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Originally published Thursday, February 25, 2010 at 10:17 PM

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Jerry Brewer

Captivating figure skater Kim Yu-na wins gold

The most-debated question of any Olympics has an answer now. Who should be the face of these Games? Kim Yu-na, for certain.

Seattle Times staff columnist

VANCOUVER, B.C. — The most dominant athlete at these Winter Olympics is 5 feet 4, 103 pounds and skates in such a mesmerizingly graceful manner that grown men stood in front of an electronics store in South Korea on Tuesday, transfixed, unashamed, overjoyed.

Do an Internet search for that picture. It explains the greatness of Kim Yu-na perfectly. She's smiling — elegant, beautiful — on about 20 TVs. The men are frozen, and it seems like she has entranced the world. The photo was taken during the figure skater's world-record performance in the short program that night.

But after watching Kim's free skate Thursday, after watching her shatter another world record, after watching her own an intriguing and gifted field, you're left to wonder if any country, any gender, any living thing with eyeballs would dare stop staring at this 19-year-old phenom.

When the Pacific Coliseum public-address announcer introduced Kim as the gold winner during the medal ceremony, a man in the crowd screamed, "I love you!"

She made Korea proud. She made her sport proud. She made any casual observer who paid attention an instant fan of women's figure skating.

Including me.

Especially me.

So, the most-debated question of any Olympics has an answer now. Who should be the face of these Games?

Kim, for certain.

Not Lindsey Vonn, not Apolo Ohno, not Bode Miller.

Kim Yu-na.

Remember her name, and never forget how she dazzled the 2010 Winter Olympics. Remember her astounding agility, and never forget the tears she shed while gliding off the ice this night.

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"I still can't believe my performance," she said. "Watching previous figure skaters, I always wondered why they cried after their performance. Crying for the first time today, I still don't know why I did."

Kim overwhelmed a worthy competitor, Mao Asada, of Japan, the silver medalist. She made you cheer when your heart said to give all your support to Canadian Joannie Rochette, who skated to a bronze medal just five days after losing her mother to a heart attack.

Kim won Korea's first gold medal in women's figure skating and its first gold in any Winter Olympics event other than speedskating. She was as electric as the stunning blue dress she wore, flawlessly executing triple flips, triple lutzes and double axels at full speed, landing so softly each time that it felt like you were watching a feather float to the ice. Then Kim would wow the crowd with her flexibility during combination spins.

The performance was so impossibly artful, so in tune with her musical selection — George Gershwin's "Concerto in F."

How about that? A 19-year-old performed to a song written 85 years ago and matched its brilliance, maybe even amplified it. She truly is Queen Yu-na.

That's her nickname back home. On this night, she fulfilled all lofty expectations with her world-record 150.06 score. Combine that with a world-record 78.5 in Tuesday's short program, and you have a 228.56 total that's every bit as impressive as Usain Bolt running 100 meters in 9.58 seconds.

"I still can't believe the score I received," she said. "I'm really surprised. It's almost as close as the men's score."

Kim's performance softened the disappointment of the United States. For the first time since 1964, the U.S. didn't win a medal in this event. Teenagers Mirai Nagasu and Rachael Flatt finished fourth and seventh, respectively. Considering the tradition of American female figure skaters, the outcome will go down as a failure, but Flatt, 17, and Nagasu, 16, didn't fail. They both posted season-best scores Thursday. The trio of Kim, Asada and Rochette was simply in another league.

Rochette, the emotional favorite, turned in another incredible, heartfelt effort. She fulfilled the vision of her late mother, Therese Rochette.

"I feel proud and the result did not matter," Rochette said. "I'm happy to be on the podium. It was a lifetime project for me and my mom, and we achieved that."

But the night was about Queen Yu-na. She proved that she hadn't been prematurely anointed. She turned the pressure of an adoring nation into inspiration. She's the champion, of this event and of these Games.

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

It's a day that may never end. It will stand for a long time, frozen, like those men she hypnotized back home.

Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or jbrewer@seattletimes.com, Twitter: @Jerry_Brewer

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Jerry Brewer offers a unique perspective on the world of sports.
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