropped one of them for the long program in Japan.

But, going for the gusto, she plans to do two in the long at the Olympics.

It is a rivalry that has been good for both and good for the sport. Kim's coach, Brian Orser, experienced the same thing with his rivalry with Brian Boitano of the United States, so intense it was dubbed the Battle of the Brians at the Calgary Olympics in 1988.

"Because of that, I got better," Orser said. "Because of Mao, Yu-Na's become better and vice versa. ... At the end of the day, they'll be thanking each other. ... These two girls have taken ladies' figure skating to a whole new level.''

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