Back at the World Figure Skating Championships for the first time in two years, Olympic champion Kim Yu-na looked as if she'd never been away Saturday night.
"It has been very long," Kim said. "I'm very happy to skate well here in Canada again. So thank you."
It wasn't just her margin of victory — with 218.31 points, she was a whopping 20 points ahead of defending champion Carolina Kostner — but the stunningly simple beauty of her performance. There is a regal elegance to her skating, fitting for the woman who is nicknamed "Queen Yu-na," and no one comes close to comparing.
In fact, it's really not even fair to make anyone else try.
Kim is technically superior. She's like a bumblebee when she jumps, daintily going from flower to flower. Her spins are quick and tight, with intricate positions that don't seem humanly possible. But it is her presentation that makes her incomparable.
Figure skating is meant to be a blend of art and athleticism, and Kim poured her entire soul into her feet. She didn't feel her music, from "Les Miserables," she was part of it.
With each soft tilt of her head, she brought back memories of the little girl who began skating for the pure love of it, before medals or titles or the expectations of an entire country and sport ever entered her mind.
The audience was on its feet long before she finished her final spin, and Kim clapped a hand to her mouth as she looked around the arena. After getting her medal, she was serenaded with cheers of "Queen Yu-na!"
Kim's longtime rival, Mao Asada of Japan, was third.
The U.S. women didn't win any medals, but they got the next-best thing, reclaiming a third spot for the Sochi Olympics. They needed to finish with a combined placement of 13, and Ashley Wagner was fifth and Gracie Gold sixth.
"We got three spots back and we came here to do that," Wagner said. "Mission accomplished."
Having the maximum three spots at the Olympics and world championships used to be a birthright for the American women. But they lost the third spot at the 2008 world championships and have never gotten it back.
Wagner was most affected by the loss of the third spot, missing the Vancouver Olympics because she finished third at the U.S. championships in 2010. She'd made it her mission to get it back, saying she didn't want anyone else to experience that disappointment.
This certainly won't go down as one of Wagner's best performances. She two-footed and underrotated the second jump in her double axel-triple toe loop combination, and also got a deduction for taking off on the wrong edge of her triple lutz. She was so slow for most of the program the Canadian Mounties were considering giving her a ticket for loitering. And she tripped on her footwork, the equivalent of falling over a crack in the sidewalk.
But it was good enough to get the job done.
It's the best finish for the U.S. women since 2006, when Kimmie Meissner won the title and Sasha Cohen finished third. But that worlds is also the last time the Americans have been on the podium, their longest drought since World War II.
"I always said my main goal coming into this worlds was getting the three spots back. That was my goal," Wagner said. "Getting on top of the podium or on the podium would be icing on the cake. For us, what we accomplished, with this strong international field, is more than standing on top of that podium."
Gold tried not to focus on winning back that third spot — no easy thing, considering she and Wagner were asked about it constantly — but she did more than her share.
Gold has struggled with inconsistency throughout her career, but she was solid in her first appearance at worlds. As always, it was her jumps carrying her program. Asada might have better springs, but even she can't match Gold's ferocity.
She attacks each jump like a matador going after a bull, going full-speed into the takeoff and soaring so high above the ice the judges had to crane their necks to see her. That power put her on the edge of danger, but she fought for every single point.
She two-footed her double axel, but it could have been a lot worse after how crooked in the air she was. And cats are jealous of the reflexes she showed in saving the landing of her triple salchow.
Her spins were solid, though they were all done in the same side of the rink, a choreographic no-no. And speaking of choreography, she doesn't let the music bother her one bit. Pick a song on any iPod and she could have been skating to it for as much as she acknowledged it.
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