The winter kingdom that the queen left is very lonely. Yuna Kim did put down her heavy crown. Last night, she successfully concluded her official retirement stage. “I feel at ease. Once the performance was over, I had dinner with the other athletes and I had my first night of full sleep in a long time.”
Stepping on a soft ground instead of the cold and slippery ice field, Yuna looked free and easy. The ice show that took place for three days at the Olympic Gymnastics Arena was the last chapter to a figure skating fairy tale that we hoped would go on forever. This was because it was dramatic that it was too hard to believe everything this girl born in the wild land of the Republic of Korea had accomplished in the past 18 years, if we’d use with the fairy tale story-telling style. Holding our breaths and watching Yuna freely soaring on the ice rink, we had this sweet dream called “a miracle that I never thought would happen to me”.
The story begins way back to the winter of 1996 when a happy family from Gunpo goes to a ice rink in Kwacheon. To 7-year-old Yuna who wore figure skates for the first time, these were “magic shoes that took me to another world”. During the holidays skating classes, kids of almost the same age gathered and mastered simple skating, steps and stroking as if they were toddling. Coach Ryu Jong Hyun noticed Yuna’s unique talent and offered her mother to turn her daughter into an athlete. Coach Ryu Jong Hyun is the one who sat with Yuna in the kiss and cry zone during the Sotchi Olympic Games, looked at the results on the board with her and gave her a warm hug. Yuna who had remained strong until her last double axel and spin of “Adios Nonino” before she left the ice showed a few tears to his words “it’s all over, Yuna-yah”. There was nothing else. It was probably because all the memories of the little girl who had watched an ice show for the first time and was so excited she had turned her living room into an ice rink to skate came back to her mind; memories from the moment she had managed to do a triple toe loop for the first time to winning the multiple battles against herself to get here today.
“The competitions I remember the most are the ones where I did well. So that would be the Olympic Games at Vancouver, at Sotchi and the 2013 World championships. These three times were the only times when both my short and free programs were completely clean.”
So what was the happiest moment when she had her skates on? “During a competition, it was when I got a satisfying result. And on Saturday nights when the training was over!”
Sundays are the days when the ice rink fairies rest. Chronic ankle pains made her want to quit the athlete life sometimes. There was also a time when she had to give up entering a competition because of a hip injury after a triple jump in a competition while her waist was bound with a pressure bandage. She fell and cried countless times. This could have been because of that. Once her score was revealed, there was a controversy, but Yuna seemed to transcend everything. “I have no regret about this. I think of this as the end because it is the end,” she calmly said during the press conference after the competition. The Korean Olympic Committee and the Korean Skating Union filed complaint to the International Skating Union for suspicions of the judging’s fairness, but the situation hasn’t reached its conclusion yet.
Apart from this headache, there were happy times waiting ahead for Yuna after the Olympic Games. Her family and friends had prepared a surprise party to celebrate the end of her athlete career. On the top of this retirement cake prepared in advance, there was a Kim Yuna wearing her red tracksuit with her three-stripped slippers and drooling over an ice cream she held with both hands.
“Clearly, I thought me being “jobless” meant plopping down on a bench with a black plastic bag and cookie crumbs by my side. All this time, I said as a joke “I’ll be jobless once the Olympic Games are over”, “I’ll become a regular citizen”. It was absurd, but it was a gift that couldn’t have been more special for me and I couldn’t have been more thankful for.”
There were funny signs on the wall to express affection for Yuna. “Even if you don’t have a job, I will hang out with you!”, “Congrats! Ordinary girl Kim Yuna”, “Welcome ordinary girl!” “I was also a queen before!”
Leaving her throne, Yuna said about herself that she was “an unemployed 25-year-old woman. Just a human being” and was no longer the figure skater. Is there another unemployed person as famous as her in this world? Kim Yuna’s cover photo shoot for Vogue was actually over!
The song “She’s so lovely” by Scouting for Girls was the background music for a lipstick commercial that Yuna was a model for a few years ago. “She looks just like them girls in Vogue.
I love the way she plays it cool.” The lyrics of the songs turned into reality. “It must look pretty, so there’s a little bit of pressure and worries.”
To be honest, every thing about the photo shoot was over at the beginning of April. It was the day when Yuna shot a commercial for J.Estina she had been working with for a long time. At that time, she had been practicing at the Taerung training center for her ice show since the morning, so she had to do two different photo shoots in this restricted period of time. Between a look inspired by “Black Swan” with a black feather in her hair as an ornament and a somehow bad punk queen look, her transformation was shocking and lovely. When we saw her, this was how we felt. When has Yuna ever shown a non-lovely image! However, it was internationally known that she was a perfectionist. The photo shoot that day was crazy like a live fashion show. A few days later, we got a phone call. Through her agency, Yuna made the careful suggestion to have another photo shoot. It seemed that she had been worrying about it for the past few days. “If it’s possible, I want to do another photo shoot. I will have the time for it and do things in the proper way. If it’s after the ice show, I will be able to adjust my schedule.” We had an emergency meeting. As a matter of fact, we had some regrets about the lack of time we had for this photo shoot. If we could do it, we were also hoping it would be a meaningful gift for Yuna who was now a retired athlete.
Less than a month later, we met Yuna again. Meanwhile, many things had happened. Hurtful situations that were extremely sad and unbelievable were still going on. The pain and the despair of the nation about the Sewol accident was turning into anger. Yuna expressed her intention to donate 100,000,000 wons through UNICEF as well as the profits of her retirement commemoration medals’ sales. “It was such a big accident and so unfortunate. It’s not just me. A lot of people joined forces.” Yuna wasn’t able to speak for a moment. She was like this too when many people faced hard times like the big earthquake in far away Haiti, the major earthquake in Japan and the typhoon in the Philippines. Yuna always makes donations. She’s been helping for a long time young boys and girls who have incurable diseases as well as young athletes coming from a difficult background but who dream to be figure skaters. Before her ice show, Yuna observed a long moment of silence to pay her respects to the victims of the Sewol ferry sinking. The 10,000 spectators mourned together. What the figure skater can do for the people full of sadness is to try her best and skate.
As the ice show opened with the OST of “Frozen”, Yuna appeared wearing a sky blue dress decorated with crystal buttons that looked like ice gems. Like a butterfly in the wind, she softly navigated on the ice like a flying snowflower.
“To be honest, I didn’t watch this movie. I heard a lot of people talk about it. Especially when I was at the Taerung training center, the young athletes liked “Let it Go” so much that they kept singing it and playing it over and over again.”
Her singing “Let it Go” in a commercial was a big issue for a while. Yet, the Elsa of the figure skating world didn’t even watch the movie!
During this show, she performed her season’s short program “Send in the clowns” and she also danced on “Turandot” that she wanted to use at least once during her athlete career. Yuna appeared with a magnificient orchestra and turned into a blood-red rose. The clapping and the shouts made the atmosphere hot like a rock concert, the ice rink melted under the emotion of the athletes and the fans.
The moment that triggered Yuna’s tears was when she went back to her dressing room before the finale. Athlete Kim Hae Jin was crying. “When others cry, you start crying too. I kept it together. I didn’t cry on the ice. After the finale, I went back to the locker room and Hae Jin was crying again. It was a big mess because we started crying together. I joked around by saying things like “are you the one retiring?”, “aren’t you like that because you love me too much?”, “am I more than a big sister to you?”. I tried to calm her down.”
Kim Hae Jin had been going to the same ice rink as Yuna since her elementary school days. She was with her at All That Sports [t/n: it’s the agency founded by Kim Yuna and her mother] which showed even more the affection she had for her. They were together at the Sotchi Olympic Games. As a young athlete walking down the same path as Yuna, she knows more than anyone else how hard it is to work as an athlete for 18 years in a figure skating world where you being 20 is like turning 60, how meaningful to become the best athlete in the world in the midst of a Korean reality that there’s no ice rink exclusively for figure skaters. Only the agency representatives who were preparing the press conference were worried. Yuna was serene as she stood in front of the cameras. This time, choreographer David Wilson made Yuna cry. “Coaching Yuna in these 22 years of my life I spent being a choreographer was the most perfect time of my life. While watching her goodbye stage was sad, it was also sweet. My mother said that the reason she raised me wasn’t to keep me by her side but to send me there out there in the world. And my heart feels the same when it comes to Yuna.” That was a beautiful thought.
David had been working with Yuna for the past 8 years since she was on her way up to the senior level. He’s a talented entertainer. From the program “007” that gave Yuna a new image as a Bond girl to the “Danse Macabre” which is still her most representative program today, the programs he created had a dramatic feeling like a musical. Yuna who used to be too shy to reveal her own emotions started expressing herself taking a step in a more mature direction when she met the free-spirited and joyful David. When they met for the first time at the Cricket Club in Toronto, Canada, they didn’t know either they would be together for such a long time. There was a genius choreographer who created original and artistic programs that broke away from the figure skating world stereotypes and there was Yuna who took things beyond with her execution. The combination between the two of them was just fantastic.
“David likes unique things and he wants to do things that others don’t like, so we sometimes had our moments of disagreements. But without David, I wouldn’t have been the one I am today. I saw him almost every day during the four years I was in Toronto. We share the same Chinese Zodiac sign with a two-cycle difference and he feels more like a friend who transcends the difference in age and nationality.”
She had many coaches, but David was the only one who constantly made the blunt ice princess laugh all the time. He was a friend she could share this human feeling of sympathy with.