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Global Connections

Kim Yuna: South Korea's queen of ice

By Susannah Palk for CNN
  • Kim Yuna began figure skating at the age of five and has won all of the sport's major titles
  • She won South Korea's first Olympic medal in figure skating at the Winter Games in Vancouver earlier this year
  • Now training in Los Angeles, she is one of South Korea's most famous athletes
  • This year TIME magazine listed her as one of the 100 most influential people in the world

South Korea is one of the countries we're featuring this week on Global Connections, a segment on CNN's Connect the World that takes very different countries and asks you to find the connections.

(CNN) -- She's one of South Korea's biggest stars -- with sellout shows, legions of devoted fans and a plethora of advertising deals.

But Kim Yuna, who clinched the country's first Olympic medal in figure skating at the Winter Games in Vancouver earlier this year, isn't your average celebrity.

The 20-year-old, also known as "Queen Yuna," is a national hero in South Korea, is ranked No. 1 by the International Skating Union (ISU) and was named by TIME magazine as one of the 100 most influential people of 2010.

Born in Bucheon, South Korea, Kim was on the ice at the age of five. It was a difficult climb to the top, with Kim having to move to Toronto at the age of 16 in order to pursue her Olympic ambitions.

In the past, the word 'figure skating' automatically conjured up the image of ice ballet or even speed skating. In the worst case, people had no idea what it was.
--Kim Yuna, Olympic figure skating champion

But her work paid off at the Vancouver Olympics, where she scored a record 228.56 points to win gold in women's figure skating. The highest score since the ISU judging system began, she beat her own world record and eclipsed her closest rival, Mao Asada of Japan, by a massive 23.06 points.

Now having won every "grand slam" title figure skating has to offer, including the World Grand Prix Final, Four Continents Championships and World Championships, she is one of the highest paid athletes in the world, according to Forbes magazine.

Currently living and training in the suburbs of Los Angeles, Kim talks to CNN about her future skating plans and what she misses most about home.

CNN: You have won all of figure skating's top accolades. What's next?

Kim Yuna: Right now, I'm just focused on the 2011 World Figure Skating Championship that will be held in March in Tokyo. As I have fulfilled my dreams as an athlete through winning the titles at the World Championship, the Olympics as well as other competitions, my goal for the World Championship next year is not only to put on a great performance. I would like to show a different side of me through my new program and to enjoy the program rather than just focus on the result.

CNN: What does a normal day's training involve?

KY: My current training regimen isn't all that different from how I trained prior to the Olympics. For the off-ice training, I do basic strength training and for the on-ice training, I practice jumps, spins, steps and my new long program with my new coach Peter Oppegard. I will work on my new short program with David Wilson, my choreographer from late-October.

CNN: Was it difficult training in South Korea when you were growing up?

KY: During my early skating years, there were not many ice rinks in Korea and even the few rinks that existed, most of them were public. Even now, when athletes want to practice, they have to use the rink very early [in the] morning or late at night.

Also, as there aren't enough ice rinks to facilitate all the figure skating teams, skaters often have to train in different rinks from day to day. Furthermore, as most rinks are too cold, there is always high possibility of injury. As there were no rinks for competitive figure skaters, I found it most difficult to carry on a normal day life as I had to train very early in the morning and late at night.

CNN: What do you miss most about South Korea when you're away?

KY: I had trained in Toronto for last four years and now I train in LA. In both cities, there are many Korean markets and a big Korean community, so it almost feels like being in Korea. However, it's hard being away from my family and friends. That's the most difficult part in living abroad. I usually keep in contact online but it cannot compare from actually being close by and meeting them face to face. What I miss the most is chatting with my friends and family and having a good laugh over a simple meal.

CNN: Many have linked your success on the rink to a surge in the sport's popularity in South Korea. Would you agree?

KY: In the past, the word "figure skating" automatically conjured up the image of ice ballet or even speed skating. In the worst case, people had no idea what it was. Things have definitely changed these days. The popularity of figure skating has increased tremendously and Koreans have a huge interest in figure skaters -- not only me, other international skaters as well.

The high interest in the sport is to the point where the tickets to ice shows I headlined sold out just in a few minutes. All the skaters who performed in my show were so surprised and overwhelmed by the audience feedback and enthusiasm that they want to come back and perform again in my show. I had no idea that figure skating would become so popular in such a short amount of time and I am so happy that I played a small part in the popularity of the sport.