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Kim Yuna back under media spotlight for “faultless” performance in Sochi

South Korean figure skater Kim Yu-na is attracting the media spotlight worldwide after a “superb” short program in the ladies’ singles competition on Wednesday, as she defends the Olympic crown at the Sochi Winter Games. 

The 23-year-old gold medalist has taken the lead with a score of 74.92 going into Thursday’s medal-deciding free program, followed by Russia’s Adelina Sotnikova with 74.64 and Italy’s Carolina Kostner with 74.12. 

Performing to a musical score titled “Send in the Clowns,” Kim landed the last of a full package of jumps -- triple Lutz-triple toe loop-triple flip-double Axel -- before finishing with arms stretched to the applause of an appreciative audience.

Foreign media outlets are singing her praises over the dazzling performance.

Reuters reported that Kim floated through “soaring jumps” and “exquisite footwork” with “effortless grace,” serving notice that she is determined to defend her Olympic gold medal. The British news agency also viewed Kim’s performance as sending a clear warning to any skater with aspirations of replacing her as Olympic champion that she is up for a fight.

The host nation’s RG.RU hailed her as a “champion,” saying her skating was excellent.

“Every move was timed perfectly to the music in a flowing performance,” the Associated Press said, with the U.S. daily the Washington Times noting, “No jump seemed beyond Kim’s reach; there were no errant takeoffs, no shaky landings to put the audience on edge.”

U.S. newspaper Chicago Tribune touted the gold medal favorite as “skating’s international woman of mystery” and “the best female skater in the world.”

As Yahoo Sports sees, Wednesday was all about Kim, who it called one of the greatest skaters of all time, reasserting herself. Her performance was “almost impossible to match,” even after she took two years off from competition between the Vancouver Games and now. 

Foreign news reports also took keen interest in the close scores of Kim, Sotnikova and Kostner amid mounting speculation over “home-cooked judging” that was “generous” to Russian skaters.

The Chicago Tribune labeled Sotnikova an “appreciative recipient” of some favorable judging that provided her the highest technical score of the night.

“How in the world Sotnikova ended up ahead of Kostner, whose poise and lyricism is light years ahead of the Russian’s, is anyone’s guess,” USA Today reported through an article. The U.S. daily also admitted that the Russian skater received “generous scores” to nestle into second place behind Kim.

Judges may want a “battle” for the Olympic gold this time around.

Reuters pointed out that the judges left the door open for rivals to close the gap on the second day of competition despite Kim’s seemingly faultless short program.

The expected battle between reigning Kim and 15-year-old Russian sensation Julia Lipnitskaia never materialized after the Russian skater fell to the ice on her triple flip. Instead, 17-year-old Sotnikova filled the vacuum left by her teammate, which Russian R-Sports said is enough for a shot at gold in Thursday’s free program.

Italy’s Kostner, 27, a five-time European champion also delivered a “stirring performance,” emerging as a strong rival for Kim.

Another gold hopeful Mao Asada of Japan, Vancouver silver medalist, set her sights set on besting Kim but finished 16th after major mistakes, two on the triple axel that has been her trademark but also “her curse.”

“She repeated unbelievable mistakes,” Nikkan Sports said, with Sports Nippon calling the result “disastrous.” 

In what will be Kim’s final Olympics, she is on course to join Sonja Henie and Katrina Witt, who are the only women so far to defend an Olympic figure skating title.

Kim will be the last skater to take the ice in the free skate on Thursday. The top 24 skaters after the short program will be paired into four groups of six.

Sotnikova will perform as the 21st skater, and Kostner will take the ice right before the Russian.

By Ock Hyun-ju, Intern reporter (