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HELENE ELLIOTT

Kim's performance is a thing of beauty

Korean wraps up title with record score and leaves the rest of the world behind.

March 29, 2009|HELENE ELLIOTT

Every female figure skater in the United States who has Olympic aspirations and did not see Kim Yu-Na win the world championship Saturday night at Staples Center should be required to watch Kim's "Sheherazade" routine before taking to the ice again.

Not simply to remind them they are incredibly far from matching what the 18-year-old South Korean achieved and that they're unlikely to win a medal next February at the Vancouver Olympics.

That's undeniably true, though, after Rachael Flatt's earnest fifth-place finish and U.S. champion Alissa Czisny's 11th-place showing -- three places higher than she stood after her overscored short program.

No, every American woman and every American skater can learn something from Kim's seamless meshing of difficult jumps and intricate spins in a program that boosted her overall total to a record 207.71 points, the first woman to surpass 200 since this scoring system was adopted for the 2005 World Championships.

They should especially note the unruffled calm she displayed in recovering from a sloppy double salchow and finishing her program with supreme confidence.

They should study the way she expressed so much with her arms and carriage and face, creating a mood that entranced a nearly packed house.

The woman who never smiled on the ice until she left her home in 2006 to train in Toronto with Brian Orser couldn't stop grinning Saturday.

"I want to become a remembered skater," Kim said.

No one who saw her routine Saturday will forget it.

The mistake on the salchow, which was supposed to be a triple and was landed badly, was minor and forgettable.

What will linger is the sound of the crowd becoming hushed as she took off for her first element, a triple flip-triple toe loop combination jump, and its collective "oooh" of awe and delight as her blade crunched safely on the ice twice.

"I was very well prepared," Kim said. "While practicing, I have been confident and thought I was going to do well."

Not even she imagined she'd do this well. And consider this: She set that record even though she got no points for her final spin, which was declared invalid because it was not one of the required variations.

As she stood at center ice Saturday night she looked so small to be the object of so much affection, to have inspired a standing ovation, a flurry of flag waving and a torrent of stuffed animals thrown onto the ice in her honor.

But she earned every one of those tributes.

Kim finished more than 16 points ahead of the worthy runner-up, Joannie Rochette of Canada, and more than 17 ahead of 2007 world champ Miki Ando of Japan, who edged teammate Mao Asada for the bronze medal even though Asada landed a rare triple axel as part of her first combination jump.

"For tonight, of course, she skated so good there was no doubt," Rochette said. "And of course, she's a tough competitor."

Flatt left her first senior-level world championships with 172.41 points, or 35.30 behind Kim.

"This experience was irreplaceable," said Flatt, who grew up in Del Mar and trains in Colorado Springs, Colo. "I couldn't ask for anything more."

Czisny, penalized on three jumps but able to pull off her usual lovely spins and spirals, was 47.93 points behind Kim. The difference, truly, was even greater than that.

After a weak short program Friday she salvaged some pride Saturday with a better long program to "Dr. Zhivago." But her jumping skills and consistency are nowhere near good enough to think she could challenge for an Olympic medal.

For Czisny, who has long struggled with her nerves and since January carried the added burden of being the U.S. title holder -- and at a world championships in her home country -- the competition couldn't end soon enough.

"I'm a little bit relieved the season is over," she said. "It's been a long season for me."

The problem is that there is such a short time between now and the Olympics for U.S. women to move closer to that top tier.

Czisny, 21, won't get there without a miraculous cure for her jitters, which now define her. Flatt, 16, has potential but lacks speed and artistry.

Their combined placement here meant the U.S. can send only two women to the Winter Games, and neither Czisny nor Flatt might be the ones making the trip.

Caroline Zhang of Brea, third at the U.S. championships this year, and Mirai Nagasu of Arcadia, who won the U.S. title last year but struggled while competing on an injured foot this season, may be the best hopes for closing a gap that on Saturday appeared unbridgeable.

--

helene.elliott@latimes.com

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