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For Asian women, it's victory on ice

Reflecting a regional dominance, South Korea's Yu-na Kim adds Skate America title to her resume.

October 27, 2008|HELENE ELLIOTT

EVERETT, WASH. — Regal in red and gold, sure-footed as she skimmed over the ice at the Comcast Center, Yu-na Kim was a vivid example of the quietly powerful dominance Asian women are exerting in international figure skating.

Kim, an 18-year-old South Korean who trains in Toronto, added the Skate America title to a resume that includes bronze medals at the last two world championships and gold medals at the last two Grand Prix Finals.

Performing Sunday to Sheherazade, she skated a dazzling routine marred only slightly when she turned a planned triple loop to a single. She received a warm ovation from banner-waving members of nearby Korean communities and from everyone who recognized brilliance when they saw it.

Otherwise formidable -- she pulled off a difficult triple flip-triple toe loop combination jump with ease -- Kim turned a 12-point lead after the short program into a rout and finished with 193.45 points. Two Japanese women, Yuri Nakano and 2007 world champion Miki Ando, each skated well to "Giselle" but lost by 20.92 and 25.03 points, respectively.

"I didn't think too much about the score," said Kim, a student of two-time Olympic silver medalist Brian Orser. "I tried my best to do my program strong. I think I did that, and the score came with it."

Asian women have won the last Olympic title (Shizuka Arakawa of Japan), the last two world championships (Japan's Mao Asada this year, and Ando) and the last three Grand Prix Finals (Kim twice after Asada in 2006).

"This is an individual competition," said Kim, whose 2006 world junior title touched off a figure-skating frenzy in her homeland. "There are so many top skaters from the world, including Japanese skaters and Americans.

"I would like to see Korean skaters skating at this level so we can all compete in the world."

The top three Sunday left the Americans in the dust, if there can be dust in a skating rink. The best was Rachael Flatt of Del Mar, who finished fourth with 155.73 points -- though she skipped an intended triple-triple.

U.S. champion Mirai Nagasu of Arcadia, competing on a sore right ankle she said is in the stage before a stress fracture, fell on a jump and footwork and had six jumps downgraded. She placed fifth with 142.90 points but said she didn't regret competing here.

"I learned so much and I now know how much more work I have to do," she said. "I'm going to keep on going and hope that it heals as I go along."

She says she plans to compete in the NHK Trophy event in Japan next month, and that's admirable -- but she should stay home if her ankle isn't completely sound.

With the U.S. championships less than three months away, followed by the world championships at Staples Center in March, she'd be foolish to risk more damage. There's a long trail of figure skating phenoms who were felled by leg and back injuries. Nagasu deserves a chance at a better future than that.

So does Kimmie Meissner, and she's still struggling to find it. The 2006 world champion, thrown off by puberty and the loss of her jumping skills, fell twice and suffered several other indignities in a ghastly program that left her eighth, with 135.92 points.

"I just don't know," she said of what happened. "I'm frustrated right now, but it will make me go back and work harder."

The day's other final was the ice dance free dance. Usually amusing for over-the-top melodrama and gaudy costumes, it was stunningly dull Sunday.

A parade of somber music and tedious programs ended with world champions Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder of France holding on to win despite being ranked second for their free dance to Pink Floyd's "The Great Gig in the Sky."

Yes, Pink Floyd as ice dance music. But the French duo turned it into an unremarkable song lightened by a few nice lifts.

"It's a little bit more modern than we have skated before and the challenge was good," Schoenfelder said.

Five-time U.S. champions Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto had the top-ranked free dance but remained second with 186.53 points, to 187.64 for Delobel and Schoenfelder. The British brother-sister duo of Sinead and John Kerr finished third with 180.20, though Americans Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates did a better free dance and ended with 175.66 points.

Belbin and Agosto had lost the spark that set them apart from the crowd of overwrought ice dance posers and hoped to rekindle that with new coaches Natalia Linichuk and Gennadi Karponosov.

The old magic is still missing, though they did several intricate, ballet-influenced lifts that redeemed their choice of the overused "Tosca."

"With our renewed energy and confidence, I felt this was the first free dance in years where we didn't hold anything back," Belbin said.

Kim did hold back, but only a bit, on that singled jump. It's mind-boggling to imagine what she and the other Asian women will do once this season gets into full swing.

--

helene.elliott@latimes.com

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