South Korea's 'Queen' Wins Figure Skating Gold

At the Winter Olympics Thursday night, South Korea's Kim Yu-na won gold in women's figure skating. She shattered her own world mark with 228.56 points, more than 18 higher than her previous record. Kim has been dubbed the "Queen" by South Koreans. Mao Asad of Japan was a distant second, followed by Canada's Joannie Rochette, the sentimental favorite who performed four days after her mother suffered a fatal heart attack.

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TOM GOLDMAN: This is Tom Goldman.

A few miles down the road from that raucous celebration, there was another gold medal coronation, but this one befitting a queen. Thats what the figure skater extraordinaire Kim Yu-Na has been dubbed in her home country of South Korea, and anyone who saw her commanding performance last night in the free skate portion of the ladies figure skating competition, would have to agree.

Queen Yu-Na is spot on. She executed everything in her program with precision, power and beauty. She scored a world record number of points, kissed both sides of her gold medal, and cried during her national anthem.

But this story about last nights competition is about the skater to Kims left, a step down on the podium, at the bronze medal level. Canadas Joannie Rochette stood there, also with tears in her eyes, for a much different reason.

(Soundbite of song, "Samson and Delilah")

GOLDMAN: When 24-year-old Joannie Rochette began her routine to Samson and Delilah, she knew how Kim and ultimate silver medalist, Mao Asada, had both skated. Rochette, the athlete, knew she couldnt make mistakes, she had to be good. But there was also Rochette the grieving daughter.

Ms. JOANNIE ROCHETTE (Figure skater, Canada): I knew, also, my legs were shaking. I didnt have much in me. But the only thing I was sure of is that I would leave everything on the ice tonight.

GOLDMAN: Four days earlier, Rochettes mom, Joannies biggest fan and toughest critic, died of a heart attack in Vancouver where shed come to watch her daughter. First in Tuesdays short program, then last night in the free skate, a packed house at Pacific Coliseum and millions of TV viewers around the world watched as Rochette somehow performed. Last night, she talked to the media for the first time since her mom died.

Ms. ROCHETTE: I dont see myself as a hero or anything like that. I just went out there and did what my mother would have wanted me to do, and when I get all those messages, I realize how much people were inspired by this.

GOLDMAN: Alternately crying and laughing about how her mom would have gotten on her for making mistakes in the free skate, Rochette acknowledged there were times during the week when she said to herself, I cant do this.

Ms. ROCHETTE: I told myself okay I just want to go home and see my family, take care of everything, be there with my dad and - it wasnt easy just to lose my mother.

GOLDMAN: At this point, Rochette turned walked away from reporters and broke down. Her coach consoled her and journalists started to leave, but then Rochette turned back around. She wants to finish, someone said. Rochette composed herself and did finish with reporters as she had finished on the ice, minutes before with those shaking legs.

(Soundbite of cheering)

GOLDMAN: It wasnt perfect. There were some shaky landings on jumps, but her last a triple Salchow, she landed with strength and style. Her performance was good enough to earn an Olympic medal. It was a lifetime project with my mom, she said, and we achieved that. Standing on the podium she smiled as an official hung the bronze around her neck. Then she looked at it and cried.

Tom Goldman, NPR News, Vancouver.

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