It's rare that something other than the Big Four Nationals gets its own analysis post. And you'd think that maybe it would be something out of France or Germany or may be even Great Britain, since they have had a long history of solid skating. But nope, this analysis looks at South Korea - and in particular, the female skaters who are starting to come out of that country right now. And where do the comparisons with Russia come in? Let's take a look.
The Yuna Effect
South Korean figure skating is relatively new - its first Nationals were held in 1996*, with all of one skater competing (at least according to Wikipedia, which seems to be the most comprehensive source of Korean Nationals history there is). Yuna Kim appeared just seven years later, and her subsequent influence on figure skating in South Korea is undeniable. She single-handedly took a program that was just starting to crawl and got it to start sprinting. The rise was incredible, and Korea has been looking for the next Yuna since she won in Vancouver, and she didn't even retire until four years after that.
*A reader noted that Korean Nationals have been happening for 70 years.
To be sure, there is always a lag between the appearance of an athlete of this kind of transcendence and the throngs of kids who idolize her to mature into athletes themselves. There was a first-ish wave, which included skaters like So Youn Park and Hae Jin Kim, the two who have looked to have the most potential in that cohort. Between Park and the two Kims, they've dominated Korean Nationals, winning the last six between 2010 and 2015. But times are changing.
Rewind seven years to Russia
Park, last year's national champ, finished a distant fifth this year. Three-time champ Hae Jin Kim, who has seen her confidence and consistency decline in the past few years, was all of 17th this year. Who's replaced them at the top? An 11-year old named Young You.
You landed seven triples, including a triple lutz-triple toe, in the free skate to win her first National title. Does this kind of incredible rise remind you of anyone else recently? Reigning Olympic champion Adelina Sotnikova won her first Nationals in 2009 at 12 years of age. Now, I know I'm entering dangerous territory when I talk about Korean figure skating and Sotnikova in the same post, but this isn't about her Olympic win, this is about her first Russian title.
But the similarities between 2016 Korean Nationals and 2009 Russian Nationals don't end there. Joining Sotnikova in the top six were Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (2nd, 12), Polina Shelepen (6th, 13), and Nina Petushkova (4th, 16). It was a barrage of skaters in their early teens in Kazan, Russia, seven years ago; and it was a barrage of skaters in their early teens in Seoul, South Korea, over the weekend.
Behind 11-year old You was 15-year old Da Bin Choi (16 in just over a week), who was sixth at Junior Worlds two years ago. Third and fourth went to Eun Soo Lim and Ye Lim Kim, both of whom are 12.
Just as Russia was in the middle of trying fill the void left by the retirement of Irina Slutskaya three years before, South Korea has lacked a star since Yuna Kim's retirement two years ago. And if the recent years of Russian ladies skating is a premonition of things to come in Korea, there could be a new era of incredible ladies coming out of the South Korean program in the next decade.
Probabilities, of course
Of course, there are no guarantees here. You, Lim, and Kim are all going to face obstacles in the next few years. Besides the fact that none of them will be age-eligible for the 2018 Olympics, which means they will need to find longevity. And longevity in ladies skating means 1) getting past puberty with all the difficult jumps intact, and 2) not burning out from overtraining and, of course, overbearing expectations. After her win, You is already starting to get her share of expectations.
It will sure be fun to see their growth in the next few years. Watch out, world.
One more thing
Junior ladies champion Yun Kyung Kam? She's got a triple lutz-triple toe too. And she's in fifth grade.