SEOUL (Reuters) - So used to commanding the spotlight, South Korean figure skating queen Kim Yuna steps past her Sochi-bound colleagues and coaches, fixes her hair and sits down centre stage, ready to face the media.
Informed she has taken a Korean Olympic Committee official’s seat by mistake, and her place is actually at the rear of the stage, the Vancouver Games gold medalist stifles an embarrassed smile and retreats to sit among her figure skating cohorts.
It might be the first time Kim has ever taken a back seat to anyone in South Korea.
With Wednesday marking the 100-day countdown to the start of the Sochi Games, the 23-year-old told reporters she was back skating and even doing jumps after taking time off to recover from a foot injury.
Kim, who blew away the competition in Vancouver to become the first South Korean to win an Olympic figure skating gold medal, said she was about “70 percent ready” and that she could return to competition in December.
“I don’t think the pain will be completely gone since I can’t stop training but it’s got a lot better,” she said at the national training centre.
“I can still do triple jumps but for competition I not only need to get my jumps ready I have to have be physically strong.”
Kim flirted with retirement after winning gold in Vancouver but has taken little time to recapture her best form since deciding to compete at one last Olympics.
After more than a year away from the sport, she capped her comeback season with a dominant victory at the world championships in March, where she scored 218.31 to take the title ahead of Italy’s Carolina Kostner and Japan’s Mao Asada.
“The Sochi Games is not only my second Olympics but the ‘retirement stage’ for me, so I want to have a greater experience than any other competition before,” she said.
“In the past, I had strong concepts for short programs and lyrical ones for the long. But this time it’s the other way around.
“I have a fast tempo for the long program this time, which requires more physical strength. I will have to modify it some before Sochi but my goal is to make it perfect before the Olympics.”
While Kim has been recuperating, Japan’s Asada, considered her main rival for gold in Sochi, has been fine-tuning her form and taking titles.
Runner-up to Kim in Vancouver, Asada won Skate America earlier this month in Detroit and scored more than 200 points despite making several mistakes and taking a tumble on her triple axel.
Kim said she expected all of her rivals to be delivering peak performances with Sochi on the horizon.
“I am not a judge so I am not in a position to judge Asada’s performance,” she said. “I think since the Olympics is around the corner, not only Asada but also other figure skaters are training hard.”
Representatives of South Korea’s formidable short track and speed skating teams were also present to talk about their chances in Sochi, including 2010 Olympic champions Mo Tae-bum and Lee Seung-hoon.
The Koreans won six gold, six silver and two bronze medals in Vancouver, and Kim’s figure skating medal was the only one not to come from short track or speed skating.
Korean Olympic Committee chief Kim Jung-haeng said it might be tough to replicate their fifth place finish on the medals table at the February 6-23 Sochi Games.
“Last time in Vancouver, Russia were behind us (in the medal standings) but this time they are the host country,” he added.
“And 12 more gold medals have been added in skiing, which we are not good at. So achieving our goal (of four golds and seventh ranking) will be difficult but our coaches and athletes are united as one and trying their best.”
Additional reporting by Narae Kim; Editing by John O'Brien