Adios, Yuna: Hail and farewell

A belated valedictory - and the story behind it

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Yuna Kim salutes the crowd at the end of her Olympic free skate.

Yuna Kim salutes the crowd at the end of her Olympic free skate. (Lucy Nicholson / Reuters / February 20, 2014)

We’re going to start with a little journalism lesson.

A journalist with only a few minutes between the end of a sporting event and a deadline prepares what we call a “dummy story” -  a story that needs just a few quick updates before being sent to his or her media outlet.

And, in the 24/7 online world, every event now ends on deadline.

If time permits, as it did in Sochi, that story then would be rewritten for later Internet posting and, for those of us who work at “old media,” in the print editions.

If the outcome would make the story dramatically different, that sometimes means having more than one “dummy” ready.

I wrote three for what would be the “early story” on the Olympic women’s figure skating final: one with Adelina Sotnikova winning, one with Yuna Kim winning, one with Carolina Kostner winning.

All three were quickly superseded by the controversy over the result, which became the story.

Two never saw the light of day - even briefly.

The unused story on Kim included an assessment of her place in skating history.  Although it drew on the idea that a win in Sochi would allow her to join Katarina Witt and Sonja Henie as the only women with more than one Olympic singles title, that was hardly the only reason to take a long view of her career.

Since the 2014 Olympics almost certainly was the last competitive event of that career, I felt remiss about not having given Kim a proper farewell.

Looking again at the pre-written part of the story that never appeared, I realized that with a couple alterations based on the outcome in Sochi, it could be just that valedictory.

So, with apologies to those who think I may have buried the lead, here it is:


By Philip Hersh

SOCHI, Russia - The music is a remembrance, a haunting tango, “Adios, Nonino,’’ composed by Astor Piazzola to honor his late father.  When the final notes hung in the air at the end of the figure skating competition at the Iceberg Skating Palace Thursday night, they also were saying goodbye, this time to Yuna Kim, who has joined the immortals of her sport.

In winning a silver medal many think should have been gold, the South Korean became just the third woman to follow an Olympic title with another medal, joining three-time champion Sonja Henie of Norway and two-time champion Katarina Witt of East Germany.

Comparing eras is an impossible task, but putting Kim in the context of her own gives a good sense of how remarkable the 23-year-old has been.

At a time when the technical demands on skaters are so great no woman has won back-to-back world titles since 2001, Kim’s consecutive Olympic medals are a striking accomplishment.

“Even before this, Yuna was one of the greatest of all time,” said 1998 Olympic champion Tara Lipinski.  “What gives her extra points is the way she can handle pressure.  I don’t know how she does it.”

In 2010, the pressure came from the enormous hopes her country invested in her becoming its first Olympic figure skating champion.  In 2014, it came from knowing the desire to have a life outside skating had left her not as well prepared for the Olympics, creating doubt instead of the utter dominance Kim displayed in Vancouver.

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