Yelim Kim: “I approach skating with the same mindset as the young athletes. It might be tough right now, but I hope that in the future, many athletes will continue their careers until they are 20 years old and in college.”

Posted on 2023-10-04 • No comments yet


Translation of the article and interview with Yelim Kim.

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source: dd. 4th October 2023 by Hyunjin Kim

From being one of the ‘trio’ during the Kim Yuna Kids generation to now, as the senior member in her ninth year as a national team representative, Kim Yelim has always walked her own path with unwavering consistency. We had the opportunity to meet with Kim Yelim and hear her story.

Acknowledging the given circumstances and focusing on the immediate goals has been the driving force behind her growth since her childhood.

In 2010, after witnessing the remarkable performance of Yuna Kim at the Vancouver Olympics, Yelim Kim, driven by admiration, stepped onto the ice for the first time and found her interest in figure skating.

“I started figure skating at Anyang Sports Complex. At that time, my family lived in Gunpo, and when I searched for skating rinks, Anyang and Gwacheon were the two options that came up. I remember that Anyang had better transportation options from our home.”

From casually going to the skating rink to just have fun, she gradually transitioned into an athlete’s life, starting with special classes during school vacations. Just five years after starting figure skating, Yelim Kim was selected as a national team representative, ranking second in total points and first in technical points. She was in the fifth grade of elementary school at the time, and she admitted that she didn’t fully grasp the significance of being a national team representative.

“I was too young to truly understand the significance of being a national team representative back then. I didn’t realize its significance as I do now. I just focused on preparing for ranking competitions and national championships, as those were the events I had to participate in. I did what I had to do, and then suddenly, I became a national team representative.”

Starting her first junior season (2016-2017) on a positive note with a first-place finish in the Junior Grand Prix qualifying event and a silver medal at the Asian Trophy, Yelim Kim experienced a somewhat disappointing beginning as she couldn’t secure a podium finish in the Junior Grand Prix due to minor mistakes. This period was marked by the impressive international performances and technical achievements of her fellow competitors. While she could have been anxious or frustrated by the progress of her peers, she consistently focused on herself.

“In hindsight, I think I always had a strong self-focus. It’s part of my personality. Even when I was young, I concentrated more on ‘how well I prepared’ rather than ‘how well other skaters were doing,’ or ‘how well I compared to others.’ I was more concerned about whether I did my preparation well. Rather than feeling frustrated because other skaters were excelling, I felt frustrated when I didn’t perform well or failed to show what I had prepared.”

Through continuous self-reflection, Yelim Kim showed remarkable growth. In the latter part of the 2016-2017 season, her jumping technique improved dramatically. Given that figure skating is often referred to as a “sport of sensation” and changing well-established habits is challenging, this rapid transformation was a significant achievement. Yet, the 14-year-old Yelim Kim quietly persevered, driven by her own determination.

“My mom advised me to work on improving my technique and posture, thinking about the future, even though I was already achieving good results. I thought her advice was right, so I made efforts to address those aspects.”

Her dedication paid off as she earned second place at the National Championships and secured a spot at the Junior World Championships. However, her joy was short-lived as she suffered a toe fracture just ten days before her Junior World Championships debut, causing her championship aspirations to be dashed.

“At that time, my shape was really good. However, I remember that I fractured my toe while doing off-ice training on a slippery surface. It happened so suddenly, and it was such a frustrating injury because everything I had worked hard for was suddenly gone. At first, it felt unbelievable,” Yelim Kim recalled the incident. Her first trial came unexpectedly and took away her opportunity in an unforeseen manner.

“I just… felt so frustrated in that situation. But there was no choice but to accept the reality. So, I just accepted it,” Yelim Kim stated calmly.

Contrary to Yelim Kim’s composed account, the injury had a significant impact on her until the following season.

“Apparently, when you break a bone, it takes a long time to recover. In the case of bones, you have to wear a cast for at least six weeks. If it were a different body part, you could do some rehabilitation exercises while moving to some extent, but it was my toe. I couldn’t even use the injured area in my daily life, so my muscles atrophied, and my sense of movement completely disappeared.”

The extended recovery period due to the fracture brought about many changes in her life.

“Since I couldn’t train, I started going to bed and waking up early. Thanks to that, during that time, I grew so tall, and there were too many changes all at once when I returned to training. My sensation had completely changed. I remember that it was so frustrating and bewildering because even when I tried to jump at exactly the same timing and posture as before, it didn’t go well at all.”

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Nevertheless, despite the setback, she regained her previous shape with even more perseverance and diligence. Yelim Kim embarked on her second junior Grand Prix season after winning the junior selection competition. However, she received disappointing scores at her first international competition, held under high expectations. It was then that her inherent trait, the ability to acknowledge the given situation and gradually resolve issues with focus, shone through. Even in difficult circumstances, she found a way out and made the decision to improve her program component scores.

“After winning first place with a high score at the junior selection competition and going to the junior Grand Prix with high expectations, I received scores that didn’t meet those expectations. It was disappointing for me, and my parents were also quite upset. However, I focused on how to carry on and do well in the latter part of the season, considering it was still early in the season. So, within two weeks, I created and rehearsed a new program and competed with it. At that time, both the short and free programs were set to fast-paced music. I thought that program preferences might vary, and I came to the conclusion that it would be difficult to digest both fast-tempo pieces in a tense situation. So, I ended up changing the program,” Yelim Kim explained. She added with a playful smile, “I think it was possible because of my young age. Now, I believe I would have found a way to salvage the original one no matter what.”

Her decision to completely change the program in just two weeks was the right one. Subsequently, in the seventh junior Grand Prix competition, she set a new personal best score and won a silver medal in ranking competitions in the latter part of the season.

The 2018-2019 season was significant for Yelim Kim as she approached it with the mindset that it could be her final season as a competitive skater. It was a season where the hard work accumulated over a long period of time finally bore fruit.

“As I continued to show results that didn’t meet expectations in competitions, I felt that other family members and people around me, other than my parents, looked at me differently than before. So, I approached the season with the thought that it could be my last as a competitive skater,” Yelim Kim expressed.

With a strong determination, she moved her training location from Korea to overseas, preparing for the new season alongside coach Tom Zakrajsek in Colorado Springs, USA. In a season where Russian skaters were particularly strong, Yelim Kim won silver medals in two Junior Grand Prix series competitions. The bonus points she received in the Free Skating at the third competition were a Junior World record at the time. Furthermore, she qualified for the Junior Grand Prix Final, a competition open to only the top six skaters. In this competition, Yelim Kim was the only non-Russian participant and the first Korean female single skater to compete in the event since Kim Yuna.

“I made some mistakes in the Short Program at the third Junior Grand Prix competition. I remember feeling disappointed in myself. The night after the Short Program was really tough. I thought, ‘Am I really not capable?’ I felt a lot of frustration because the cycle of not showing what I had practiced and not meeting my own expectations continued,” Yelim Kim recalled, reflecting on the competition.

On the Free Skate day, Yelim Kim decided to approach her performance with a light heart, thinking, “I just don’t know” and tried to do it as she had practiced. However, it went better than she expected, and she received scores higher than she had hoped for, which left her pleasantly surprised.

Her success wasn’t limited to the junior level. She also earned a medal at the senior-level competition, the U.S. International Classic. During that season, Yelim Kim seemed to switch effortlessly between junior and senior competitions, achieving results in both categories.

She attributed this to the solid foundation she had built through strenuous training in Korea, which synergized with the detailed coaching she received from her American coaches. Ultimately, beneath all of this lay her unwavering dedication and hard work.

Yelim Kim herself assessed that period as a season when she worked harder than ever. Despite her young age, she felt a sense of responsibility towards her parents, who supported her by allowing her to train abroad. She believed that she couldn’t afford to be anything less than diligent and couldn’t afford to be lazy. Her body, which didn’t always respond as she wished, coupled with an ankle inflammation that caused deformity in her bones, persisted into the next season. While her first senior championship, the Four Continents, concluded without major issues, the World Championships had to wait until the following year.

During the 2019-2020 season, Yelim Kim, now a high school student, faced challenges as her body underwent changes due to growth. Despite preparing in the summer just like before, her body’s adaptation was slower this time. Her expectations for senior Grand Prix assignments also resulted in bewildering outcomes. Despite the customary practice of inviting skaters who performed well in the previous season to two senior Grand Prix events, Yelim Kim was only invited to the Skate Canada competition. Although there were consecutive vacancies, she couldn’t participate.

“I was a bit taken aback by the additional assignment, but I had gone through many difficult situations before, so it wasn’t too hard for me. Since there was a ranking competition right after, I thought it meant to prepare well for the rankings,” she recalled.

Despite the confusion among officials and fans alike, she quietly continued her preparation, always contemplating and working towards what she should do next rather than dwelling on immediate difficulties. Her efforts paid off in December when she clinched her first-ever victory at a ranking competition held in Gimhae. This competition in Gimhae marked a significant turning point in Yelim Kim’s figure skating career.

“I had never competed in a different region before; I used to practice or train during free time. But this time, I had a bit more free time, so I enjoyed looking around and exploring the area. Until then, I had always believed that during competitions, my focus should only be on practice and competition time. This competition was a turning point that changed my mindset,” she explained.

Yelim Kim, who had been quietly walking towards her goals, now had a mindset of enjoying competitions. When someone with unwavering determination adds the attitude of enjoyment, the synergy it creates is something one can anticipate. However, even this newfound mindset was short-lived, as adversity often lurks behind happiness and strikes at unexpected times.

After gaining a significant realization from the ranking competition, Yelim Kim focused on the National Championships. Until then, she had been in excellent condition, preparing for the competition.

“I was practicing jump combinations when I twisted my ankle badly. I was in shock. I went to the hospital, and they found a stress fracture near the growth plate of my peach bone. It was a minor injury compared to a break, but I had to compete in the National Championships soon, so I was really worried about what to do,” she recalled.

Nevertheless, Yelim Kim managed to compete in the National Championships and reached the podium. This earned her a spot in both the Four Continents Championships and the World Championships. After giving up her junior world championship spot due to a toe fracture three years earlier, this was her return to the world stage.

“I didn’t want to miss these opportunities. I thought I had to take good care of myself until the end and focus on my skating every day, so that I wouldn’t suffer any further injuries during training,” she said.

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The Four Continents Championships in 2020 was a significant international figure skating event held in Korea after three years. While the World Championships spot she earned after three years was precious, having an international competition held in Korea was also important. Yelim Kim participated in the Four Continents Championships, but people couldn’t see her during the final official practice right before the competition.

“My condition worsened a bit at the practice rink in Mokdong, and I injured my leg again. The pain was severe, and I had many struggles, wondering if it was right to push myself in this competition when the World Championships were still ahead. The World Championships were important, but I also considered the Four Continents Championships held in Korea very important. So I thought, ‘Let’s give it a try. I’ve prepared hard, so let’s give it a shot,'” she said.

Overcoming the injury once again, Yelim Kim delivered nearly flawless skating and achieved a score exceeding 200 points for the first time.

“It’s really amazing how the energy and support from the audience seemed to connect somehow, and I had such a great performance. So, I got good results again, and it remains as a wonderful memory,” she said.

During a time when COVID-19 was approaching people’s doorsteps for the first time, the spectators gathered at the arena with the sole purpose of cheering for Korean athletes. Their supportive energy reached Yelim Kim, enabling her to overcome the physical challenges and successfully complete the competition. However, the threat of COVID-19 continued to escalate rapidly.

Athletes participating in various international competitions began to face difficulties as international events and tournaments were postponed or canceled.

“At that time, I had prepared quite a bit myself. COVID-19, an unexpected disaster, suddenly occurred, and I felt that I needed to cope with it. At that time, I heard that flights were being canceled, and there were cases where athletes couldn’t take flights to go to other countries for the World Championships in different sports. So, I decided to go to Canada first (where the World Championships were taking place) because I couldn’t afford any such issues,” Yelim Kim explained.

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As flight options began to shrink consecutively, Yelim Kim quickly departed for Quebec, Canada, where the World Championships were held. She arrived in Canada on March 9th, just a week before the official practice began, and started practicing at the Link Center of Quebec University.

“When I arrived in Canada and started practicing, I thought, ‘Now, there shouldn’t be any major problems.’ At least I was in Canada. However, the person managing the practice rink said, ‘Your competition might be canceled.’ I didn’t believe it at first. I thought, ‘Could it really be true that the competition is going to be canceled?’ I couldn’t believe it. Also, when I was in Canada, it was the early stages of COVID-19, so it didn’t feel much different from before. So, it was a situation that I couldn’t believe at all,” she said.

On March 10th, the first COVID-19-related death occurred in Canada. Then, on March 11th, the Quebec provincial government in Canada canceled the Figure Skating World Championships due to the widening spread of the coronavirus.

“When I heard the news, I was leaving the grocery store. I could only laugh. It was so unbelievable and surreal. At first, I wasn’t even angry; the situation was just too absurd. Even now, when I think about it, I can’t believe it,” Yelim Kim recalled, laughing in disbelief as she revisited that moment.

“I just thought, ‘I have to go back to Korea.'”

However, her journey back home was by no means easy. Originally planning to create a new program for the next season after the World Championships, she decided to accept any new program available before returning. But from that point on, one skating rink after another started to close.

“I couldn’t even get the program, and there were no flights available to return to Korea. Returning home was not easy. The journey back was so tough, and I just wanted to get home as quickly as possible,” she said.

After finally returning to Korea, her stress fracture, which had occurred in early January as a minor scratch, had worsened significantly. When she initially injured herself in early January, it was a small scratch, but by the end of March, after continuing to skate on it, the fracture had worsened, with a fissure forming around almost the entire circumference of the bone.

Due to COVID-19, the hard-earned opportunity to participate in the World Championships slipped away. Training facilities within the country became scarce rapidly. Despite the challenging circumstances in many ways, Yelim Kim immediately focused on her rehabilitation.

“By nature, I tend to concentrate more on what needs to be done at the moment rather than looking far into the future, so I think I focused more on the tasks at hand during that time.”

As always, Yelim Kim overcame all these difficulties with her consistency. In fact, she used every situation arising from COVID-19 as an opportunity.

“As soon as I returned, I focused solely on recovery. Since there weren’t many places to skate due to COVID-19, I was able to concentrate more on rehabilitation. Looking back now, I think the timing was right for me. With COVID-19, there wasn’t much time for training, so it was a situation where I could focus intensely for a short period. It was a time when I needed to recover, so it was good for me at that time. Also, since I couldn’t skate on the rink as much, I could do a lot of ground-based rehabilitation and physical training.”

Yelim Kim went through this challenging process and emerged stronger. She healed both her body and mind, and through consecutive victories in domestic competitions, she once again earned her ticket to the World Championships. She used her own strength to reclaim the opportunity to compete at the World Championships that COVID-19 had taken away.

“I think my nature of focusing on the tasks at hand, rather than worrying about the future, helped a lot in the less-than-ideal practice environment caused by COVID-19,” Yelim Kim reflected.

In March 2021, amidst the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, she participated in her first international competition and her first World Championships. However, post-COVID competitions were quite different from the past.

“There was a somewhat chaotic atmosphere. Unlike before, where you would just check in at the competition venue, adjust and prepare for tomorrow’s condition at the hotel, during this time, we had to stand in line for daily COVID tests and deal with situations we never imagined.”

It wasn’t just the logistics; the atmosphere among athletes also became more sensitive. Especially for a competition like the World Championships, where Olympic qualification was at stake, many athletes were understandably on edge.

“Even when we were eating, you could feel that all the athletes were quite tense. But the situation was entirely understandable. We were getting tested every day, and there were confirmed cases, which made it even scarier. If you got infected, not only could you not compete, but you’d also be confined to the hotel in that country… So, everyone was quite worried.”

Yelim Kim finished 11th in the competition, securing two Olympic qualification spots for Korean female skaters, alongside Haein Lee.

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In the 2021-2022 season, Yelim Kim secured her ticket to the Beijing Olympics by winning silver medals in both of the domestic competitions that selected the Olympic participants. Always looking ahead with a determined posture, Yelim Kim shed tears of relief and joy at the National Championships, where she confirmed her spot for the Beijing Olympics.

“I comfortably secured my ranking and felt great during the Nationals. During the official practice for the Nationals, my condition was so good that I didn’t make any mistakes at all. So, I had some confidence going into this competition. However, on the morning of the short program, my back hurt so much. I’ve had many injuries before, and I had the mindset that I could overcome any injury no matter what. But when your back hurts, it affects your daily life and is beyond your control. I was really flustered. I had to compete today, and this could be the most important competition in my life. I thought, ‘How could my life turn out like this?'”

She faced adversity like she never had before, even during the Olympic season she had dreamt of for so long. She accepted her third significant challenge with a heavy heart and tears. She urgently went to the hospital, desperately requesting, “Please do something.” Then came the last selection event, the National Championships. Yelim Kim’s unwavering effort had answered her call.

“Fortunately, I had a clean performance, maybe because I was well-prepared. It felt overwhelming. So, for the first time, as soon as the competition ended, tears welled up.”

Young Yelim Kim, who had watched the PyeongChang Olympics in person, thought, ‘Was figure skating a sport that could be performed on such a grand stage, in front of so many people?’ She had never experienced such a large-scale venue before, so it was incredibly fascinating. At that time, athletes like Choi Dabin and Cha Junhwan, who participated in the Olympics, appeared impressive, and she started dreaming, ‘I hope I can perform my own skating in front of such a large audience someday if I work hard.’ And all of this became her driving force toward the Olympics.

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However, the Beijing Olympics venue had a slightly different feel during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was different because it was empty. So, it felt quite different from what I felt during PyeongChang, even though the arena was the same size. It was eerily quiet due to the absence of spectators.”

Amidst not only the challenges posed by COVID-19 but also various other issues at the Beijing Olympics, how did Yelim Kim manage to stay focused and perform well?

“Since I was very young, my focus has always been on the Beijing Olympics. So, for me, it was a truly meaningful moment and competition. I was afraid that the hectic atmosphere might affect the results, which would be a long-lasting regret for me. That’s why I made an effort to stay centered and thought, ‘I will focus on myself.'”

At the Beijing Olympics, Yelim Kim landed all her jumps without major errors in both the short program and free skate, earning her a 9th place finish. Not only that, but her graceful performances and her candid and down-to-earth demeanor also earned her the nickname ‘Figure Skating General.’

“I first heard the nickname during a practice interview the day after the short program. Journalists asked me, ‘There’s a nickname ‘Figure Skating General,’ do you know about it, and what do you think?’ That’s when I first found out. At first, I thought, ‘What is this journalist talking about? Figure Skating General? Could it be a mistake?’ But from that very afternoon, I started seeing a lot of descriptions about ‘Figure Skating General.'”

Recalling the moment she first heard the nickname, Yelim Kim playfully smiled.

“After each competition, I immediately watched my own performances in detail to see how I did. Even before I became a topic of discussion, I watched the scene where I exited the rink. I thought, ‘Why did I do that? It was too much.’ I was a bit worried that it might not look good, but it turned out that people appreciated my candidness.”

And that’s how ‘Figure Skating General’ made her mark in South Korea.

After the Beijing Olympics, Yelim Kim, now a college student, had a busier schedule than ever before. Post-Olympic psychological distress, which many athletes experience, was a distant concept for her. Instead, Yelim Kim made the decision to take a new step forward.

“Until the season leading up to the Beijing Olympics, I always thought of Beijing Olympics as the end and ran with that goal in mind. However, as I experienced the Beijing season, the remaining time felt shorter, and I felt a deep sense of regret.”

Many South Korean figure skaters, especially female singles skaters, transition to focusing on their studies after passing their college entrance exams. This is in contrast to male singles skaters and is partly because female skaters often consider their late teens to be their prime years, and it’s a time when they go through significant physical changes. Yelim Kim also found herself needing to put in more effort into managing her physique and physical fitness. Additionally, the absence of fellow college student skaters led to some psychological challenges.

“Becoming 20 years old, it felt somewhat natural to retire from competitive skating. I, too, naturally thought of the Beijing Olympics held during my senior year of high school as my endpoint. However, as the Beijing Olympics approached, I felt an overwhelming sense of regret. So, even though I wanted to continue, it wasn’t easy to express my desire to my parents and family, who have supported me. But as I generated positive news and showed good performances at the Beijing Olympics, and showed potential, I was able to confidently convey my desire to continue as an athlete, not just for the sake of it, but to become a more competitive athlete by working even harder than I do now. So, I asked for more support.”

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She began a new season as a college student figure skater, supported by those around her, while showcasing her potential. Thus began the 2022-2023 season. Yelim Kim embarked on what would be the brightest period in South Korean figure skating history. She not only reached the podium at all Challenger Series and Grand Prix events but also achieved victory at all competitions except the 2022 Grand Prix de France, where she secured second place. The 2022 NHK Trophy in Japan marked her first-ever victory by a South Korean skater, and it was the first Grand Prix gold medal for a South Korean woman since Kim Yuna, 16 years prior. The young girl who began figure skating idolizing Kim Yuna made her way to the Junior Grand Prix Final for the first time in South Korean women’s skating history, 13 years after Kim Yuna, and four years later, she became the first South Korean woman to qualify for the Grand Prix Final in 16 years. She entered the season with a determination stronger than ever before, but even she couldn’t have anticipated the level of success she achieved.

“We had the Universiade selection competition in July, and I wasn’t able to perform as well as I had hoped, considering the effort and passion I put into preparing for this season. It made me really frustrated. I had this feeling like, ‘This isn’t the performance I wanted to show.’ So, I prepared even harder for the competitions that followed. When I moved to Jincheon Athlete Village at that time, the environment was very supportive. I worked incredibly hard in my preparations, and I think that effort paid off in the results. Still, I never thought I would achieve such excellent results. I think I did much better than I initially expected.”

In the latter part of the season, Yelim Kim embarked on a grueling journey, competing in four out of five events within a span of five weeks. Immediately after wrapping up a ranking competition, she took to the skies for the Grand Prix Final, followed by the National Championships the very next day, and then another quick turnaround for the Universiade.

“The schedule was really tough, and the impact after it was over was quite significant. It was incredibly challenging, but these were all choices I made, and things I decided to do, so I thought, ‘Let’s just do the best we can in the given circumstances.’ I managed to finish well, and when I look back now, I have no regrets. It was just physically demanding, very demanding.”

Amidst this rigorous schedule, she earned a bronze medal in the Winter Universiade, which was like an Olympics for university students, becoming the first South Korean female athlete to win a medal at that event. She also secured her second medal at the Four Continents Championships held in Colorado Springs, USA, following her achievement there the previous year. However, perhaps due to the demanding nature of the long season, the World Championships, which was the most important competition in the latter part of the season, yielded a disappointing result compared to her efforts.

“My physical condition was quite depleted when preparing for the World Championships. I tried to rest and also pushed myself hard through training, but my body didn’t recover quickly. This caused a lot of frustration during the practice sessions, and even during official practices before the competition, I didn’t perform as well as I usually do. Typically, in such situations, I tend to focus more and perform better than usual, but this time, things didn’t go well, so it was quite frustrating. I didn’t make major mistakes in the short program at almost any competition, especially not in the previous season. However, at the World Championships, I made a significant mistake in the short program, and it was disappointing and shocking.”

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Unlike most seasons that typically conclude after the World Championships, this season took a different turn for top South Korean skaters. They had the opportunity to participate in the World Team Trophy for the first time. The World Team Trophy, held every two years, is essentially a national team competition in figure skating. It invites the top six countries with the highest cumulative national standing points from the ISU Grand Prix Series and the Championships. South Korea, ranked fourth nationally, participated for the first time, thanks to the efforts of skaters from all figure skating disciplines, including Yelim Kim. However, Yelim Kim couldn’t wholeheartedly embrace the idea of competing in the Team Trophy.

“It was our country’s first time participating in the Team Trophy, and honestly, I wasn’t that excited at first. That’s because my personal situation wasn’t great, and my confidence had taken a significant hit due to the shock I experienced. Having to prepare for another competition to showcase my abilities, it wasn’t the most pleasant situation at that time, so I went through some tough times for a few days.”

However, like a resilient octopus that doesn’t let adversity defeat it, Yelim Kim once again stood on the rink with unwavering determination. She realized the importance of not letting her emotions get the best of her and seized this valuable opportunity. Alongside her were fellow Team Korea skaters, who were not just teammates but also rivals, good friends, and skaters representing South Korea in both earlier and later generations.

“The teammates I went out with worked so hard in their preparations. Internally, I thought, ‘Since the season is almost over, and it’s more of an exhibition event, maybe they’re not putting in full effort?’ But that was not the case at all; everyone genuinely put in a lot of effort. Seeing their dedication made me think, ‘If they’re preparing so diligently, I should also work hard to achieve a good result together with them,’ so I prepared even harder.”

In addition to their on-ice performances, Yelim Kim and her fellow skaters put their best efforts into off-ice aspects of the event.

“Since it was an exhibition event, we enjoyed preparing off the ice as well, shooting videos, brainstorming ideas, and having fun with it. The fact that we could meet each other every day at Taereung (Ice Rink) was the biggest help. Meeting every day allowed us to exchange jokes casually, and even those jokes sometimes turned into ideas… That’s why I think we were able to prepare well.”

The hard work of Yelim Kim and Team Korea paid off as they returned with medals. In their debut at the Team Trophy event, the South Korean national team proudly claimed second place in the overall standings. Yelim Kim, by delivering a flawless free skate, put aside the pain of the World Championships and proved to herself that she could achieve greatness once again.

Yelim Kim, who has been a national representative for nine years, has now become the eldest among the national team members. In the sport of figure skating, it’s common for female singles skaters to retire relatively early. However, Yelim Kim, like a deeply rooted tree, has consistently demonstrated her presence in the sport. As one of the few active South Korean female figure skaters who continued her career after entering college, Yelim Kim faced many challenges.

“I thought, ‘I’m already grown up,’ but there’s a big difference between high school senior year and college. There were more physical and mental difficulties. Body management, in particular, was much more challenging than before, and I thought, ‘Wow, my senior colleagues must have had a tough time back then.’ But the most challenging part is the mental aspect. It can be quite lonely and tough when you realize there’s no one above you. Currently, there’s my teammate (Choi Dabin), but there aren’t many college female skaters, so the attention around me can be challenging.”

Typically, people consider the late teens as the prime years for female single skaters, and they may no longer view older skaters as active competitors. Such perceptions from the surroundings often brought mental fatigue to Yelim Kim.

“Occasionally, people who have some knowledge of figure skating because they have acquaintances in the sport say things like, ‘So, your time as a skater is almost up, right?’ Usually, these comments come from people my age who are in similar situations. When I hear such comments, I respond by saying, ‘That’s your perspective, but I’m certain that’s not how it’s going to be in the future. Even now, there are older skaters competing internationally, and they perform better than me.’ So, when I hear comments like that, I think, ‘That’s your view, but I have a different perspective, and in the future, it won’t be the same for South Korean skaters.'”

Going beyond the boundaries set by others, Yelim Kim is continuously striving to prove herself as a “constantly growing athlete.”

“I don’t set my plans, training, or goals with lowered expectations. I approach this sport with the same mindset as the young athletes who are currently growing. I hope people see me from the same perspective. It might be tough right now, but I hope that in the future, many athletes, including myself, will continue their careers until they are 20 years old and in college, and it will become a natural perspective that continuing an athletic career even as a college student is normal. Sometimes, when things get a little tough or don’t go well, I feel the judgment that ‘Well, she probably won’t make it either,’ but every time that happens, I try even harder to show that it’s not the case.”

In reality, older female single skaters than Yelim Kim are maintaining strong performances and skills while consistently participating in international competitions. Kaori Sakamoto (23, Japan), who won the World Championships for two consecutive years, graduated from Kobe Gakuin University recently and is training with the goal of competing as an active athlete in the 2026 Milan Olympics. Anastasiia Gubanova (20, Georgia), the 2023 European Championships champion, and Loena Hendrickx (23, Belgium), a bronze medalist at the 2023 World Championships, are both older than Yelim Kim.

Skills and experience that accumulate over time undoubtedly play a significant role. The maturity in competition, refined expressive abilities while performing programs, and the understanding of the sport. Many athletes are tirelessly fighting from their own positions to change the perception that “female athletes can have long careers.”

As soon as the season ended, Yelim Kim focused on recovering from injuries and regaining her shape. To address the chronic issue with her back that had been bothering her since the Olympic season, she underwent a back surgery. The discomfort in her back that had persisted throughout the previous season has now become almost a non-issue after the surgery in April, with more dedicated management.

Following this, she headed to Canada for off-season training. She devoted significant attention to her artistry and skating skills during this training period. Additionally, she collaborated with David Wilson and Jeffrey Buttle to develop new programs for the upcoming season.

“I should start by talking about the free program ‘Je suis malade’ created by David Wilson. He recommended this music to me starting from the middle of last season. Since I was in the midst of the season, he couldn’t directly talk to me, but he mentioned it to people around me. When I listened to the music, I thought, ‘Could it be a bit boring?’ and I was worried about the downbeat atmosphere. So, I honestly discussed this with Wilson. He already had a plan in mind. He said, ‘The music will be an original composition from start to finish, and I’ll incorporate entirely new sections in the middle so that it doesn’t have the feeling you’re concerned about.’ He assured me, ‘If the choreographer has this level of confidence, it might be good to trust and follow.’ So, I decided to go with it. Personally, I really like the program that came out.”

David Wilson choreographed the free program, while Jeffrey Buttle choreographed the short program, and this unexpected collaboration between them had a surprising synergistic effect.

“The short program is set to the soundtrack of the movie Ladies in Lavender choreographed by Jeffrey Buttle. After creating the free program and then working on the short program, Jeffrey gave his input, saying, ‘I watched your free program, and it would be great if the story in the short program could continue.’ He went into detail about the situation, discussed it with Wilson, and conveyed the feeling to me.

In the short program, I show the kind of acting that can only come from someone deeply in love and happy. Then, something happens that night, and I receive a phone call. So, in the free program the next day, I portray a completely opposite side, one filled with despair, sadness, and pain. This created a long story that connected the two programs.”

Yelim Kim’s gala program is set to the song ‘A Thousand Years’ from the ‘Twilight’ movie soundtrack. It was first showcased at the Harvard University charity gala show in early September was handpicked by Yelim Kim herself.

“I didn’t plan for the short and free programs to be directly connected. I chose this music because it’s a song I love. Last year, I debated between The Good Part and A Thousand Years for the gala program. I wanted to do both, but I felt like I hadn’t shown a program with the feeling of The Good Part yet, so I decided to go with that. This year, when I was thinking about which gala program to perform, I thought, ‘I wanted to do A Thousand Years last year but couldn’t, so let’s do it this year.'”

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So, this season, the theme of all of Yelim Kim’s programs is ‘love.’ We asked her to explain what kind of love she wants to convey through each program.

“I did think about ‘love’ as a theme. However, whether I think of the other person as a romantic partner or consider my profession/job, it all felt similar to me. The short program is about the happiness that comes from love. The free program is about the despair and pain that love brings. And for the gala, I think it’s about the peace that love can bring.”

After her overseas training, Yelim Kim returned to Korea and focused on technical aspects while adapting to her new team. Despite being technically mature as a skater, she felt that there was still much to learn. She put in effort to improve the quality of her jumps, something only she could feel.

“It might be something only I can feel, but I felt that last year, I had injuries, and participating in many competitions affected my condition, which led to my posture and jump quality being somewhat disrupted. When I think about the next Olympics, I realized I needed to work on these aspects. In simple terms, I paid a lot of attention to quality and practiced a lot.

Currently, I’m training in a way where the new coaches provide a lot of video feedback. It’s something I really need right now, so I’m focusing on it. When I was younger, I didn’t know much, so it was easier when coaches directly told me what to do. But now, I know my posture better than anyone else, so I feel that personally observing and feeling it is the most effective.”

Her goal for this season is to perform well in the late-season competitions, or more precisely, to be in peak condition for the latter part of the season. To achieve this, she plans to participate in only one Challenger competition before the Grand Prix season. She wants to concentrate more on the late-season competitions, leveraging the experience from last year. We hope her wish comes true.

There has never been an easy season for Yelim Kim, not even one. She consistently navigated her path through the continuous adversities with diligence and steadfastness.

“My strengths as a skater are ‘consistency’ and ‘diligence.’ When I was younger, I was always overshadowed by flashy things, so I didn’t realize how precious these qualities were. As the years went by, especially after becoming an adult, sayings like ‘effort is also a talent’ began to resonate with me. I don’t consider effort as talent. I think ‘effort is effort, and talent is talent.’ But my mental coach once said to me, ‘Effort is also a talent, and you possess the greatest talent.’ When I look back on my skating career, I believe that effort was my greatest weapon. It’s what allowed me to continue my career for so long.”

Yelim Kim wants to be remembered as a “quietly determined skater.”

“When time passes, and many people look back later, I hope to become a skater they can admire at that time. A skater who is remembered as ‘Wow, that skater was truly remarkable.’ The value that is felt only as time passes is, in my opinion, even more remarkable. That’s how I want to be remembered.”


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