Haein Lee: “Some skaters consider step sequences a break from jumps, but I always give my best in those moments, trying to show my energy and individuality the most.”
Interview with Haein Lee for The Single magazine.
Kim Yuna’s feverish days of glory have passed, and it’s been a while since the spotlight focused on her, the ISU Four Continents Figure Skating champion Lee Haein. At last year’s ISU Four Continents Championships, Lee Haein stood on the podium with a silver medal, and the following year she achieved a gold at the same competition. This year, she went beyond the four continents and won a silver medal at the World Championships. The media eagerly awaited this moment, quickly associating Lee Haein’s name with the iconic figure of Kim Yuna, heralding the birth of the next queen of figure skating. “The seeds planted by Yuna” “Post-Kim Yuna” “The first since Kim Yuna…”. Watching her graceful spins and soaring movements on the ice is one thing, but facing her in person is different. At the age of 19, Lee Haein’s youthful face appears innocent, with soft feathers adorning it. In the moment when the media, pouring out strict expectations, momentarily turned cruel, I immediately realized her vulnerability as soon as the interview began. “I truly felt it this time. Instead of overthinking while skating, I realized it’s better to just enjoy it and skate freely!”
The World Championships was successful. Did you expect such a good result?
Haein Lee: Not at all. Honestly, I didn’t even think about medals, and since I hadn’t had a “clean” performance in any international competition this season, my only goal was to avoid mistakes. After finishing 6th in the short program at the Four Continents Championships and anticipating the free program the next day, I was alone in my room, thinking how I would skate tomorrow. By trying not to get too nervous or make too many mistakes, I found myself putting more power into my body. And by being cautious, I was able to maintain a good speed and avoid underrotations. I thought calmly skating the program would create a good flow, and it seemed to have worked. During the free skate at the Four Continents, I felt like I was truly exerting only the necessary strength.
After finishing your free skate to the music of “The Phantom of the Opera,” you exclaimed with energy, “Yes!”
Haein Lee: In fact, earlier this season, I wasn’t in good physical condition to the point where I wondered if I could participate in competitions. I also had injuries. So, just being able to compete and deliver a clean performance was a source of great joy for me.
However, after finishing the Team Trophy event with the same program, You was deeply moved. The same music, the same performance, but the ending felt completely different and memorable.
Haein Lee: The Team Trophy free program was also my final competition, and delivering a clean performance boosted my emotions. Actually, the dress I wore for the Team Trophy free program is one of my favorite costumes. However, in the early stages of the season when I first wore that dress, my scores weren’t that great. Every time I saw that dress, my heart felt heavy. But wearing the same costume and achieving my personal best score turned those negative memories into the best memories. It felt like unraveling a tangled situation and finding closure.
While clean jumps are a strong point, I particularly enjoy watching you express herself through step sequences and synchronize with the music.
Haein Lee: Step sequences are my favorite element in figure skating. Some skaters consider them a break from jumps, but I always give my best in those moments. I think it’s a strategic part where I can showcase my energy and individuality the most. That’s why, during practice, I often focus more on perfecting my steps rather than jumps. I feel that this season has highlighted that aspect of my skating quite well.
It must be because of the training and practice you’ve done all along that you achieved good results this time, right?
Haein Lee: It’s not like it suddenly happened, but I think my mindset changed, and that allowed me to show what I’ve been practicing all this time. Through this competition, I learned the importance of enjoying it. After all, not only I, but all athletes get nervous. Thinking that way made it a little better.
The whole nation and the media are now paying attention to what’s next for you. Can you really just enjoy it?
Haein Lee: I wasn’t a skater who received such attention before, so now I feel like, “When did I start getting this much attention?” It could be burdensome to have so much attention, but it also gives me a sense of assurance and confidence that I’m doing something right. So far, I’m digesting it with a more positive energy.
Isn’t it burdensome to be compared to Kim Yuna?
Haein Lee: Kim Yuna is a living legend. It’s an honor just to have my name mentioned in the same sentence. Instead of getting overly excited or feeling burdened, I’m trying to focus more on my personal abilities. In the 2020 Junior World Championships, I finished second in the short program but couldn’t win a medal due to mistakes in the free skate. However, coincidentally, in this ISU World Championships, when a similar situation arose, I was able to finish the free skate well and win a medal. I feel very proud, as it seems I’ve grown one step further than before.
You finished the competition with the best performance of your career. What did you do first after the competition?
Haein Lee: After finishing the season better than expected, I treated myself by eating pizza and going to a karaoke room to sing. I’m known for having a good singing voice, so I think it’s thanks to my hobby of frequently going to coin karaoke rooms to support other Korean athletes. (laughs)
What songs do you often sing in the karaoke room?
Haein Lee: New Jeans’ “Attention” and IVE’s “After Like.”
I heard you’re also good at drawing. Besides singing and drawing, what else do you enjoy?
Haein Lee: I often watch idol singers’ fan cam videos. (laughs) It’s because I’m their fan, but it also helps me with expressing music and acting through facial expressions.
This is the final year of your teenage years. You have experienced happiness and a sense of accomplishment that others may find difficult to experience, but on the other hand, there have been many things you had to give up.
Haein Lee: I thought it was okay since it was my choice, but there is still a sense of regret. I started figure skating in the first grade of elementary school, and it has been quite a long time since I devoted my life solely to figure skating. As a result, I have very few memories of school life, and that is a source of regret for me.
What are your plans for the future? Are you immediately starting preparations for the next season?
Haein Lee: I will leave for the United States tomorrow to get choreography for the next season. I am curious about the choreography for the upcoming season, but I have also been invited to the “Dream on Ice” show in Japan on June 30th. Personally, I am looking forward to it as it will be my first ice show since 2019. I plan to prepare to the best of my abilities.
How do you want to be remembered as a skater?
Haein Lee: I still can’t imagine myself on the Olympic stage, but it is my goal to compete there. I hope that many people will remember me as a skater who enjoyed the competition to the fullest and left a bright and positive impression on the Olympic stage. It would be great if I could be known as a skater who knew how to enjoy the competition and also achieved good results. (laughs)
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