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S. Korean figure skater Kim Yu-na eyes 2nd world title in Moscow
By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, April 20 (Yonhap) -- South Korean figure skater Kim Yu-na will go for her second world title next week in Moscow, the new venue for the rescheduled World Figure Skating Championships.

   The International Skating Union (ISU) will run the season's final competition from April 24-May 1. The event had been scheduled for March 20-27 in Tokyo, but was postponed after a devastating earthquake hit Japan earlier in March.

   Kim will leave for Moscow on Friday. This will be her first competitive event since last year's world championships in Torino, Italy.

   Ladies' figure skating will be the marquee event. The short program is set to start at 6:30 p.m. (Seoul time) on April 29, and free skating will begin at 6:30 p.m. the following day. These are the final two days of competition since only gala exhibitions will be held on May 1.

   Kim, the 2009 world champion and 2010 Olympic gold medalist, will perform her short program to the ballet "Giselle" and her free skating to "Homage to Korea," a compilation of traditional Korean music.

   The 20-year-old had earlier been set to begin her official practice in the Japanese capital on March 20. Following the earthquake, Kim instead returned to Seoul that day from her training camp in Los Angeles and has been training here since with coach Peter Oppegard.

   Kim said she will try not to be affected by the scheduling change.

   "There have been changes to the timetable, but I will just keep training the way I have all along," she said during an open practice session here in Seoul late last month. "In the U.S., I put myself in perfect shape for March in Tokyo. I will work hard to regain that form."

   Bang Sang-ah, a figure skating analyst with SBS, said the month-long delay could be a blessing in disguise for Kim.

   "I think Kim earned an extra month to regroup herself," said Bang, a former national team figure skater. "Others have been competing all season long, and this is the time of the year when their conditioning level drops. But Yu-na has had her sights on the worlds all year long (without other events)."

   Bang said Kim has developed "an aura of a champion" after winning the Olympic gold and she can intimidate others just by taking the ice for practice.

   "She has become more mature since becoming the Olympic champion," Bang said. "We can't ask for perfection, but she's experienced enough to overcome one or two minor miscues."

   Kim had earlier said she felt she was close to the form that helped her win the gold at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, where she set world records in the short program (78.50), free skating (150.06) and total points (228.56).

   A recent trend in figure skating judging could help Kim threaten her own records.

   Koh Sung-hee, a director of figure skating competition at the Korea Skating Union, said judges this season have been more generous with their additional points, known as "grade of execution," or GOE.

   "The ISU has recently encouraged judges to give high points for good performances, whereas in the past, judges were busy reducing points for poor execution," said Koh, a certified ISU judge. "This could work in favor of Yu-na because she's a very strong jumper. The ISU wants to separate the good from the average and encourage skaters to have better performances."

   Koh said it will also help Kim that no one seriously threw down the gauntlet during her absence. None of the female winners of the six ISU Grand Prix events last winter reached 180 points, and three of the winning totals were in the 160s, a dismal score considering Kim's world record in free skating alone is 150.06.

   "This has made people wait for Yu-na even more," Koh said. "Some have said they're waiting for a true champion."

   Mao Asada of Japan, the defending world champion, should once again be the main competition for Kim. Asada won the world titles in 2008 and 2010, sandwiching Kim's lone title in 2009. The Japanese star was a distant second to Kim in Vancouver.

   This will be the fifth straight meeting between the two at the world championships.

   Other contenders include Japan's Miki Ando, the 2007 world champion, and Alissa Czisny of the U.S., the reigning Grand Prix Final champion.