Bringing sugar and spice to the ice

Yuna Kim transforms figure skating into art

I have always been drawn to figure skating for its combination of ballet, dance, and gymnastics — when executed well, a skater delivers a performance worthy of lush red curtains and a Broadway stage. Sadly, the beauty in figure skating is often lost in the number-crunching and the tallying up of how many points combination XYZ will produce. Though skaters must fulfill strict technical requirements, what really sets an amazing performance apart is the artistry.

Having followed Olympic figure skating since the days of Michelle Kwan, I find that sometimes the competitions run the risk of being too numbers-based. Kim is a very, very good skater. Her strengths lie in the preciseness of her execution. Every movement is deliberate. Call her a fierce competitor or a consumate showman, but Kim does not succumb to pressure. She hits all the required marks and delivers her performances with such finesse that her skating transcends sport. Yuna Kim succeeds because she has mastered the sport of figure skating, allowing her to focus on the art: narrating a tale on the ice.

For Wednesday’s short program, Kim transformed into a sensual, charming Bond girl. For two minutes and forty seconds, that persona ruled the ice with a coy smile here, and a flirtatious glance there. Her massive triple jumps were perfectly executed, but almost an afterthought, somehow secondary to the character she had crafted. The performance went beyond just movement. It was an theatrical performance that stayed with the audience well after her final bow.

The image that Kim presented that night was sleek. Figure skating costumes are known to be flashy and I cringe at the parade of chiffon, poofs, and random streamers decorating the costumes. Even NBC sports announcers agree: “I do find some of the costumes sometimes are over the top,” said Dick Button, the two-time gold medalist and a commentator for NBC at the Turin Olympics. “You almost feel you’ve been trapped in a windmill in the Metropolitan Opera House costume department.” Kim chose a one-shouldered black number with a smattering of crystals. While one may argue that costume design is irrelevant to the quality of a skater’s routine, it is relevant in a performance. In Kim’s case, it completed her Bond girl persona.

Regardless of what medal Yuna will wear on the podium, she will be remembered and praised for her lyricality and poise, not just as an athlete, but also a performer.