January 11, 2016 10:09
Seoul's Mokdong Ice Rink erupted in cheers, with the crowd rising to a standing ovation, as primary school child You Young finished her free skate program at the annual Korean Figure Skating Championships on Sunday.
You, the surprise overnight leader after scoring 61.09 points in the short program, turned in a flawless performance in the free skate to earn her personal best score of 122.66 points and grab the gold medal with a combined score of 183.75 points.
At the age of just 11 years and eight months, she became the youngest ever winner of the national championships, breaking the record set by superstar Kim Yu-na, who won the same event in 2003 aged 12 years and seven months.
In a media interview after the competition, You said, "I never thought I would win it. Of course, I thought the gold medal would go to an older skater." During the seven-minute interview, she kept repeating, "I'm just so happy that I had a clean skate!"
From a field of 24 skaters competing in the ladies' singles free skate, three of the top five finishers are elementary school children. The result represents the arrival of a generation of youngsters who took up skating after being inspired by Kim's success.
Kim, who was present at the medal presentation ceremony, spoke to the media about You, saying, "She is better than I was at her age. I hope she works hard on the basics and takes care to avoid injuries."
You took up skating after watching TV broadcasts of Kim's gold medal-winning performance at the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010. She had moved to Indonesia at the age of 2 because of her father's business, and spent her youth in Singapore. You first took to the ice at the age of 6 as a hobby, skating for half an hour twice a week.
Soon, she was practicing jumps dozens of times every day and studying videos of Kim. Believing You should have the opportunity to receive proper coaching, her mother, Lee Sook-hee, returned to Korea with her daughter in March 2013. They settled in a small studio apartment near the ice rink in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi Province.
Adapting to life in Korea was difficult at first for You. Not fluent in Korean, she struggled at school and found it difficult to make friends. Seven to eight hours of practice a day took a toll on her body. But as her figure skating skills improved, her self-confidence grew and she soon regained her outgoing personality.
You was selected to the national team in January 2015, becoming the youngest athlete in the history of Korean sport to be named to a national team. However, she will soon have to give up her spot on the team due to a change in regulations.
In July last year, the Korea Skating Union introduced a minimum age requirement of 13 for national team membership. The aim is to give more opportunities to skaters who are eligible to compete in international competitions endorsed by the International Skating Union, which has the same minimum age.
A KSU official said the organization is considering giving additional support to You, who will still be too young to compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, due to the Games' minimum age requirement of 15.
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