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[Newsmaker] Champ Kim Yu-na has Russian competition

Kim Yu-na (left) and Julia Lipnitskaia
Kim Yu-na (left) and Julia Lipnitskaia

Tension is building between Olympic figure skating champion Kim Yu-na and the much praised Russian prodigy Julia Lipnitskaia with the individual event just over one week away.

The Vancouver Olympics gold medalist and record holder, also known as Queen Yu-na at home, is determined to defend her title against the younger Lipnitskaia, who was the driving force behind Russia’s first gold medal of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics in team figure skating.

Born on June 5, 1998, in Yekaterinburg, Lipnitskaia began skating at the age of 4 and moved to Moscow in 2009 to train under coach Eteri Tutberidze.

On Sunday, the 15-year-old fired up the Sochi crowd with a stellar performance, scoring her personal best of the season in the short program at 72.90 points, and the free skate with 141.51 points, for a combined 214.41 points.

Although this falls short of Kim’s 2010 world record of 228.56 points, she has nonetheless become the youngest female figure skater in 78 years to earn a gold medal ― surely more than enough to catch the attention of the public and make her a promising contender for the singles’ event.

Gracie Gold, the runner-up from the United States, described Lipnitskaia as “completely unfazed” after watching her performance Sunday.

“She’s got no spine, but she’s got iron in her bones,” Gold was quoted as saying, referring to Lipnitskaia’s astonishing flexibility and strength.

But whether she will be able to skate her way to victory over Kim’s experience and what some describe as the most “flawless performance in figure skating history,” is uncertain.

For Kim, next week will officially be her last competitive appearance as she aims to become the third woman to repeat as gold medalist.

To prepare for the Games, she has focused on building up the mental toughness required to defend her title ― a wise decision by “the textbook figure skater.”

Having already acquired a gold medal in Vancouver, Kim told Eurosport that she is not under too much pressure about results. There may be a great deal more for the young challenger.

At the level that Kim skates, the pressure is more on her competitors to stop her from winning another gold as opposed to Kim having to defend her achievements.

“I just hope to do everything I’ve prepared to do. As long as I can do that, I think the results will follow and I should be able to end my career without regrets,” Kim was quoted as saying by Yonhap.

At the moment, slightly more people see the odds favored toward the defending champion given past outcomes and official records, but ultimately it may all come down to the youthful strength and flexibility of Lipnitskaia versus the veteran’s stable, detail-oriented routine.

Kim will head over to Sochi on Thursday to begin getting used to the ice at the Russian arena.

Other candidates for the gold medal include Kim’s longtime rival Mao Asada and American skaters Gracie Gold and Polina Edmunds.

By Kim Joo-hyun (