Haein Lee: “Winning the silver medal at Worlds helped me overcome doubts about myself and regain genuine belief in myself.”
Translation of an interview with Haein Lee about not getting to the Olympics in Beijing, past season, Yuna Kim as a role model, her hobbies and plans for the season.
source: news.naver.com dd. 2023.04.05 by Heejun Kim
Lee Haein (18) was the driving force that allowed her to rise again despite her slump and the shock of not being selected for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
Lee Haein won the silver medal in women’s singles at the 2023 International Skating Union (ISU) Figure Skating World Championships held in Saitama, Japan. It has been 10 years since a Korean female single skater has won a medal at the World Championships, following Kim Yuna, the ‘Figure Skating Queen.’
After the competitions, Lee Haein returned to Korea and has been leading a busy life. With her participation in the 2023 ISU Figure Skating Team Trophy (April 13-16, Tokyo, Japan), Lee Haein has been continuously training without a break. Despite the constant flow of interview requests, she has been accommodating them whenever possible.
Even on the day of our meeting with Newsis, at the Taereung Ice Rink in Nowon-gu, Seoul, where she was training diligently, Lee Haein smiled brightly and said, “After the World Championships, I received the most text messages I’ve ever received in my life. I have done many interviews since returning. It feels strange and different to have done so many interviews. But I do feel that I have accomplished something good.”
She added, “Not only my parents but also my sister, who is four years older than me, were extremely happy. My mom, who has a calm and reserved personality, sent me a lot of text messages after winning the medal. It was great to see my mom happy.”
During the 2021-2022 season, Lee Haein experienced the pain of not qualifying for the Beijing Olympics.
Leading the way to expand the quota for Korean female single skaters to two by finishing 10th at the 2021 ISU World Championships, Lee Haein fell short, finishing 6th in the first round of the Beijing Winter Olympics qualifying competition held in December of that year due to poor condition. Unable to make up the gap in the second round, Lee Haein ultimately missed the opportunity to compete in the Beijing Olympics.
Nevertheless, Lee Haein stood up with determination. She won a silver medal at the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships held just before the start of the Beijing Olympics, and she finished 7th at the World Championships held immediately after the Olympics, achieving a top-10 performance for two consecutive years.
Lee Haein revealed, “Honestly, I cried after the end of the Beijing Olympics qualifying competition. It wasn’t so much about not making it to the Olympics, but more because until that point, I had never performed a clean program throughout that season, and I blamed myself for it.”
The disappointment of not going to the Olympics quickly faded away. She said, “After the first qualifying competition, the score difference was significant. Before the second qualifying competition, I didn’t think about making up for it and securing a spot in the Beijing Olympics. I just wanted to finish within the top three.”
Lee Haein said, “People around me say that the time of the Beijing Olympics qualifying competition was the toughest, but the truth is, the most difficult moment in my figure skating career was in 2020.”
At that time, it was when Lee Haein was about to make her senior debut after finishing her junior career. In the 2020 World Junior Figure Skating Championships, she placed 2nd in the short program but ultimately finished 5th, missing out on a medal. During the 2020-2021 season, while preparing, she faced various setbacks. She had to regain her sense of jumping as she grew taller, and she also experienced setbacks such as reflux esophagitis and a stress fracture in her pelvis.
Lee Haein said, “Making a devastating mistake at the World Junior Championships became a trauma for me, and I felt like I completely lost my sense of jumping. I even had moments where I felt like I would fall if I jumped, so I couldn’t perform any jumps and just stood on the ice for an hour.” She recalled, “I had severe reflux esophagitis to the point where I had to sit down to sleep, and I lost 3 to 4 kilograms of weight, and my muscles became weaker. It was also during that time that I sustained a stress fracture in my pelvis.”
Overcoming these repeated setbacks became a source of strength for Lee Haein. She attributed her ability to overcome the challenges in the Beijing Olympics qualifying competition and the current season to the experience she gained.
Lee Haein, who rose up despite the pain, sincerely congratulated You Young and Kim Yelim for their participation in the Beijing Olympics. She said, “I didn’t feel upset while watching the Olympic competitions. Seeing how hard and determined my senior teammates were, I felt happy to see them doing well.”
The early stages of the 2022-2023 season were also challenging. She almost had to withdraw from competitions due to catching the flu at the beginning of the season, and in two ISU Grand Prix Series events during the 2022-2023 season, she finished in 4th place both times, narrowly missing out on a medal. Lee Haein jokingly said, “I had such a dislike for the number ‘4’.”
During the tough times at the start of the season, she had moments of self-doubt. Lee Haein admitted, “I had thoughts like, ‘Can I do well again?’ I always believed that with effort, everything would work out, but during the early part of this season, I had thoughts like, ‘Is there something that won’t work out even with effort?’
However, Lee Haein didn’t give up. In the encouragement of her teammates, she regained a positive mindset.
Lee Haein explained, “I don’t think I have a strong mentality, but I try to stay positive. Instead of worrying about why something bad happened to me and fearing that worse things might happen, I think, ‘Perhaps it was my destiny to go through this and find happiness again.'”
She continued, “When I was struggling at the beginning of the season, the new friends I made were very helpful, and (Kyeong) Jae-seok, (Lee) Si-hyeong, and (Cha) Jun-hwan cheered me on. (Kim) Ye-lim also gave me a lot of advice. The hard work of (Kim) Chae-yeon also served as motivation for me.” She added, “That’s why I regained my strength. I wanted to compete in the Four Continents Championships and the World Championships without any regrets.”
Thanks to her perseverance, Lee Haein achieved sweet rewards of a gold medal at the Four Continents Championships and a silver medal at the World Championships. She expressed, “Having achieved good results in major competitions, I felt a sense of accomplishment and relief, thinking that I had accomplished something. Knowing that there are only three Korean skaters who have won medals at the World Championships made it feel surreal.”
Lee Haein emphasized, “Winning the silver medal at the World Championships helped me overcome doubts about myself and regain genuine belief in myself. I feel that I am the only person who can truly believe in myself.”
After the Four Continents Championships, Lee Haein said, “Yuna Kim is my role model forever.”
Recalling the moment when she witnessed Kim Yuna performing a triple toe loop during an ice show in 2013, Lee Haein decided to pursue the path of becoming a professional skater. She shared, “I was learning to skate at the time, and after seeing Yuna’s performance, I made up my mind to become a skater.”
She continued, “If it weren’t for Yuna Kim, I wouldn’t have known about figure skating, and I wouldn’t have discovered how enjoyable it is. I might not have found something worth pursuing as a career in my life.” Lee Haein explained, “Because of her presence, Korean figure skating is progressing, and I’m grateful for that.”
When asked what sport she would have pursued if not for figure skating, Lee Haein smiled and said, ‘Archery. It looks really cool.’
If Kim Yuna was the presence that led her to figure skating, then You Young became the presence that nurtured her dreams. The image of You Young winning the silver medal at the 2020 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships strongly resonated in Lee Haein’s mind.
Lee Haein reflected, “Originally, I thought just participating in the Four Continents Championships and World Championships was already a remarkable achievement. However, after personally witnessing You Young winning the silver medal in 2020, I harbored a dream of winning a medal myself in the future.
Outside the ice rink, Lee Haein is a girl who particularly enjoys drawing and dancing.
Ever since she was young, Lee Haein has had a fondness for drawing, and it was drawing that provided comfort during difficult times. She mainly focuses on drawing portraits, and for the past two years, she has been giving the portraits as gifts to the individuals she portrays.
Lee Haein expressed, “I want to become friends with athletes from other countries, but I find it a little difficult to approach and start a conversation. So, I approached them by giving them my drawings as gifts.” She added, “This time, I drew a picture for Malinin and gave it to him. He praised it and liked it.”
She also enjoys reading comics. She particularly enjoys Studio Ghibli animations, and recently, she tried to become friends with Japanese skaters who participated in the World Championships, so she even studied Japanese.
Lee Haein shared, “I translated and memorized sentences in Japanese that I wanted to say. I said to Kaori Sakamoto, who won the gold medal at the World Championships, ‘You are the best skater’ in Japanese. She was very pleased with it.”
Dancing is also one of Lee Haein’s hobbies. Recently, she enjoys listening to songs like “Rollin'” by Brave Girls and “After Like” by IVE when she dances.
Lee Haein shared, “I dance after having breakfast and even before going to bed at home. When I feel like I need to move but don’t feel like exercising, I dance instead.” She added, “That’s why I listen to a lot of energetic songs.”
Regarding using K-pop songs in her gala programs, she said, “K-pop has been popular lately, and as a Korean, I wanted to promote it further. I chose K-pop because I wanted to perform exciting gala programs that the audience would enjoy.” She added, “In the future, I plan to use more upbeat K-pop songs as gala program music rather than sentimental songs.”
Lee Haein is preparing to soar higher in the 2023-2024 season. After completing the Team Trophy, she plans to focus on improving the execution of the triple axel.
Lee Haein shared, “Before starting this season, I practiced the triple axel. It wasn’t bad when I tried it a few months before the Four Continents Championships.” She added, “If I attempt it five times, I usually land it three times. After finishing the Team Trophy, I will practice hard and aim to perform it in competitions next season at least once or more.”
Looking ahead, the 2026 Milan-Cortina d’Ampezzo Winter Olympics awaits in three years.
Lee Haein stated, “The Olympics is a significant stage, but there are also major competitions such as the Grand Prix series, Four Continents Championships, and World Championships. For now, I focus on the upcoming competitions and will think about the Olympics when the time comes. It’s still too far away,” she said.
However, she does have an imagination of it. Lee Haein occasionally envisions herself showcasing advanced skills and achieving success in Milan, accompanied by a shy smile.
What dream does she have as a figure skater? There was no hesitation in Lee Haein’s answer.
“I hope to be like a star that continues to shine rather than a shooting star. I want to hold my ground and consistently maintain my position. When I retire, I hope people remember me as a skater who worked hard and rode happily on this journey,” she expressed with determination.
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