|Kim Yu-na (Yonhap News)|
Figure skating star Kim Yu-na enjoyed a landslide victory to defend her South Korean national championship on Sunday, thanks to a near-perfect free skate that further bolstered her chance of an Olympic title defense at the Sochi Winter Games.
At Goyang Oulimnuri Ice Rink at Gyeonggi Province, northwest of Seoul, Kim scored 147.26 points in free skate for a total score of 227.86 points, nearly 50 points better than runner-up Park So-youn.
On Saturday, Kim Yu-na earned 80.60 points in the short program to build a 22.12-point lead over Kim Hae-jin.
This was the final competitive appearance at home for Kim Yu-na, the reigning Olympic gold medalist and two-time world champion. It was also her last prep event before the Sochi Winter Olympics next month in Russia.
The 23-year-old has already said she will retire after Sochi, where she will aim to become only the third woman to successfully defend Olympic figure skating gold.
Performing to a tango piece titled "Adios Nonino," Kim opened her free skate with a perfect triple lutz-triple toe loop combination. In winning a minor event in Croatia last month, Kim failed to land the opening triple lutz, an uncharacteristic mistake for a skater known for textbook jumps.
Kim went on to nail one jump after another, demonstrating unparalleled height and precision, and executed complicated steps set to the shifting rhythm of the tango music.
After a more successful triple lutz, a double axel-double toe loop combination and a triple salchow, Kim appeared destined for another flawless program. Kim, however, under-rotated her last double axel late in the routine for the only blemish of her day.
Kim's short program score was the highest mark of Kim's illustrious career, but it won't be recognized by the International Skating Union (ISU) because it occurred at a domestic event.
Kim owns the official world record in all three categories under the current judging scale: 78.50 points in the short program,
150.06 points in free skate and 228.56 points in total. All were set in her Olympic gold medal-winning performance in Vancouver four years ago.
Kim suffered a foot injury in September last year, which brought her Olympic prep to an unexpected halt and forced her two sit out two ISU Grand Prix events in October and November. She returned to win a minor event in Croatia in December but made some rare mistakes on jumps and fell short of earning the maximum points on spins and steps in her free skate.
Her performance at home on the weekend, however, should erase lingering doubts about her form and conditioning.
Kim's resounding win comes on the heels of a mediocre showing by her main rival, Mao Asada of Japan, at the Japanese national championships last month.
Asada, who took silver behind Kim in Vancouver, finished third in Japan after a mistake-laden free skate, failing to win her third straight national title.
Asada's success hinges heavily on the triple axel, considered the most challenging jump element for female skaters that requires three and a half rotations with a forward takeoff.
She has yet to execute the jump cleanly this season, either under-rotating it in the air or falling on her landing. If Asada can somehow perfect the high-risk, high-reward jump in time for Sochi, though, it would set up another epic duel between the two rivals for the Olympic title.
At the South Korean event, Park So-youn, a 17-year-old set to make her Olympic debut next month, bounced back from a disappointing short program to score 125.86 points in the free skate and finish second overall at 178.17 points. Fellow Olympic debutante, Kim Hae-jin, slipped from second after the short program to third place after a mistake-filled free skate gave her only 101.27 points, for a total of 159.75 points. (Yonhap News)