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An in-depth interview with <b>Yuna</b> published by Monthly Chosun

Posted: 16 May 2014 04:33 AM PDT

It was a tough interview. With someone who has been skating for 18 years, and just ended her amateur career, the interview was difficult even before it began. It wasn't just that the person interviewed was already so well known; It's also that reporter(interviewer) and Yuna are more than mere interviewer and interviewee.

Before working for <Chosun Monthly>, the interviewer worked as Yuna's manager from late 2008 to right after 2010 olympics. The job was mainly looking after Yuna in her training at Toronto. This interview offers glimpses of Yuna's own story, as well as one from her former manager's point of view.

Retired, but still training

Even before Sochi Olympics, the interviewer received many requests directly and indirectly to offer insight to Yuna's everyday life. She was looking to be the first from Korea and third in history to attain the "Back to Back Champion" title. In fear of affecting such endeavor, the reporter abstained from writing about Yuna till this day. It would be the first comprehensive interview she has given to the press.

We met Yuna at her office in Seoul, and even from the first glance she looked very thin. Leading up to Sochi, she continued to say that constant loss of weight has been a worry for her.

"At Vancouver, I had to plan my diet and such to control weight. But for Sochi, I just kept losing weight. I didn't even have too much appetite, so eating itself was really done mandatorily. I always thought "I have to eat this to train." Even one incomplete meal led straight to weight loss. Just to keep stamina up I had to eat out of duty, and it even became stressful once in a while."

-Now I can really feel that I'm not a "skater"(professional, or amateur really…) anymore.

"Because usually, at this time of the year, I am thinking "Yes! The season's over!" yet at the same time I am worrying about the following season. But now I don't have that and I fully realize that I am retired. When I was training for a competition, even if my first training session of the day goes well, I had pressure to do my second session well. But now that I'm out of the competition, I don't have such pressure any more."

Braced herself for a lower-than-expected score before Sochi

Even while she talked of her continuing training, she seemed very happy. It was as if she has begun to enjoy the life after retirement. Wouldn't she have any sentiments left for the Sochi games, would the result still be on her mind, and this was her answer.

"Just before Sochi, I performed many clean programs during practice. I was confident that if I don't choke, I would be able to pull of a clean program at the competition. All things aside, I skated clean thankfully as I thought, and the results are up to the judges.

I mean, I've been to so many competitions, and there have been quite some times when my score wasn't high as I had expected. Of course I shouldn't be the one to say that I had expected correctly though. I always enter a competition with the thought that there is always a possibility of a score that I can't quite understand or accept.

It was the same for the Winter Games this year. So I did a lot of imagining of an unexpected score coming out. So it wasn't even shocking. I already knew before my turn in free skate that other skaters had received high scores, so I guess that's why I didn't look so surprised at the Kiss&Cry.

It's not as if such reaction was planned. It's just that up to the Olympics, I wasn't thinking "I have to win." I was thinking more along the lines of ending things well, and I just thought that I would feel so free after this competition."

-You were spotted crying in the mix zone after Kiss&Cry.

"Tears just came out after the first interview in the mix zone. I was about to answer and they just came streaming down. They weren't tears of anger or resentment; I was about to say that I was happy that things came to a close. All this time, it was so hard with lack of motivation and stuff.

To be truthful, the two seasons leading to the Olympics were the toughest time as a skater. I felt each moment how hard it is to be without a goal. After the conference about coming back to competition, and getting back to training, I just couldn't get myself motivated. It was demanding both physically and mentally.

-How did you overcome such times?

"Well, it wasn't a matter of overcoming really. I don't really think you can. I think you can only rely on time to solve it. It was so tough but it was a fact that I couldn't quit… I just thought accepting the situation as it is and getting myself together was what I could do. I already said I'd go to Sochi, and you can't nullify your previous statement just due to lack of motivation. When I really didn't feel like training, I rested. I know now that training on such days isn't any better than not. And while resting I could get my thoughts together too. I got myself together by accepting the fact that I'm going through tough time when I was. And all the while I always thought to myself: that I was a person who takes responsibility for the work that I'd been given."

After the Olympics, there have been statements that Yuna may have won with one more triple jump. It was saying that Yuna's technical score was lower than Sotnikova's due to lack of a jump. I asked Yuna what she thought of such speculation. Her answer was very definite.

"The results came out and also did many opinions and analysis. But it's not as if I can go back and do another triple. It's all done and past. There is nothing I can do. I don't worry about it any more."

"one in a hundred years" (phrase like one in a million)


Working as her manager, the reporter had met many sports marketing experts. They all observed that Yuna was someone that may come once every hundred years in Korean sports history. An athlete with top notch caliber with star quality that doesn't come second to teenage idol stars; such sentiments were shared by foreign marketers as well.

Because of this, many people around Yuna experienced many "firsts." The marketing scene had to learn how to utilize an active athlete who receives such spotlight in marketing. They all silently agreed that such marketing would have to be done on a level that wouldn't jeopardize her performance.

Before Vancouver Olympics, the entire commercial crew had to fly all the way over to Toronto for shooting. 
It was the same for the press. The Korean press was lost in front of a person who was racking up so much interest from the public, yet had so little time for interviews. As Vancouver Olympics approached, even foreign press had to express their hurry.

Because she had so many interview requests, "Media Week" was held in Toronto. NBC, NYT, NHK, CBC, along with countless Korean media went over to Toronto during the week.

People who made YUNA

How could Yuna become "one in a hundred years" athlete? With the innate talent and perfect body for figure skating set aside, we could think of the environment that was provided to her to focus solely on skating.

As is well known already, her mother Mee Hee Park has had a great part in such environment. Yuna spoke of her mother as such:

"On some occasions I have said that it was tough because of her and such, but now I can understand her. So when I see young skaters arguing with their mothers, I can sort of understand both sides, not just the skaters'.

Mrs. Park's efforts were greater than is publicized. She was famous even in Toronto for her efforts. The best seat that overlooks the rink was always hers, and the local skaters' parents even called the seat "Yuna's camp."

Coaches can never be overlooked either. Yuna says that she "was able to meet the right coaches at the right time."

"I have had 8 coaches thus far including Mr. Ryu who suggested competing. After Mr.Ryu, I learned all the triple jumps from Mrs. Shin. Now I ended my career with the two of them by my side. Maybe it was because they had seen me since I was really little, but the whole training process was very comfortable. Peace of mind should I say?

Even if a skater has abundance of talent, without a supervisor it's hard for her to grow. Because Mr.Ryu and Mrs. Shin could point out my errors, I could rely on them on my way to Sochi. Some people wonder whether I need a coach when I had already won gold at Vancouver, but skating changes everyday with you daily condition, so you need someone to look after you technically and mentally. Now that I ended my career with those coaches from childhood, it really does make me sentimental a bit."

With a bit of exaggeration, the troubles that arose in Yuna's career and Yuna's efforts to overcome them could be compared to "optimistic asphalt covering all the breaks and fissures on the road." Yuna has said that "Secret" was one of the memorable books that she had read and the book pretty much conveys the same message.

Though many call Yuna "Daeinbae"[Dane-Bæ], there are also anecdotes where people say "I saw Yuna at an autographing event, but she looked disinterested" or "she refused to sign an autograph for me." The question that the reporter received most frequently was also "How's Yuna's character?" I asked her how she felt about such questions and thoughts.

"When I don't have a certain facial expression, I guess I look sort of disinterested or angry even… Maybe it's because I don't have double eyelids, I don't know. When I don't really have any expression, I get asked if I'm angry or sullen. But I'm really not….

Yeah I mean I heard so many gossip rumors. Once I heard that a flight attendant saw me fighting and cussing with my mom. It was ridiculous; once I'm on a plane I don't even talk that much. I just think there are people who do such things on purpose."

The reporter experienced first handed such rumors going around as if they were true. When Yuna was training in Toronto, rumor spread that she was dating Jang Geun Suk (Korean actor). It simply wasn't true.

"Lee Sang Hwa (Korean speed skater, whose boyfriend is also a hockey player) didn't introduce me to my boyfriend"

-There are also some negative comments regarding commercial appearances.
"Yeah I know, but I don't read them these days. It doesn't do you any good you know… I don't really know my net income. I don't even get allowances. I think I'll take some more interest from now on. (laugh)"

-It was recently revealed that you were dating, and people wonder what a person like you look for in a man?

"You have to look at everything. As for rumors going around about my boyfriend, though they're very far from the truth, you just have to accept it. But as for the rumor that Lee Sang Hwa introduced us to each other is false. Marriage? I don't know, I never thought about whether I want to marry early or not."

18 years as a skater and now Yuna is 25 (Korean age). Does she have any regrets? No was her immediate and definite answer.

"I mean I experienced everything I could. Results and everything. I sort of got to the bottom of it all to have any regrets. 2 olympics, regrets, sentiments yet unsolved, I don't have any of that. Ice rink was school for me, and I had good result there. I haven't lived too long, but it was satisfactory."

-Many people are interested in your future plans.

"I've been thinking, but it's been hard to decide. What to do, where to work, I just don't know. It hasn't been too long since the Olympics ended, and I've just been running headlong for 18 years.

I know I'm in the spotlight right now, and the decision is that much harder because of that. I just feel my choices are limited."

As of right now, I want to help upcoming skaters. Now that they are getting some good results, I want to help them reap better ones. Figure skating is what I like the most and it's also what I'm best at. It just doesn't feel right to lay it all aside; I want to help young skaters. Even before this Olympics, I had so much I wanted to tell them. But since I'm not a coach, I just told them don't be nervous and such as is usual for a senior athlete."

At Sochi, Park So Youn, Kim Hae Jin, Kim Jin Seo competed alongside Yuna. They are all expected to be the face of Korean figure skating at Pyeonchang games in 2018. Park So Youn finished 9th in the world championship right after Sochi.

-There have been speculations of running for IOC athlete commissioner

After successful bidding for 2018 Olympics, there have been talks about future involvement with Sports diplomacy. But I think I was too young then to think about such things. Now I have all the prerequisites for running, but I don't know yet. It's not as if you automatically get the job just because you want it, and because the next Olympic games is summer Olympics, it may be more advantageous for a summer Olympian.

-Looking back who are you grateful to?

All the coaches and so many people who have helped. And also all the fans who cheered me on. There were many fans who would buy tickets to competitions abroad, and that's really not an easy thing to do. I am most thankful for those fans who were always close by, but always cheering me on from a step away. Many things have happened throughout my career, and I really want to thank those fans who always believed in me and loved me for what I am."

Yuna Kim truly looked free during the interview. It was an attitude without a single trace of regret, one that can only be taken on by a person who has tried her best through and through.

I sat down in front of her with the title "comprehensive interview" on my hands. But there are many questions I couldn't quite ask and stories that she could not quite answer.

Though a public figure, there are much personal life and thoughts within Yuna. I couldn't ask her to recall every single moment of the 18 years of her career and interpret them. She has shown her everything to make the public cry and smile. At 25 years old, we cannot ask her to reveal what would give her the motivation to live the rest of her life.

Translated by JT Brooks of Golden Yuna Facebook Group

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