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Free of stress, figure skater Kim Yu-na believes hard work will pay off
By Yoo Jee-ho
INCHEON, Dec. 5 (Yonhap) -- Having freed herself from a burden of expectations, South Korean figure skater Kim Yu-na said Wednesday she thinks her hard work will pay off at her long-awaited season debut this weekend in Germany.

   Kim will compete at the NRW Trophy in Dortmund, Germany, with the short program scheduled for Saturday, followed by free skating on Sunday. This will be the first appearance of the season for the 2010 Olympic champion. Her last competitive event was the 2011 world championships in Moscow in April of last year.

   Speaking to reporters before flying out of Incheon International Airport, Kim said she thinks she has put in enough work to be successful in Germany.


"This is my first competition in a long time, and I am concerned and excited at the same time," said Kim, who also has a 2009 world championship to her credit. "I've put in a lot of hours to improve my conditioning and techniques. I will bear down extra hard for the competition."

   After sitting out the entire 2011-12 season while mulling over her future, Kim, 22, announced in July this year that she would return to competitive skating in 2012, with an eye on the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

   Then in October, Kim reunited with two of her childhood coaches, Shin Hye-sook and Ryu Jong-hyun, and parted ways with Peter Oppegard, her American coach of two years.

   Since she has missed recent major events, such as the International Skating Union (ISU) Grand Prix stops last year and this year, and the 2012 world championships, Kim has to earn enough technical points to qualify for the 2013 worlds in London, Canada.

   The NRW Trophy is a minor competition for skaters needing to score points for world championships. To book a spot in the world championships, Kim needs to earn at least 28 points from her technical element score (TES) in the short program, and at least 48 points from the TES in free skating.

   Kim said she is confident she will earn those points, and added adopting a new outlook on the ice has helped her grow more relaxed.

   "When I first decided to return, I was worried if I could pull it off," she said. "I tried to lower my expectations and to enjoy myself more on the ice. That ended up helping me physically, and I was able to stay focused even when the training became really difficult."

   In announcing her comeback in July, Kim had admitted she needed to improve her conditioning following an extended layoff. On Wednesday, she said, "(I can) easily complete my programs without major problems."

   That doesn't mean the process has been easy, Kim added.

   "Physically, the most difficult part of the buildup to this event has been getting my strength back," she said. "I basically had to start from scratch, but I was able to overcome that because I was more relaxed than before. I enjoyed myself more than I had in the past."

   Kim will skate her short program to "The Kiss of the Vampire," from the original soundtrack for the film of the same name from 1963. Her free skate will be performed to a compilation of songs from "Les Miserables," a musical based on the classic novel by Victor Hugo. Despite her coaching changes, Kim remains with her Canadian choreographer, David Wilson.

   In Kim's absence this season, no female skater has emerged as a serious threat to the South Korean. In six Grand Prix events, Ashley Wagner of the U.S. was the only skater to score more than 190 points in total. In her previous seasons, Kim routinely topped 190 points and surpassed 200 points three times.

   Kim holds world records in the short program (78.50), free skate (150.06) and in combined points (228.56). All marks were established at the Vancouver Winter Games.

   One of South Korea's most recognizable athletes, Kim has never finished off the podium in her entire senior career that began in 2006.