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Risky business? Kim Yuna resists pressure from skating officials

January 4, 2010 |  5:40 pm
Conspiracy theorists will have a ball with the pressure being applied on reigning world champion Kim Yuna to skate Jan. 25-31 in the Four Continents Championships in her home country, South Korea.

International Skating Union President Ottavio Cinquanta of Italy confirmed to me via telephone Monday that he asked the Korean Skating Union last month in a letter to have Kim compete in the utterly meaningless event.

That would require her to make the long trip to Jeonju City, South Korea, from her training base in Toronto, which Kim’s coach, Brian Orser, does not want her do.

"We have known about this event for a year," Orser said Monday via telephone.  "As far as our strategy for the Olympics and the whole peaking process, it just didn’t fit in.

"I understand their (the ISU) side of it as well.  She is a superstar of Korea.  What we have to do is put the skater first."

Cinquanta said his letter to the Korean federation included a reference to ISU rule 136 (6), which allows sanctions against national federations whose skaters do not participate in those ISU events that have TV or commercial contracts.

"I told them we hope you will enter this skater in the event for the development of figure skating in Korea and for the prestige of the ISU," Cinquanta said.

"This is a championship they (the Korean federation) asked for. It is a moment they can use to promote skating in their country.  They have one talent, one champion. Not entering this skater – what is that?"

The Korea Times first reported last week that Cinquanta had made a formal request to the Korean federation to have Kim go to Four Continents.

Yuna  A Korea Skating Union official came to Toronto last week to discuss the situation with Kim, her mother, and her agent.  The federation official accepted their explanation and agreed with the decision not to have her compete at Four Continents.

"We have had the support of the Korean federation all along," Orser said.

Cinquanta said the Koreans would have to provide a good reason, such as injury or illness, to avoid a sanction if Kim does not skate at Four Continents.  He said using the travel issue would be "something that must be evaluated."

Essentially trying to force Kim to compete at Four Continents would add fuel to those who argue the ISU is doing everything it can to stack the deck against the South Korean, whose primary rivals in Vancouver will be Japanese: 2008 world champion Mao Asada and 2007 world champion Miki Ando.

Skating message boards have been buzzing for two years about alleged deals between the ISU and the Japan skating federation (four of the seven ISU official sponsors are Japanese companies; the other three are French) to make sure judges are aware of potential flaws in Kim's skating. The combination of historic suspicion over judging in figure skating and historic political and cultural animosity between South Korea and Japan undoubtedly is feeding these rumors.

They picked up steam at the Grand Prix Final, when the technical panel gave a questionable downgrade to both Kim’s triple-triple combination and an individual triple toe loop -- especially since the same technical specialists will work the Olympics. (The video below makes a case for the downgrade on the combination being unjustified.)

Cinquanta said he did not threaten the South Koreans with a sanction if they did not enter Kim for Four Continents and that he could not either force them to do it or ban her from the Olympics if she does not.

"She is entered for the Olympics by the national Olympic committee of South Korea," Cinquanta said.  "But for the national Olympic committee, this (Four Continents) is also a good opportunity to develop the sport."

Not to mention currying favor with Cinquanta, also an IOC member, given that Pyeongchang, South Korea is bidding for the 2018 Winter Olympics after narrow defeats in the voting for 2010 and 2014.

Cinquanta feels Kim would gain more from competing in South Korea than she would lose by having to make the trip (a 14-hour flight to Seoul plus a 180-mile bus ride – and a 14-hour time difference to create some major jet lag.)

"This is not one day before the Olympic Games," Cinquanta said.  "This is 25 days before (the women’s event).

"If you were a coach, would you have the skater go into the Olympics after no competition for more than two months?"

Kim last skated in the Grand Prix Final the first week of December.  But she gave her best performance of this season at her first Grand Prix event in October, nearly seven months after her previous competition.

Tuesday is the deadline for Four Continents entries.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

-- Philip Hersh

Photo:  Kim Yuna with her gold medal at December's Grand Prix Final.  (AP)