Golden crown for the 'Queen'

Kim Yu-na’s free-skate performance helps her earn a world record 228.56 points, breaking her old mark by 18-plus.

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Kim Yu-na’s free-skate performance helps her earn a world record 228.56 points, breaking her old mark by 18-plus.

VANCOUVER — Kim Yu-na put one hand to her mouth and let the tears flow.

All that pressure, so many expectations. The "Queen" took it all on and delivered royally.

The South Korean won the gold medal Thursday night in women's figure skating, soaring to a world-record 228.56 points and shattering her previous mark by more than 18 points.

The 19-year-old did it with what might go down as one of the greatest performances in figure skating history, and it was sure to set off wild celebrations from Seoul to Pyongchang. It's South Korea's first medal in the Winter Olympics in a sport other than speed skating.

Even Kim seemed to be dazzled by the show she put on, gasping when she saw the score. Coach Brian Orser, a two-time silver medalist, gave a Rocky-like victory pump, shaking his clasped fists over each shoulder.

Longtime rival Mao Asada of Japan won the silver medal, but it was no contest, even with Asada landing both her triple Axels, one in combination with a double toe loop.

Joannie Rochette, skating four days after the sudden death of her mother, won the bronze, giving Canada its first women's figure skating medal since Liz Manley's silver in 1988 when the Games were in Calgary.

The Americans are going home without at least one medal for only the second time since 1952. The other time was 1964, three years after a plane crash killed the entire U.S. team on its way to the world championships.

Mirai Nagasu was fourth. U.S. champion Rachael Flatt dropped to seventh.

Kim came in bearing almost incomprehensible pressure. Not only was the reigning world champ the biggest favorite since Katarina Witt in 1988 — she has lost just one competition over the past two seasons — she carried the weight of a nation on her slim shoulders.

The most popular athlete in South Korea, she has been dubbed "Queen Yu-na" — check out the sparkly crowns that twinkle in her ears — and she needs bodyguards whenever she returns home from her training base in Toronto. Anything she does creates a frenzy, and even a simple practice draws a rinkful of photographers.

Kim seemed to shrug it all off earlier this week, saying after the short program Tuesday that it felt like any other competition. But it was clear Thursday that it meant so much more.

There were no flaws in her performance, from her skating to her expressions to her cobalt blue dress. While other skaters slow as they approach their jumps to steady themselves, she hurtles into them at full speed, yet touches down softly. Her connecting steps are artful, and her blade-edge quality is so fine there is not even the slightest hint of a harsh scrape as she moves on the ice.

Golden crown for the 'Queen' 02/25/10 [Last modified: Friday, February 26, 2010 12:30am]

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