SEOUL, Jan. 13 (Yonhap) -- Eleven years ago in South Korea, a cute young boy caught the eyes of TV viewers in a number of commercials. The young commercial star has now grown up to be a rising figure skating sensation, ready to showcase his talent at his first Winter Olympic Games.
Cha Jun-hwan, 16, has been familiar to figure skating fans since he appeared in a local TV show for young hidden talents in the sport in 2011.
Cha Jun-hwan appears in a TV commercial in 2007. (Yonhap)
He wasn't just a cute little boy, but a young talent with great potential. He completed five triple salchows, toe loops, loops, flips and lutzes while still in elementary school, earning him a media spotlight as a prodigy who could threaten older athletes like Lee June-hyoung and Kim Jin-seo.
It didn't take long for Cha to make his presence felt on the international stage.
He started the 2015-2016 season with a gold medal in the men's junior singles at the Autumn Classic International held in Canada and grabbed the national title with a record-high score of 220.4 in December.
The next season, his quadruple salchow brought him two titles at International Skating Union (ISU) Junior Grand Prix competitions, and he became the first South Korean man to reach the podium at the Junior Grand Prix Final. He was also the first South Korean figure skater to claim a medal at the competition since Olympic champion Kim Yu-na won the first of her three titles 10 years earlier.
South Korea's figure skater Cha Jun-hwan performs his short program at the Korea Figure Skating Championships at Mokdong Ice Rink in Seoul on Jan. 6, 2018. (Yonhap)
As Cha's performances remind South Korean fans of Kim's splendid accomplishments, the 16-year old skater is attracting high expectations for the 2018 Winter Olympics, which will be held in PyeongChang from Feb. 9 to 25.
His Canadian coach, Brian Oser, who was with Kim at Vancouver in 2010, had expected Cha would grab a medal at his first Olympics.
But in the 2017-2018 season running up to PyeongChang, his senior results failed to meet the expectations due to hip and ankle injuries. He made his senior debut at the ISU Senior Grand Prix in Canada held in November, but finished ninth.
At the final leg of the national Olympic trials earlier this month, he made a game-changing decision to snatch the only available Olympic spot in the men's singles.
He went back to his free skate routine from last season, which is less risky than his new one, and beat his rival Lee June-hyoung by only 2.13 points to become the first South Korean male figure skater in 16 years to compete in the Olympics.
He said he will go the safer route with one quadruple salchow jump in each of the short and free programs at the Olympics. He added he will consider a quadruple toe loop once in the free program if he is in good condition.
"I will try to form my programs as best as I can and give a clean performance," said Cha.