League of their own

January 2, 2014

‘Ice queens’ Kim Yu-na, Lee Sang-hwa look to cement their legacies in Sochi

Figure skating Olympic champion Kim Yu-na will try to leave a legacy at the Sochi Winter Games, slated from Feb. 7 to 23. (Yonhap)

Figure skating Olympic champion Kim Yu-na will try to leave a legacy at the Sochi Winter Games, slated from Feb. 7 to 23.

By Jung Min-ho

Sochi-2014

Reigning Olympic champions Kim Yu-na and Lee Sang-hwa are heavily favored to defend their gold medals at the Sochi Winter Olympics, starting Feb. 7.

Kim, the figure-skating megastar, and Lee, the speed-skating standout, will not only be eyeing the hardware, but seeking to cement their legacies as two of the best athletes Korea has ever produced.

Recovered “80 to 90 percent” from a foot injury, Kim, 23, proved that she is still untouchable at her first international competition win this season with a total of 204.49 points at the Golden Spin of Zagreb in Croatia.

South Korea's Sang-Hwa Lee skates to victory in the ladies 500 meter competition at a World Cup speedskating event in Calgary, Alberta, Friday, Nov. 8, 2013. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jeff McIntosh)

South Korea’s Sang-Hwa Lee skates to victory in the ladies 500 meter competition at a World Cup speedskating event in Calgary, Alberta, Friday, Nov. 8, 2013. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jeff McIntosh)

Her margin of victory over Japan’s Miki Ando, who finished second with 176.82 points, was large enough to generate expectations that Kim is the only one in Sochi likely to challenge her own world record of 228.56, set at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games.

Kim is the first female skater to win the Olympics, World Championships, Four Continents Championships and Grand Prix during her career. If she wins again in Sochi, she will become the third woman ever to repeat as Olympic figure skating gold medalist.

A flawless triple lutz-triple toe loop combination has long been Kim’s signature move that differentiates her from others. Her ample emotional expressions and clean execution have also separated her from her rivals.

Mao Asada is expected to be Kim’s only competition at the Games. But the Japanese figure skater has not long been able to cleanly execute her biggest weapon, the triple axel, which is considered the most difficult move for female athletes.

Win or not, Sochi will be a memorable place for Kim, who announced her retirement there.

“It’s not my goal to win a gold medal there,” Kim said Wednesday during her training in Goyang. “I just want to finish my career well.”

Lee’s 500-meter world record of 36.36 seconds may be short-lived.

After setting her first world record in January with 36.80 seconds, she broke it three times in November alone. Now, the 24-year-old is ready to do it again in Sochi.

Lee garnered international attention after winning Korea’s Olympic gold medal in female speed skating at the Vancouver Games. She has since solidified her position at the top of the sport.

She skipped the national championships in December, and will not participate in the world championships this month in Japan. But she shrugged off concerns that she might lose her momentum.

“With my training on and off the ice, I am trying not to lose good vibes and I really don’t think I will,” Lee said on Dec. 27.

Lee has not mentioned anything about winning a gold medal, but said the Sochi Olympics will be a “festival” – a good description for the athlete who looks beyond winning another gold medal.

“I am trying to look at Sochi as just another competition,” she said.

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