DAVID J. PHILLIP / AP Enlarge
LOS ANGELES - Kim Yu-na has a world title to go with her royal nickname.
Kim, called "Queen Yu-na" by her adoring fans, gave South
Korea its first title at the World Figure Skating Championships last night. After her big lead in the short program, this was more coronation than competition. She finished with a record 207.71 points, shattering the old mark by eight points.
She was more than 16 points ahead of Joannie Rochette and beat main rival Mao Asada by almost 20. How big a rout is that? Think one of those nonconference football games the big names play and you get the idea.
When she saw the scores, Kim closed her eyes and shook her head. She then stood up, beaming, and waved to the cheering crowd.
"Being the world champion was my dream, and I did it here," Kim said. "So it's just amazing."
Rachael Flatt finished fifth, and Bowling Green State University student Alissa Czisny was 11th, meaning the United States can send only two women to the Vancouver Olympics. It's only the second time since 1924 the Americans have failed to earn the maximum three spots. The other was in 1994.
Kim and Asada's rivalry is the best thing going in skating. They've been at it since juniors, trading one major title after another. Asada won the world title last year and the Grand Prix final this season. Kim responded with a victory at Four Continents, setting up a showdown here.
But Kim was in a class by herself.
She skates with ease and lightness, seeming almost to fly across the ice, but she has incredible power and strength. While other skaters slow down as they approach their jumps, trying to steady themselves, she goes full speed ahead. Yet she lands as if she's touching down on a pillow. She did five triple jumps, three in combination, including a triple flip-triple toe loop combination to open the program.
There is so much more to her, though. Her edge quality is so high, she carves the ice like a calligrapher. All of her jumps were landed to crescendos in the music, making the music as much a part of her program as any other element. Her footwork was exquisite, and she skated with the elegance of a queen throughout her "Sheherazade" program.
Almost as entertaining was her coach, two-time Olympic silver medalist Brian Orser. Standing by the boards, Orser did every element with her. His only flaw was a single leap at the end of the program, not nearly as difficult as the triple jump he did Friday after her short program.
The audience was on its feet for the last 15 seconds of her program, knowing it had seen something truly special.
Asada was more than 10 points behind her rival heading into the free skate and needed to pull out every trick she had to have any hope of catching Kim. She sure tried, with the most technically demanding program any woman has ever done at worlds. It would put some of the men to shame too.
She attempted two triple axels, a first for a woman at worlds. The jump is so difficult few women even practice it, let alone put it in their programs. The first was perfect, landed with ease and confidence right in front of the judges as part of a triple axel-double toe combination. She didn't get all the way around on the second axel, though, and tumbled to the ice, drawing a groan of disappointment from the crowd.
That cost her any chance of a gold medal, and the fact she didn't have much besides her jumps and spins dropped her off the medals podium.
The Americans failed to medal for a third straight year. That hasn't happened since 1962-64, after a plane crash wiped out the entire U.S. team on its way to the 1961 world championships.
Worse, Czisny and Flatt's combined placement of 16 means the Americans will send only two women to Vancouver. A team of three American women is as much a part of Olympic figure skating as the ice and bad costumes.
Czisny's dismal 14th-place finish in the short program Friday all but doomed the United States. She managed to stay upright last night, but her program didn't have any spark or emotion, the only color coming from her eggplant and green dress. It wasn't until her last two elements, a combination spin and a layback spin, that she showed any kind of life.
Flatt made one major mistake, not getting all the way around on the second jump in a triple flip-double toe combination and turning it into more like a 1 1/2. She also landed it on two feet.
"I came here and tried to do my best," Czisny said. "The outcome is not in my hands, and there is nothing I can do about that."
Except skate better. Her 11th-place finish was the worst by a U.S. champion at worlds since World War II.34.05349 -118.2453