|Illustration by Park Gee-young|
If there were a Purple Heart medal for athletes, figure skating Olympic gold medalist Kim Yu-na would surely receive one.
This is not only due to her contribution to the sport, but also the scars she has accumulated over the years.
“The ‘fitness age’ of her right foot -- the foot she finishes her jumps with -- is in its 40s,” Na Young-moo, the head of Sports Orthopedics Rehabilitation for Life Hospital and also Kim’s physician for the past four years, told the local press last week.
Having to repeatedly jump in a counterclockwise direction and land on her right foot over the last 18 years caused Kim’s spine to slant about 10 degrees leftward by the time she was 20. Currently, she’s not able to stand straight and appears to always lean slightly to the left.
Furthermore, starting first with her foot, then her ankles, knees and hip joints, Kim’s body has been forced to realign to her crooked spine.
The injuries have affected the figure skating champion’s life in terms of footwear as well, as Kim finds it painful to wear heels due to the ache in her right foot. Her physician believes it will take years of post-retirement recovery before she can comfortably wear such shoes.
Although these sorts of injuries are somewhat inevitable and considered an “occupational hazard” for athletes, rarely do those in their early 20s suffer such a physical toll, according to Na.
He explains that it is even more uncommon for a young athlete to cope with the injuries and adhere to strict discipline to overcome them as well as Kim has.
Known for making quick and strong-willed decisions when needed, Kim has accepted painful treatments -- platelet-rich plasma injections -- that even men are reluctant to receive.
In September last year, the Olympic champion suffered a microfracture in her right foot and could not compete in the ISU Grand Prix.
In December, however, she put on a remarkable performance at the Golden Spin of Zagreb in Croatia, finishing first with a combined 204.49 points.
Currently, she is about 90 percent recovered but must still receive regular treatment.
With only a few days left until the competition, which will be Kim’s final act as a competitive skater, her war against the injuries is almost over.
If she claims gold in Sochi, she will have become only the third woman to win consecutive figure skating gold medals at the Winter Games after Germany’s Katarina Witt and Norway’s Sonja Henie.
Once she retires, it will be a new beginning for Kim.
The figure skating legend has revealed her dream of a career in sports diplomacy, already serving as an honorary ambassador for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.
She also plans to pursue becoming a member of the International Olympic Committee. Currently, Korea has only two members -- Samsung chairman Lee Kun-hee and former Olympic taekwondo champion Moon Dae-sung.
For now, Olympic medal or not, the Korean public is awaiting the figure skater’s safe return. Upon her return, she will be greeted with the warm welcome that a hero deserves.
By Kim Joo-hyun (email@example.com)