Figure skating: South Korea hails new Singapore-raised skating prodigy

Eleven-year-old You Young became South Korea's youngest-ever national champion in figure skating.
Eleven-year-old You Young became South Korea's youngest-ever national champion in figure skating.PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM YOUTUBE

(AFP) - South Korea on Monday hailed the emergence of a new figure-skating prodigy, after she became the youngest-ever national champion at just 11 years of age - one year earlier than her heroine Kim Yu Na.

You Young, a tiny figure at just 1.43m, stood head and shoulders above the competition at Sunday's event with a flawless performance of athletic jumps and blurred spins.

"Figure skating genius," was the verdict of the JoongAng Ilbo newspaper, while the biggest circulation daily, Chosun Ilbo, predicted that she could "rewrite the history of South Korean figure skating".

That history is currently dominated by Kim, the former Olympic and double world champion who was on hand to witness You's performance.

"She is even better than I was," said Kim, who won her first national championship at the age of 12 and remains one of South Korea's most admired sports personalities following her retirement after the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. "I think her skills will improve further if she takes care and avoids injuries."

Young was first inspired to lace up her skates after watching Kim's gold-medal winning routine at the 2010 Vancouver Games - a performance she recorded and re-watched dozens of times a day.

But she first cut her teeth in Singapore, where she was raised. She trained under various coaches when she was here and competed in the Singapore national championships from 2011 to 2013.

Sonja Chong, president of the Singapore Ice Skating Association: "She was a guest skater at our Singapore National Figure Skating Championships and won her respective division. She was a promising skater who showed talent."

Young returned to South Korea with her mother three years ago and trains eight hours a day. "She is very young, but she has learnt how to overcome difficulties on her own," her mother said.

Young is currently trying to master the triple axel, the highest-value triple jump which only a handful of women skaters have landed in international competition.

"I practised the triple axel ahead of this season but it lacked perfection," she said. "I'm planning to give it another try after this season."

Despite winning the national championship, she will not be eligible to compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, because of the 15-year minimum age bar which even her youthful jumps cannot overcome.

Additional reporting byMay Chen