Kim Yu-na wins gold with record score

VANCOUVER: All that pressure, all those expectations. Kim Yu-na could feel the weight on her dainty shoulders.

The "Queen" took it all on and delivered royally.

A gold medal.

A world record.

A women's figure skating performance that likely will be remembered as one of the best of all time.

The South Korean soared to the Olympic gold medal Thursday night, scoring a world-record 228.56 points and shattering her previous mark by more than 18 points. It is South Korea's first medal at the Winter Olympics in a sport other than speedskating, and it's sure to set off wild celebrations from Seoul to Pyongchang.

Even Kim seemed to be dazzled by the show she put on, gasping when she saw the monstrous score. Coach Brian Orser gave a Rocky-like victory pump, shaking his clasped fists over each shoulder.

"I can't believe this day has finally come for me," Kim said.

The 19-year-old grinned as she hopped up to the top spot on the podium, tugging at the bottom of her dress. When the gold medal was slipped over her head, she kissed both sides and held it up. Her lip quivered when the South Korean anthem began, and then came the tears.

"Today was the first time I cried like that, right after skating," Kim said. "I don't know exactly why I cried, but I was very, very happy."

She made a beeline for someone holding the South Korean flag as she set off on her victory lap, and carried it triumphantly as fans serenaded her with cheers and applause.

Longtime rival Mao Asada of Japan won the silver medal, but it was no contest — even with Asada landing both her triple axels, one in combination with a double toe loop. Joannie Rochette, skating four days after the sudden death of her mother, won the bronze, giving Canada its first women's medal since Liz Manley's silver in 1988.

The Americans, meanwhile, are going home without at least one medal for only the second time since 1952. The other time? 1964, three years after a plane crash wiped out the entire U.S. team on its way to the world championships.

But there is hope on the horizon with 16-year-old Mirai Nagasu finishing fourth. U.S. champion Rachael Flatt dropped two spots from the short program and was seventh.

Kim came in bearing almost incomprehensible pressure. Not only was the reigning world champ the biggest favorite since Katarina Witt in 1988 — she's lost just one competition during the last two seasons — she carried the weight of an entire nation. Maybe her sport, too.

The most popular athlete in South Korea, she's been dubbed "Queen Yu-na" — check out the sparkly crowns that twinkle in her ears — and she needs bodyguards whenever she returns home from her training base in Toronto. Anything she does creates a frenzy, and even a simple practice draws a rinkful of photographers.

Figure skating is also counting on her to bring back the sass and star power that has traditionally made the women the must-see event of the Olympics. Think of some of the greatest Winter Olympians ever and Dorothy, Peggy and Michelle — no last names needed for die-hard fans — immediately come to mind. But the sport has lost some serious luster since Michelle Kwan stopped skating.

Kim seemed to shrug off any jitters earlier this week, saying after the short program that it felt like any other competition. But it was clear Thursday that it meant so much more — for her and Orser, a two-time Olympic silver medalist who was devastated when he lost to Brian Boitano at the 1988 Calgary Games.

There were simply no visible flaws in Kim's performance, from her skating to her expressions to that lovely cobalt blue dress. While other skaters slow down as they approach their jumps to steady themselves, she hurtles into them at full speed yet touches down with feathery lightness. Her connecting steps are like art on ice, and her edges show not even the slightest hint of a harsh scrape. Her spins were centered so perfectly the tracings looked as if they were made with a protractor, and she must be quadruple-jointed to pull off all those positions in her combination spins.

What really makes her transcendent, though, is her performance skills. She breathed life into Gershwin's "Concerto in F," moving across the ice like notes on a score. As the music lifted the first time, she put one hand on the small of her back and gave a flirty little smile that set shutters clicking throughout the building.

When she finished, you could almost see the pressure fall away as Kim bent over and cried. The tears fell no matter how hard she tried to blink them back, and she held up her hands helplessly when she reached Orser. So many stuffed toys and flowers littered the ice the full complement of sweepers had to be deployed — not once, but twice.

"It still hasn't sunk in that I've won," she said.

It almost wasn't fair that Asada, skating next, had to try and one-up that.

She couldn't. Not even close.

Asada, who has swapped titles with Kim since their junior days, is one of the few women who even tries a points-packing triple axel, and she did two on this night. But she melted down later, stumbling on the footwork into her triple toe and forcing her to cut it to a single.

Asada looked stone-faced as she waited for her marks. She didn't even crack a smile when she got her silver medal.

"The triple axel I landed I'm happy with," Asada said, "but I'm not satisfied with the rest of my performance today."

For Rochette, the medal is a culmination of "a lifelong project with my mom." Therese Rochette, 55, had a massive heart attack just hours after arriving in Vancouver to watch her daughter skate, and Rochette has been the picture of courage this week.

Supported by her father, Normand, and longtime coach Manon Perron, Rochette decided to go ahead and compete. Her performance Thursday wasn't perfect; she two-footed and stepped out of a triple flip, and had shaky landings on a couple of other jumps. But she made up for those errors with an emotional and expressive portrayal of "Samson and Delilah."

"I feel proud and the result didn't matter," Rochette said. "I'm happy to be on the podium."