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Kim Yuna finds 'calm, collected' coach in Peter Oppegard

October 5, 2010 |  6:06 pm

Kim Yuna was in her fourth year of elementary school when she first met Peter Oppegard.

She was with a group of South Korean figure skaters who had been sent to the Ice Castle rink in Lake Arrowhead for a summer session. Oppegard, who had teamed with Jill Watson to win a pairs bronze medal at the 1988 Olympics and three U.S. titles, was building what has become a successful coaching career.

Flash forward to this year. Kim, so graceful and powerful in winning the gold medal at the Vancouver Olympics, split with her coach, Brian Orser, over the summer and moved to Los Angeles to decide her next move. When considering coaches who might guide her to the next phase of her career she remembered Oppegard, now coaching at East West Ice Palace in Artesia.

After skating there for a few weeks Kim asked him to collaborate with her, and they announced their agreement Tuesday in a news conference at the rink. The arrangement will be reviewed each season.
 “I noticed he had a very calm, collected manner that would match my style very well,” Kim said through a translator. “He has a very unique style of leading students and his skaters are very happy.”

Oppegard, 51, has coached pairs and singles skaters to 10 national titles. He’s married to Karen Kwan, sister of Michelle Kwan, the five-time world champion, nine-time U.S. champion and two-time Olympic medalist. The Kwan family owns and operates the Artesia facility.

Oppegard said he initially had some reservations about coaching Kim because he wondered if she would still be willing to work hard after having won the 2009 world title and the Olympic gold medal. He said he soon learned she was eager to enhance every area of her performances.

“She feels like she’s on a journey in skating and doesn’t feel she has reached the pinnacle of what she can do,” he said. “She’s still interested in furthering her skating and that’s an admirable quality.”
In that regard he compared her to his sister-in-law, who is back in school in Boston after sharing marquee billing with Kim in two skating shows last weekend at Staples Center.

“She’s very motivated, very driven,” he said of Kim. “She reminds me in some ways of Michelle and her love for skating. Because she has that and wants to continue, that’s a great base for us to develop from.”

Kim, 20, has said she intends to compete at the next world championships, to be held in March in Tokyo but said Tuesday she will discuss her plans with Oppegard as they get deeper into their collaboration. She will also work on a new short program in Canada later this month with choreographer David Wilson.

“I feel very calm, very collected about the future,” she said.
Switching to English, she added, “I’m so glad to be training here in Los Angeles with my new coach and new skaters. I really love training in my new rink.”

As for their first meeting all those years ago, Oppegard remembers it clearly. “She was very cute,” he said. “She would come with a class of five fellow Koreans. She was taller than the rest. She stood in the back and was very quiet but very talented.”

-- Helene Elliott